“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” - Hebrews 5:12-14
This fall, my high school youth ministry is watching and discussing clips from the movie, Noah, starring Russel Crowe.
When it was released in early 2014, this film upset many Christians, supposedly because of the ways in which it strays from the Biblical text.
Rest assured, it does.
It portrays Noah as a complex character, not all that happy with the job God has given him to do. It also includes the “watchers”, stone giants who help Noah and his family complete the ark.
In short, just as all art does, Noah takes some liberties.
Nevertheless, when I first saw the movie, I knew I would eventually use it as a discussion starter with my high school ministry.
Because the very things that angered Christians about it are, I think, what makes it excellent fodder for discussion.
Such an adaptation forces teens to see the story of Noah in a new way; No longer simply as the man who happily escorts the animals onto the ark. Because of the liberties it takes, such an adaptation also forces teens to think critically about their faith and God.
Among other things, in high school, I want my teens to learn to think critically about their faith. After all, for teens to take ownership of their faith, it cannot be spoon-fed to them. They have to decide for themselves what they believe and why. They have to wrestle with the hard questions, trusting that in the midst of them, they will encounter God.
Going into our first discussion about Noah, I felt fairly certain this would happen.
Indeed it did.
The first clip we watched was not even a minute long. It was from the start of the movie, which is told as though you're reading a storybook, illustrated phrases flashing along the screen. It recounts the history of Adam and Eve to their son, Seth.
As part of this, my students and I explored the story of Cain and Abel. As we talked about Cain's punishment, I launched into a discussion about fairness and justice. I asked students to define each word before posing this question,
Was God's punishment of Cain fair? Just?
To that, someone confidently replied “Both”.
After a few minutes, another, older student challenged that answer by saying the punishment was just, but not fair. In his words, “If it was fair, Cain would have been dead too.”
Not used to having someone disagree with him, for a moment afterward, the younger student sat in stunned silence before eventually saying, “You're right! I hadn't thought about that!”
Here's what I love about this moment.
Simply by sharing his own opinion, the older student caused the younger to push beyond what he thought he knew about this story and instead, go deeper, wrestling with it in new ways.
So often, I think it's easy to brush aside moments like these.
I mean, how much difference can it really make in a kid's life to rethink whether God was fair or just during an Old Testament Bible story?
Perhaps not much.
And yet, when I think about this moment, what I see is a student who realized, maybe for the first time, that he doesn't know everything there is to know about the Bible or God; That it's OK and even good for his understanding of faith and God to change over time.
My hope is that this will be the first of many discoveries this student makes about God and his faith in our high school youth ministry. And my hope is that through those discoveries, he'll develop a more mature and consequential faith - one that will serve as the foundation for his very life.