The Common Good

'Noah' Spurs Debate Pitting Art vs. Bible

With the release of the movie Noah a couple of weeks away, the waters of controversy are already rising fast. I’ve seen the movie’s final cut, and director Darren Aronofsky’s re-envisioning of the biblical hero Noah will not disappoint — inciting some and enthralling others. Some will undoubtedly chastise him for the ways in which the movie riffs on the biblical account of Noah. Others will praise Aronofsky for his creative vision.

Noah Movie. Photo: © 2014 Paramount Pictures Corporation

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But the big question generated by a film like Noah is: When the Bible is the source of inspiration for art, how close does the artist have to stay to the original narrative? The Bible has been the inspiration for profound works of art for centuries. It isn’t surprising. The Bible is full of passion, romance, intrigue, struggle, and the triumph of good over evil.

Even so, it is hard to ignore the reality that not all art inspired by the Bible is respectful of its subject matter. Where, then, should the line be drawn between artistic interpretation and blatant disrespect?

The fact is, art inspired by the Bible can serve a useful purpose regardless of the impressionistic colors in which it is painted. It can spur us to re-examine or acquaint ourselves with the art’s source material: the Bible itself.

Scripture’s account of Noah provides a rich palette for this kind of exploration. It is the inspiring story of a man who believes God and follows his instruction even when it might not have made sense to do so. Noah built the mammoth ark over many decades. Once the ark was built, Noah had the herculean task of gathering the animals as God instructed. And once rain came and the waters rose, Noah had to trust that he, his family, and their animal cargo would survive the storm and its aftermath.

Noah’s is the ultimate story of daring to do what is right rather than what is popular. Noah’s is an instructive story that every parent can share with children to encourage them to have the courage to stand up to peer pressure — even when the cost is steep. Noah is a role model for every employee who has ever been tempted to cut corners. And Noah is an inspiration to every believer to follow God’s leading with faithfulness and courage.

The Bible does not provide a lot of details about Noah. We know only that he was a godly man living in an ungodly time. We know that he was a husband and father. And we know that he found favor in the sight of God. With so few details, it is necessary to imagine how things might have transpired. And that imagining can be the fodder for art.

Whether you become a fervent fan or vocal detractor of the film Noah, my hope is that its very existence sparks your interest in not just watching it and talking about it, but in also digging into God’s word for yourself and reading the original story of a man who dared to say yes to God — in an ark-sized way.

Geoffrey Morin is the chief communications officer at American Bible Society, which makes the Bible available around the world. Via RNS.

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