Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Noah and the desperation of self

Last week Isaac and I were perhaps the most relieved we ever have been to get away from our kiddos and go on a date. We got in the car, shut the doors, and just sat for a moment. We had a gifted date night at the kind of theater with easy chairs, blankets, and dinner served at your seat. It was so, so good.

We watched Noah. Now, I don't have any desire to jump into the fray debating the movie, but I will say that I have no problem with story, even when it isn't a literal interpretation of the biblical text. I liked the movie, even if I am about as ambivalent about the rock monsters as I was about Peter Jackson's depiction of the Ents.

I got teary, though, and that I didn't expect. I got emotional because Noah dug into a theme that has been hitting home the past few weeks since I read Larry Crabb's book Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. What I loved about the book is that the entire first half of it hardly mentioned marriage or gender roles (second half - meh). Crabb dug into what he sees as the real relational problem - human individual selfishness.The movie Noah portrays this broken, bleeding land that has been filled with evil, terrible things. A cracked and hopeless world. We see, through Noah's eyes, the ark as a new beginning for all things, and for their family.

Then there is a turning point in the movie, partly through Noah visiting the human camp nearby and sees their horrors, rape, pillage and the carnage we can wreck on each other.... but he sees himself in it too. He comes back to the ark with a new conviction that no - humans can't begin again after the flood. The ruination of all things good has come through man, and if God provides a cleansing of the world but Noah and his family survive, the seed of all of that brokenness will be sown in the new world through them and it will just be a vicious cycle. Noah is haunted by this conviction. If God gave him the sacred task of bringing life into this new world, he cannot, cannot, bring death.

Noah says:
 We broke the world.  We did this.  Everything that was good was shattered.  This time there will be no men.  If we were to enter the garden, we would only ruin it again.  Mankind must end. 

Thing is, if you believe the biblical account, Noah is right. It does begin again. The cleansing of the world simply begins the cycle again because humanity immediately perpetuates all darkness over again.

Back to Crabb's book.  Crabb is a counselor and in his other works he digs deep into human suffering. I resonate with it because it's what I am at heart too - a counselor. We all suffer, and so we feel the weight of brokenness and suffering in our lives. No one else experiences our suffering fully except us. And, because of our suffering, we see our selfishness as at least understandable, if not legitimate. If I snap at Isaac after a long day with kiddos, I think.. well.. yeah, snapping is not best. But it is understandable because I am busy, stressed, and tired. When we grapple with our mistakes, we often investigate why we've made those mistakes. We identify the external problems. In the example I just gave, the problems in my life are my stage of life, my full plate, my lack of sleep. And all my friends nod because they relate, and through my eyes it is understandable.

But you know what? The fundamental problem is not any of those things. It is me. My heart. My selfishness. As I read the book I could look back and recognize easily that my own self-concern colors just about every interaction I have.

And the tragedy is that I know it. I simply believe it's normal. We all see life through our own eyes. My selfishness is recognized and shrugged at. I think it's justified. I do not weep over my sin. I don't see that it is this vicious cycle, each of us seeing our own selfishness as justified and normal and so ongoing relational intimacy and growth is impossible because it requires selflessness.

"More often we regard our bitterness not as the product of a flaw within us, but as the interplay between our delicate sensitivities and other people's failures. We think others should be rebuked while our damaged souls receive healing. Why is it so hard to see that self-interest, even when offended, is wrong."
"Careful inspection of ourselves, particularly when we're angry, makes it clear that we suffer from a defect more severe than self-centeredness. The greatest obstacle to building truly good relationships is justified self-centeredness, a selfishness that, deep in our souls, feels entirely reasonable and therefore acceptable in light of how we've been treated....The problem with all of us is that we stubbornly regard our interpersonal failures not as inexcusably selfish choices, but as understandable mistakes. 

"We view the wound in our souls as responsible for problems like jealousy, making pain a more basic concern than sin. Think how naturally we explain our impatience with the kids as the product of a frustrating day at work and how easily we regard their impatience as an expression of selfishness worthy of discipline. What an incredible double standard."
I am not one likely to harp on total depravity or happily reside in the Reformed camp. As a goodie two shoes as a child, I am not one to carry around a load of guilt. I struggle more with pride. That's the thing, though. Somehow Crabb's book made we mourn the selfishness in my heart that breaks the relationships around me, without me ever taking it seriously. 

It's echoed in Tubal Cain's words in Noah. He's a man presiding over such evil, but he looks at it and blames external problems and uses them to legitimize his own anger and continued ruin, "We are abandoned, orphan children, cursed, damned to live by the sweat of our brow.  Damned if I don’t take what I want."

Tubal Cain sees all the brokenness as simply the effect of the things done unto man. Noah sees all the brokenness coming from man, and knows that if there is to be hope, it must stop. Noah's wife looks at her family and sees only good. Noah sees that even in their beauty, there is lust, covetousness, etc. The move digs into both things - the inherent sanctity and beauty and love in mankind and in the world, but also the pervasive sin and brokenness.

When Noah's wife asks him why, in the end, he decides to allow human life to go on, he says that he looked at them and all he felt was love. Though the movie portrays God as silent, I see that line as an echo of our God. If you believe the biblical account, He sees all things broken by us, and still when he looks as us, all he sees is love. He has a world that demands cleansing, and yet He must save.

The Genesis flood is a symbol of baptism. The anniversary of my own baptism was this past week on Easter Sunday, and  with the conviction of my own selfishness heavy on my mind, I pondered again what this means. I was teary during Noah because I saw in his depiction some of this desperation and need to be free of myself. Where the flood left the problem of the sinfulness of man unsolved, on the cross, that is where the work is finished.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

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