Noah Found Grace

raindrops-the-lake-denise-davies_2164565Earlier today, I heard a good bit of thunder, looked out my window and saw it was raining. But by midday, the rain had stopped and eventually the sun shone brightly. As someone familiar with rain, I knew it would eventually end.

For the last couple weeks, there’s been no end of talk about the new film, Noah. A film about the biblical character and an event in which a worldwide flood destroyed most of the human race, this Bible-based tale begins with something totally unfamiliar to people of that time:  rain and thunder and cataclysm such as they’d never experienced before. In fact, when the deluge was over and Noah’s family exited the ark, the world had changed so dramatically, even the twelve-month, thirty days per month calendar year was suddenly and unexpectedly obsolete.

With the movie released last Friday, moviegoers have been abuzz with both praise and critiques. (I imagine you’ve read your share of them.) Almost everyone with whom I connected over the weekend either had a report about the film (having seen it) or had queried me as to whether I’d seen it … and did I recommend it or not?

For the record, I haven’t seen the film. We’re not usually at the theater when a film is released. More often, we view movies when they come to Netflix or even later, when they come on television.

I’ve read more than half a dozen reviews including these:  Rotten Tomatoes (more highly praised by the critics than by viewers), (titled Drowning in Distortion), editor Marvin Olasky (“not bad, coming from Hollywood”), author Gregory Alan Thornbury (the Genesis account as midrash), and Erick Erickson at RedState.Com (“… one of the funniest comedies I have seen in a very long time … a pretty awesome sci-fi spectacle …”).

NoahExcept for the Rotten Tomatoes website, you’ll notice the others are websites that offer a Christian viewpoint. Given the story of Noah comes straight from the Bible, I thought it would be appropriate to see what Christians thought of the production. (Also, while RedState is admittedly a politically-oriented website, I know Erick Erickson to be a Christian, so I was interested in what he had to say. His review was by far the most entertaining of all.)

Having read an abundance of reviews, my next step was to do what several of the reviewers recommended:  I went straight to the Genesis account. I think it’s well worth reading what the original source material says about Noah. Four chapters of Genesis are devoted to Noah and the account of the flood. Without reservation, I believe what those chapters tell us.

As I’ve already stated, I haven’t seen the film, but based on my understanding of scripture, these are the things I know. Chapters 1 to 5 of Genesis relate the creation and history of the world starting with Adam (the first man) up until the days of Noah. Beginning with chapter 6, the narrative focuses on a world so corrupt that God grieves over his creation. The thrust of God’s regrets centers on human wickedness:  “… every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5)

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Gen. 6:8)

No, Noah wasn’t a sinless man, but in some way that goes unspecified from the biblical narrative, Noah stood apart from the wicked men around him. God chose Noah and his family to build a vessel on which all varieties of animals were protected, and once the deluge began, eight humans and the other living things survived to eventually repopulate the earth.

Besides telling us the story of Noah (and others), the Bible is more than anything else the story of God. It’s the story of God’s creation, his desire to give mankind a paradisal existence. At the same time, God permitted his creation the ability to choose for themselves − rather than force them to be automatons (puppets) without wills of their own. The genealogy of mankind related throughout the book of Genesis all the way through to Revelation provides example after example of individuals who were created in the image of God who knowingly reject that image and go their own way … hence the tales of corruption and perversity that cause God to destroy most of the creation he once deemed as “good” or (in man’s unique instance) “very good.”

One of the best things about the release of this movie is the conversation it has generated about important things. As with the people of Noah’s time, we each have opportunity to decide for ourselves whether or not the tale is true, whether or not Noah was a fool for believing God would destroy the world (but save him and his family), whether or not the Bible is a trustworthy document. These are questions each of us should be able to answer.

Noah’s story is one of mercy and divine provision. Think about this the next time you see a rainbow in the sky:  this reminder is God’s promise that he won’t ever again destroy humanity through a cataclysmic deluge. As with Noah who found grace (favor) in the eye’s of the Lord, that favor is today extended to each of us.

Divorced From Government

The religion of Islam permits a man to divorce his wife through the thrice-repeated pronouncement of ṭalāq. triple_talaqGiven today’s deadline for filing income taxes, plenty of folks all over the country — RIGHT NOW! — wish a simple “I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee!” would suffice to sever the bonds that inextricably tie us to this overtaxing, overspending, insatiable monster called government.

Many American taxpayers find themselves in the untenable position of doing what they consider to be “right” (paying their taxes) and “wrong” (funding government’s irresponsible and socialist practices). Recall the pre-Revolution complaint “No Taxation Without Representation!” It was one basis for our Declaration of Independence. The concept is as relevant today.

What does the Bible teach? Is it biblical for a Christian to opt-out “for conscience’ sake” (Romans 13:5) ?

Aside:  I ran across a Tweet and its blog rebuttal betwixt my two adult daughters. My (unsolicited!) contribution demanded more than 140 characters but elder daughter’s blog comments were disabled; thus my post here. Elder daughter’s first post (with younger daughter’s Tweet prominent) and a companion post are thought-provoking (recommended) reading.

Second Aside:  Comments about same-sex marriage (which prompted the original Tweet/blog exchange) are reserved for another occasion.

Third Aside:  If my comments here seem lop-sided, it’s only because elder daughter provided posts while younger daughter opined in a single Tweet.

… Enough disclaimers! Elder daughter’s post Married to Government makes many points with which I agree. I won’t address the Erick Erickson column, except to note I concur how laughable it is to employ euphemism (gay marriage vs. civil unions), the “mental gymnastics” that only promotes cognitive dissonance. Ugh!

So, let’s do as elder daughter proposes:  reconsider Romans 13. By titling this post Divorced From Government, my hope is to draw balanced parallels between my elder daughter’s post and my own. She argues that many Christians blindly affirm the belief that Romans 13 dictates robotic fealty to government. She challenges this autopilot mindset.

For my part, I agree with her critique! Any Scripture passage viewed in isolation makes possible a myriad of errors. It’s appropriate to question how one may judiciously weigh Romans 13 (Paul’s treatise) against Peter’s Acts 5:29 declaration, “We will obey God rather than men.” Do Peter’s words contradict Paul’s?

Fourth Aside:  My elder daughter describes Romans 13 as “the favorite Bible passage of would-be tyrants” − a debatable charge (in my view). Seldom have tyrants (would-be or otherwise) sought or needed Scripture’s imprimatur to justify their misdeeds. But I quibble.

Elder daughter supplies a compelling list of saints who stood firmly against oppressive rule. These saints keenly remind us of God’s infinite grace in the midst of grievous circumstances. However, if we focus only on their choice to obey God, we ignore the “parade of believers” who were subject to the tyrant’s brutal whim.

Having celebrated earlier this month the Resurrection of Christ, I reflect how unlike Peter (in Acts 5) Jesus was. In fact, when the soldiers came to seize Jesus, this same Acts 5 Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of a slave. The Son of Man instantly admonished Peter:  “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (NIV)

Peter’s instinct was to wield his sword against an unjust arrest. Yet, in remarkable contrast, Jesus’ mission from the Father enabled him to surrender Himself to the soldiers. Neither man’s actions belie the truth of Romans 13 (that “there is no authority except that which God has established” NIV) nor, in my view, would either man’s actions condemn the other’s. They were both intent on fulfilling the Father’s will in their lives.

My elder daughter observes:  “Most governments FAIL God’s standard ….” (She’s usually more circumspect about all or nothing statements than I am.) Still, I think she’d actually agree with my contention that ALL governments inevitably and repeatedly fail God’s standard.

So let’s return this discussion to April 15, 2013, and as elder daughter maintains, we must choose as did the Founders. When it comes to government diktat (in this instance, the payment of one’s income taxes), we each determine whether and when to prudently submit or stand in defiance. Neither action represents a superior position, but rather the call of God in an individual’s life.

May I humbly suggest that viewing the “witness of Scripture as a whole” requires balance wherein both submitting and standing in defiance must be compatible.

Men like Daniel are rare, but when our commitment is to serve the Lord, we know with confidence that we’re in His hands “to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) The ultimate outcome belongs to Him.