A Ship on Dry Land

By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved… Hebrews 11:7[1]

The classic story of Noah’s ark weaves through many cultures around the world and across millennia. But beyond the saga presented on movie screens, through Bible studies, and in a big tourist attraction, that epic pulls heaven and earth together in a tight braid of timeless wisdom vs. moral goofiness and invisible vs. visible truth. 

 Noah’s Ark also presents a towering example of how things are rarely what they seem. Let’s look at that.

The focal point of the story is a ship sitting on dry land. Look at how it imposes a silent but disruptive image. Profoundly countercultural—out of sync with, and challenging to, everything—Noah’s ship had no flow with its environment. None. It was built in one time and place but would only work in a distant future no one had seen or considered. As we zoom out, we see a massive disaster racing like a tsunami below the surface. It’s moving toward us and all we cherish. 

Since no one could see the storm coming, a farmer building a 500-foot-long ship in his pasture probably suggested he was insane. He was apparently the only person on earth who built a ship “in the middle of dry land.” His neighbors probably joked about how he would drag that thing to the beach. 

I guess no one thought about water rushing to the ship.

Corrupt to the Core

God’s assessment of the earth was stark: “As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.’” (Genesis 6:11-13)

If the Creator, who so loved the earth, held those thoughts, you know it was bad. Very bad. Beyond bad. No breezes of spiritual renewal, no prophetic voices, no fresh thinking, and no hope. “Corrupt to the core.”

 We too live in a sewer. The toxic streams of injustice, poverty, violence, lust, nihilism, etc. all flow into our water supply. So, why doesn’t God just “fix it?” Maybe because He thinks in terms of generations, eons, seasons, and seeds. Every seed carries entire orchards or forests. The Lord plays the long game. The very long game. 

Seeds of the Future

Genesis 6:8 says, “Noah was different. God liked what he saw in Noah.” Because God liked the guy, he warned him about things coming that could not be seen. And Noah acted on that. So, of all the people on earth, God only disclosed his heart to one person, a man who lived by faith—total confidence in God’s purposes and promises

God seemed more interested in saving Noah and his family than in rescuing the corrupt world. He would have a conduit for His seed that would produce a magnificent future. So, in His conversations with Noah, His words fell as seeds into Noah’s fertile and willing heart. 

When those seeds came up, they caused the man to complete a grueling, audacious, and historic construction project. As a true visionary, he built something that had no apparent purpose. Because Noah aligned with the heavenly country (Hebrews 11:16), he had to build with none of the earth’s cultural and financial support. 

The lines of conflict were dramatic, literally “earth shaking.” The population of the earth comprised one team. God and Noah formed the other one. Then the future dropped into the soil of one human life. Even as neighbors mocked Noah, seeds cracked open below the surface. 

Then, suddenly, one day, rain revealed the only sane person on earth.

[1] All scriptures quoted are taken from THE MESSAGE: THE BIBLE IN CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH (TM): Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE: THE BIBLE IN CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH, copyright ©1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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Of Gods and Men

The French movie, Of Gods and Men, tells the true story of a small group of Trappist monks at a monastery in Algeria.

I do not remember ever seeing a movie that is such a perfect description of “The Church.” The monks are clearly “called out” of the “world.” But they also know they are inescapably related to the people of their time and place. As Catholics in a Muslim country, they do not proselytize. They respect and serve everyone; no “us” vs. “them” attitude at all.

And the time and place are being roiled by change. Poverty, government corruption, and terrorism threats are all growing. And they are acutely aware of their increasing age and infirmities. The men feel all kinds of contractions; they know they are being squeezed out of the womb of earth.

The contractions come faster when Islamic terrorists murder some migrant workers nearby. Then the terrorists arrive at the monastery. Decisions must be made. Will they remain at the monastery or will they seek a safe place?

The monks walk in a clear sense of place. They pray, sing, work, get sick, and play here. This furniture, these faces, this land, this village. No consideration of this place as a stepping stone to a better place. They don’t download monastery models that seem to “work” in the seminaries or cities. These men are possessed by a farm country kind of commitment to people and place.

When these devout men take counsel together, every line rings true. We do not hear one ounce of pietism, heroics, or drama. They grapple with real issues, they irritate (and rebuke) each other, they search for truth and direction. But, beyond it all, they rest in the depths of love. For Jesus and for one another.

Near the end, they gather for fellowship around a table. One brother brings wine, a small tape player, and a cassette tape of “Swan Lake.” Facing death, they know that Jesus is their safe place. Just to be with Him together is enough. Without a word of dialogue, we see all we need to know in their laughter and tears as the camera moves around the table. Because I have long known that kind of bond with men, that scene was one of the most resonant things I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Perhaps the most riveting truth of this movie is that the monks refuse to let external pressures mold, motivate, or define them. They are devoted to their Lord, to one another, and to their place. They will do what they do and do it where they live. Why should it be more complicated than that? Why should our role and purpose keep “reinventing” or “innovating” just because of change going on around us?

These men clearly see (and say) that to follow Jesus is to die. So, what is the big deal about facing death…like this afternoon? Wasn’t that bridge crossed long ago?

If anyone ever asks me to recommend a movie that accurately portrays Christian faith, I’ll be quick to point them to this film. Other movies — like A Man for All Seasons, Places in the Heart, or Dead Man Walking — have given brief (and quite wondrous) glimpses. But Of Gods and Men is a long and profound meditation on living by faith.

Of Gods and Men stands as great moviemaking and more. It is a grand portrait of how to live upon the earth: With Him. Here. Now. Together.

NOTE: The title comes from Psalm 82: 6-7: I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men…”

Perhaps a better translation for the plural “gods” might be “judges” or even “my judges.” In other words, those called by God should live on earth as plumb lines in the midst of vertigo. But they will always be subject to the same rules and conditions as the “earthlings.” We will all die the same way.

The movie is available on DVD (English subtitles)

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