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Ari Handel’s Surprising Take on Environmental Stewardship

There is no doubt that Ari Handel’s newest film, “Noah,” has created a lot of controversy among Christians who argue that the film diverges from the actual biblical account.

For example, on the surface, this portrayal of the biblical story seems like an environmentalist film that should make Christians who care about capitalism and industry feel a bit uncomfortable:

  • Noah and his family are primitive hunter-gatherers, in contrast to the evil descendants of Cain who industrialize the earth.
  • The plot hangs on Noah’s belief that God is calling him to save the animals while ensuring that all humans who survive the flood eventually die.
  • Tubal-Cain, the main antagonist, talks about taking dominion over the earth.

At first glance, it seems that “Noah” celebrates a primitive society with little progress, enterprise, or industrialization.

[pq]Having dominion means having the authority as individuals to cultivate the earth through the work that we do.[/pq]

This seems to stand in stark contrast to God’s call to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

It also seems to promote primitive agrarian values over progress, technology, and economic growth.

But if we take a closer look, it turns out that “Noah” has something to teach us about human society and long-term stewardship. Let’s unpack this a bit.

Stewardship and the Rule of Law

The “industrial” society of the antagonists turns out to be a primitive martial society that has no rule of law and seems to value the use of force over enterprise and innovation. Noah and his family are the ones who work together to build and create the massive construction project that the ark turns out to be. It is by peacefully working together and drawing upon our differences that we can create the most value in our work and enjoy safe and flourishing communities.

Stewardship and Self-Interest

In the movie, the descendants of Cain have pillaged the earth so that it has become a wasteland. They have not taken a long-term view of the earth’s resources and must pay the price. In pursuing unethical short-term profit, they have forgotten to take their long-term needs into account. It is in our best interest to create true value in an ethical sustainable way—even if it means that we don’t make as much profit up front.

Stewardship and Dominion

While the movie portrays Tubal-Cain’s desire to dominate the earth as wrong, it indicates that Noah’s vision of eventually eradicating human impact on the earth is wrong as well. In an interview, Ari Handel said:

There’s a whole conversation about taking dominion over the earth. That dynamic of a responsibility towards the earth and the creatures within it is something we wanted to explore in the film. It’s completely purposeful, but it’s also completely grounded in Genesis.

One way to think about this is, in Genesis, mankind is given dominion and then mankind is asked to have stewardship. I think that is pretty much reflective of where we are today. It’s undeniable that we have dominion over this world. It is under our rule in the sense that we are affecting it more than anything has ever affected it. A lot of the things on this planet are going to live or die at our mercy. We have dominion. It’s been given to us. Whether you think that’s right or wrong, good or bad, it’s true. The question is: will we take stewardship?

Though they reacted very differently, Tubal-Cain and Noah both misunderstood dominion as abuse. Instead, having dominion means having the authority as individuals to cultivate the earth through the work that we do.

The film’s treatment of stewardship raises some questions as we think about industry in society:

  • As we work in our various industries, are we impacting the earth positively or negatively?
  • Are we focused on creating long-term value or short-term profit?
  • In our eagerness to pursue progress, are we forgetting the resources that will help our enterprises become successful?
  • Are we merely taking or actually creating?

I’m not advocating that we embrace every environmental allusion in “Noah.” But I am suggesting that we let the film serve as a reminder that a successful market economy is a long-term play that involves a great deal of foresight and character.