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“Noah” Movie as Typical Sermon: How Darren Aronofsky Directs Movies Like We Preach Sermons

The movie “Noah” represents some profound acting and directing in one really strange movie. In so much as Darren Aronofsky is a director, he is typical of Hollywood: very gifted and a little bizarre. Oddly perhaps, as an exegete of Scripture, Aronofsky is typical of much evangelical preaching. Regarding his interpretive approach to the events recorded in Genesis 6-9, I find myself struggling with the same challenges, especially in two areas. First, he filled in gaps in the story with information that scratched the itch of curiosity while throwing sawdust on the trail that would take us to Christ. Therefore, he missed the end, the purpose of the story. The movie then is a warning of sorts for preachers.

Mind the Gaps, Don’t Mine the Gaps

Biblical stories do not spell out every detail. This is why we are patient with Hollywood, and our own homegrown productions for that matter. The stories were not written to be produced for the eye—they were written to create a singular effect on the listener. We are not reading for continuous uninterrupted flow; we are reading for the reason the Author shaped the story this way.

Which leads us to a question: When preaching a story, an Old Testament narrative, or something from the Gospels, what do we do with that missing information? What do we do with the “gaps”?

In sympathy to the movie, why not fill the gaps with rock monsters and a psychotic Noah? The reason is this: supplying missing details fills the story line, but it may miss the ultimate story line.

Supplying missing details fills the story line, but it may miss the ultimate story line.

While we mind the gaps that are in the story, we do not mine the gaps for meaning. If there are missing pieces of information, we have the liberty to explain the reason as best as we are able. However we are not to mine out spiritual truth from things that were not in the original text. Perhaps there is a reason why God excluded some details and included others. How exactly did Noah build the ark? We don’t really know what tools he used, or how he got it done. The logic for much preaching is, “When there is not enough information we can supply it with speculation.” However, if God did not supply the information in the story perhaps instead of focusing on what is not there, we should focus on what is. In other words, for the story to do what the story needs to do, all the information we have is all the information we need. The text is sufficient. In the end we are not preaching the story, we are preaching the text.

In the text there is enough information to know that God extends common grace and God extends saving grace. He deals severely with sin, and He is gracious still. Those macro level messages are the true message because in reality the message of Noah is a shadow story of salvation found in Christ.  In preaching, the devil really can be in the details, if in fact the supplied details overshadow the meaning in the text. God’s message is in the macro view.

In preaching, the devil really can be in the details, if in fact the supplied details overshadow the meaning in the text.

Tend to the Story Behind the Story

New Testament writers refer to Noah with great frequency. Jesus said we would be living in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37; Luke 17:27). Noah was a man of man of faith and a preacher of righteousness (Heb 11:7; I Pet 3:20; II Pet 2:5). So the New Testament writers help us interpret the story.

Noah is a picture of salvation. No, we don’t have to read the name “Jesus” in the Hebrew text to see this. God’s wrath is real, and His grace is real. God unleashed his wrath on the earth and His wrath on His Son on the cross. The whole world was destroyed in the flood; only One was destroyed on the cross. The fierce judgment once aimed at many was now harnessed in laser-like judgment on Jesus Christ alone. So for those of us who have had that bloody sacrifice of Christ applied to us, we can’t help but feel like we are Noah in the flood. Christ drowned in God’s wrath and we survived. Jesus Christ was overwhelmed in the outpouring of wrath; thrust down into the murky abyss so we could be buoyant in grace. As the wrath is flooded on Christ, we swim in his mercy.

The movie itself was a fascinating piece of acting and directing. However, it’s a little exhausting to think that we who love the text of Scripture would inadvertently take the same approach to a biblical text as a Hollywood producer. Yet, I think I sometimes do it for the same reason he did. I think I need to help the Bible—I, the mouth piece, should re-shape the story as its being told.  Yet in the end people don’t know the end. They know the story but not the Story.

The reason the Noah story is great is because Jesus is greater. In this way Noah is a commentary on the Messiah he precedes. Knowing this, we can relish in what salvation means. We do not have to fill in the gaps as though we were curators of an ancient story that must perfectly reconcile all our questions. What the text does say is quite enough.

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Steven Smith

Steven Smith

Steven W. Smith serves as vice president for student services and communications and professor of communication at Southwestern Seminary. He is author of "Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit."

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