Tuesday, April 1, 2014

And then there was Noah...

Well, I went to see the movie Noah this past weekend.  I went in with a clean slate, having heard none of the bad publicity or criticisms of the film.  I didn't even know who the director was.  (If I had known that it was the same man who directed Black Swan, I probably would have stayed away just because of that.)

People have been talking about this movie all over the place, spouting its virtues and its flaws.  I didn't go into the movie expecting some spiritually uplifting experience.  It's a Hollywood movie after all, and I don't go to the movies to find my doctrine.  While I thought the giant rock people helping to build the ark and fighting off the raging hordes of wicked people were a bit ridiculous and took away from what could have been a serious look at the story of Noah.  I recognize, however, that in the director/writer's minds, this is an epic story like so many other epic stories.  Why not include some mythical creatures?  The reason why I'm happy about this movie is that it has people talking about scripture.  You know what I did after I watched the movie?  I went home and read the accounts of  Noah and the flood in the Bible and in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price.  I wanted to make sure I understood the story right in my mind.  What if everyone who left the movie also went home and checked the source material in their scriptures?  Wouldn't that be a good thing even if the movie itself was off in so many ways?

So, I'm not going to bore you with yet another critique of a Hollywood film.  I would rather like to offer some insights and things I learned about Noah and how we can apply those lessons in our own lives.  I discovered these when I was preparing a recent Sunday School lesson about the two stories of Noah and the Tower of Babel.

Over arching themes in the ark and the tower

The main theme of Noah and the Ark and of the Tower of Babel is the idea that people think they can do things their own way and not follow the Lord's commandments and still somehow make it to his kingdom to live with Him.  Elder Maxwell says, "The picture one gets of the dispensation of Noah is of a people who were increasingly wicked and who felt increasingly self-sufficient.  Their attitude was described as follows: 'And every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually' (Moses 8:22)."  ("Things As They Really Are", p 76)

By the same token, the people building the Tower of Babel wanted to get to heaven, but they wanted to do it their way...by building a tower so they could "make a name for themselves".  They forgot that the Lord had already showed them the path back to Him.  So, the two stories become stories of our way vs. the Lord's way.

A secondary theme is one of redemption or wiping the slate clean.  In the story of Noah and the Ark, the earth is literally cleansed of wickedness by water as it will later be cleansed by fire.  And in the Babel story, the common language of man, which had been the language of Adam is wiped out and the people are scattered.  In both of these cases, the Lord is protecting His people by stopping them from committing further atrocities than they already had.  (More on that to come.)

Crying Repentance

Moses 8: 13, 19-20, 23-24  We learn in these scriptures that the Lord sent Noah to warn the people, to call them to repentance, to save them from the flood.  This is because the Lord loves all His children and places a high value on the sanctity of life.  He wanted to give them every chance to repent and turn to Him.  This is the God who just a couple of generations before in communion with Enoch wept for the state of His children.  How many more arks would the Lord have created to save His children from the flood if they had turned to Him?  Could there have been a fleet of arks if they had turned to Him and repented?

But they would not listen.  They thought their way was better.  They wouldn't give up their wickedness.  I think about this in terms of our dispensation.  I think of our prophets, apostles, and general authorities entreating us with so much love to prepare both spiritually and physically for the things to come.  How often, though, do we hear rebuttals talking about political correctness, demanding that we acquiesce to the world's view of the way things ought to be?  The thing is that the Lord does not deal in the worldly or the temporary.  He deals in the eternal.  His doctrine, His love, His plan of salvation are eternal in nature. 

Elder Maxwell said, "It is vital for us all to recognize the existence of the central realities--the reality of the living God and His Son, Jesus Christ...To non-believers, of course, the basic truths about reality are disregarded; some are, in fact, contemptuous of such ultimate realities.  But these realities will not go away simply because we refuse to recognize them...How can a society set serious priorities if there are no basic standards to guide by?  Are we to make our calculations using only the arithmetic of appetite?...Once society loses its capacity to declare that some things are wrong per se, then it finds itself forever building temporary defenses,  revising rationales, drawing new lines--but forever falling back and losing its nerve." ("Things As They Really Are")

I think of the people of Cain in the Noah movie.  They built all sorts of temporary defenses against so many things.  I imagine that people in Noah's day, even if they believed him about the upcoming flood, they probably tried to build their own earthly fortifications against a flood, the likes of which they had never seen.  But earthly things will all pass away.

Building an Ark-A Type for Our Day

Noah was instructed very clearly how to build the ark, as was Nephi on how to build his ship, as were the Jaredites on how to build their barges.  (None of these were alike, I might add.  They each had specific schematics based on the individual needs of the various situations.)  Beyond that, they were blessed with further light and knowledge.  In the cases of Noah and the Jaredites, stones lighted by the Lord, and in the case of the Nephites, the Liahona.  How can we compare this to our lives today?

In the talk "Make Thee an Ark" Elder W. Don Ladd reminds us that we too have to fortify ourselves against the evils around us, to protect ourselves and our families.  He admonishes us to prepare well in advance.  Think about the situation of Noah.  It took him probably many years to build the ark and for all of the animals to gather to it.  This he did in a time of famine with no sign of rain coming.  We too must follow our prophets and our leaders to prepare ourselves both spiritually and physically for the events we can't yet see.  If we do this, "Our arks will float on a sea of faith if our works have been steadily and surely preparing for the future."  We must use every available tool and follow the Lord's instructions to the letter so that our boats may be "tight like a dish" (as the Jaredite barges are described), sealed against any raging storm.

Many times the adversary tries to confuse us, even about our own doctrine, about the very truths we profess belief in.  He tries to twist and distort the words of the Lord.  It only takes a minor degree of variation from the truth to lead us to a completely different destination.  Even in the movie version of Noah, we can see an example of this.  The evil Tubal-Cain king is spouting scripture at one point when he talks about man having dominion over the earth, but he left out one important point...that man was also given commandments to follow from the Lord in exercising that dominion.

In Alma 13 in the Book of Mormon, there is a fascinating example of this principle of distortion.  As a writer, I am intrigued by words.  Perhaps that's why I find this example so compelling.  In verses 6, 13, and 16 Alma is talking about what is necessary to enter into the "rest of the Lord."  The word "rest" in this case means, the glory of God.  Keeping commandments and humbling ourselves to repentance are necessary.  Then a few verses later we learn about a different kind of rest with a different spelling (i.e. wrest).  In verse 20, it reads, "Behold the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction."  In this instance, the word "wrest" means to twist or pull away from.  What's interesting to me is the choice of words.  Any other word could have been used here to mean to twist or distort or pull away from.  But the Lord is giving us a visual example.  The words "rest" and "wrest" differ by only one letter.  They sound exactly the same when spoken.  But with only one letter difference, the meaning changes from the glory of God to a distortion.  Can we see then how important it is to follow the instructions of the Lord to the very letter?  How different would the ark experience have been if Noah had thought he knew better than the Lord and built the ark with even minor changes?  Or consider the people of Babel thinking their way to heaven by building a tower would work out better than the Lord's plan.

The Flood

There was much talk in the movie version of Noah about the flood being about justice for the wicked.  This is a common belief, even among LDS people.  The people were wicked, so the Lord punished them with a flood.  The vision of the vengeful God of the Old Testament comes into play often in the telling of this story.

Allow me to present a possible alternative.  I believe that the flood was an act of mercy rather than justice.  In the book Unlocking the Old Testament, Brother Victor L. Ludlow suggests five reasons why the flood could be seen as an act of mercy:

1) The wicked would have less time in this phase of their existence to commit further sins.
2) God's prophets had already demonstrated His power and witnessed his judgments; to have allowed more witnesses would have brought the people under greater accountability and condemnation.
3) God's spirit children still residing in His presence needed a more pure environment in which to come.
4) The earth itself was a living entity and desired a rest from wickedness.
5) The earth also needed to go through its own baptism of water preparatory for a later baptism of fire and eventual celestialization.

This was not the quick response of an angry God.  This was a well thought out, planned for, and merciful response to His children.

Brigham Young further tells us that "the earth, in its present condition and situation, is [still] not a fit habitation for the sanctified; but it abides the law of its creation, has been baptized with water, will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, and by and by will be prepared for the faithful to dwell upon." (Journal of Discourses, 8:83)

After the flood

After forty days of flooding, "God remembered Noah...and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged."  Noah, his wife and sons, and their wives had to stay on the ark for a time after that until there was dry land and until the Lord commanded them to leave the ark.  The first thing they did after leaving the ark was to give thanks.  "And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar and gave thanks unto the Lord, and rejoiced in his heart." (JST Genesis 9:4)

This is another type for us to follow in our own lives.  We are asked to offer up our broken hearts and contrite spirits as offerings to the Lord.  And we are commanded to give thanks and to "always remember Him" just as He has remembered us.  When the Lord has helped us through the trials or the floods in our lives, we must offer thanks and recognize His hand in our lives. 

The thing is, Noah was constantly looking for the good.  He looked for the good among the wicked people, and tried to help them come to the Lord.  After the rains ceased, he was sure he would find land again, and sent doves out to find evidence of the good he knew his Father would provide.  And when that blessing came through (even after a long wait), he offered thanks and showed his gratitude.

I sometimes wonder if I show enough gratitude.  I remember to give thanks for the blessings I can see and recognize.  But what about the blessings we can't see?  What about the awful possibilities that could have happened, but didn't?  What about all of those "behind the scenes blessings"?  I've made it a goal to look for those blessings, to try to recognize the Lord's guiding hand and to show my gratitude to Him continually.  When I look at the sky and see a rainbow (my house is situated in a place near the mountains where rainbows are prevalent), I remember that is the symbol of the covenant between the Lord and Noah that the great flood would never be repeated, a symbol of the blessing of things that didn't happen.

Well, friends, that's my take on Noah.  I hope we can follow his example of listening, obedience, doing things the Lord's way, mercy, and gratitude.  I hope we can look to these ancient stories that still hold so much truth that can be applied to our lives, and hear what our Father is trying to tell us.


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