Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Noah, Movies and Holy Writ

Looks like it's time for one of my infrequent movie commentaries, because we have another controversial film dealing with a biblical subject—Noah and the Great Flood.

I have not seen the film, but I've read about the uproar over it. Within Christian circles, you have defenders and detractors. I can tell you where I stand in general on things like this. Open, but very, very, VERY careful.

I am a biblical and theological conservative. I take the Bible seriously both as a practicing believer and as a teacher of Scripture. Believing as I do—that the Bible is God's written Word and revelation to man—I think great care needs to be taken when dealing with what is written in its pages, and that includes creative license in making a movie. I used to be less cautious when I was younger, especially when I enjoyed movies made on the life of the Lord Jesus and historic epic films such as The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. I knew with the latter that some liberties were taken with the story, but by and large it treated the subject matter with respect and didn't stray so far from the biblical account that it became unrecognizable.

But now (and I think it because I HAVE become more of a Bible teacher and occasional pulpit fill), I am leery of the Hollywood treatment of Scripture. Yes, people have been drawn to faith through motion picture productions, or more accurately, as the Gospel was proclaimed through those films or by those addressing crowds after the films were shown. But given the warnings of God Himself about not adding to—or taking away from—His Word in specific places, and the very idea of a fallen man trying to portray the sinless Son of God . . . hmmmm. I am just very uncomfortable with it these days. I would hate to stand before the Throne of God and have to give account to Him for putting words in His mouth that He didn't say. That's serious.

Now, for some balance, I do not believe that this is necessarily in the same light as making "graven images." As I read Scripture, a graven image or statue (and one could include other works of art such as paintings) would have to be made for the purpose of worship i.e. "to bow down and to worship it." It is that qualifying phrase that gives me pause about making blanket prohibitions against artistic portrayals. We know that when we see Jesus portrayed in film that it is not the real Jesus, and we don't worship the actor doing the portrayal. We know that when we see artwork portraying biblical scenes, it is an artist's conception and not the real people. Or at least we should. And in THAT lies the danger of any image of any kind—the chance that someone MIGHT make it an object of worship. You can get ridiculous with that kind of fear. That was one of the Lord's criticisms against the Pharisees of His day—they added their own laws and traditions on top of what had been divinely revealed and written. They were so afraid some command might get broken that they felt adding firewalls was necessary. It wasn't. But I digress.

It is on precisely those grounds that some fellowships and Bible teachers are much more severe than I am—they think that films and paintings—even plays—are wrong, period. While I can't go that far yet, I respect their convictions, and I am teachable on the subject if they can make a sound biblical case. Worshipping graven images is a direct violation of Scripture. The penalty is severe. In fact, that is why Eastern Orthodoxy receives criticism from within Protestantism—the practice of venerating icons. It's a debate that's gone on for eons and I have no intention of settling it here today. Just a notation of a very real, ongoing argument within Christendom.

Next—and finally—a word to those who mock and scold those who DO have scruples on this issue. Before you rip on someone too heavily for expressing their reservations, look at it from the perspective of someone who takes their faith and the "sacred writings" of their faith very seriously. I think we know how many Muslims would react were someone to try and make a major Mohammed film or a film based on the Quran. How would Eastern religions react to films being made on the Bhagavad Gita or the rest of the Mahabharata? I haven't really researched the attitudes of other religions on this subject with the exception of Islam, and perhaps such films have been made. I just don't know about them off the top of my head. But what I do know is this. Many faiths have their more conservative, even fundamentalist, adherents, as well as more liberal types who reinterpret their faith or belief out of historic norms. If one were to make a film that took horrendous liberties with writings considered sacred or deeply valued, or to veer wildly off on the nature, personality and words of one of their deities from what is recorded, I have a hunch you'd have a lot of very upset people out there.

So, let's step back, take a deep breath, and think. And filmmakers, sit up and take notice. I fully respect your craft and desire to make art, as well as a living. I know there are believing filmmakers and actors out there, as well as many who have no religious belief at all. Just remember to have a care. You are touching on things that are deeply meaningful to millions of people around the world. If you get it wrong, and take liberties with what millions consider Holy Writ, you will stand to take a lot of heat. The entertainment world likes to carry the tolerance, acceptance, and understanding banners and wave them high. Vocally. And that's great. Just have a little tolerance, respect, understanding, and forbearance for people of faith, okay?

Christians and my Jewish friends included.

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