“The End Is Not Yet”: Learning to Live an “After” life in Popular Culture

Noah2014PosterIn this post, I  want to offer several thoughts on the way in which popular culture imagines the challenges of a post-life; first, with reference to Ulrich Simon (1913-1997) from whose work this post derives its title,[1] and second, by turning to consider Darren Aronofsky’s recent film, Noah.[2]

Simon was a German Jew who converted to Anglicanism. He was later Professor and then Dean at King’s College, London. In any case, I’m here interested in his discussion of the “symbolism of the end” through the story of Noah. He commented:

In the Flood mankind was overwhelmed, and even Noah only barely escaped with the aid of the Ark. Baptism never ceases to evoke the feeling of the cataclysm at the end of time, and in this way the Fathers of the Church have rightly understood the rite. Baptism is the fulfillment, the contradiction, of the devastating Flood which reduces all life to the slime and death. Just as Noah hinges the two worlds – before and after the Flood – so Christian Baptism hinges the world of condemnation and death on the one hand, and that of forgiveness and life on the other.[3]

Popular culture continues to find these pervasive questions of living a post-life worth trying to imagine.  Consider Darren Aronofsky’s recent film Noah which has attracted perspectives from all slants, not least from discussions which focus on the vital, yet at times strained relationship between literature and film. And Aronofsky’s portrayal of Noah’s struggle to imagine what life will be like after the water has dried up is not without implications for Christian discipleship.

Oddly enough, some critics have failed to take note of these pastoral implications.  As a pastor, I have walked with many who find the hinge life (living after baptism) quite difficult to imagine.  The newness of life, being buried and raised out of the water, experiencing the joy of the Holy Spirit and hearing the applause of congregants welcoming them into the community of new life can at times be quickly followed by questions such as: “Why do I still struggle in these or those areas?”  “Why do I feel the same as I did before?” No doubt, Christianity is well resourced to approach such questions, but in doing so, one should be aware of what at first might appear to the less compassionate a symptom of spiritual immaturity, is more profoundly a tension weaved into the biblical fabric concerning the cataclysmic dimensions of baptism.  Aronofsky does not relieve this tension in his portrayal of Noah.  The washing away of the old creation is not without questions of how to live after apocalypse.  As Simon put it:  “The rite is altogether eschatological in its meaning.  Its precursors, in and outside of the Bible, stress the catastrophe rather than the ensuing safety.”[4]

Drawing from such figures Justin, Origen, and John Chrysostom, Simon points to the need for Christians to resource further symbolism in understanding this hinge life:

From the Ark flies, and to the Ark returns, the Dove; Tertullian in De Baptismo changes the significance of this traditional symbol of Israel to that of the peace bringer from Heaven.  The Dove becomes the emblem for the Holy Spirit which descends upon the baptized and sustains the death-to-life movement which they enjoy as a continual benison from above.  It is not that they move themselves:  they are moved.[5]

Although challenges persist in understanding shifting attitudes towards such symbolism, art forms in popular culture nonetheless help us reconsider critical questions, in this case, through popular film.  In the end, it is not just a question of catastrophe, it is a question of forgiveness, hope, and new life.  In Christian terms, the hinge life or after life is the disciple’s life.

To what extent, then, does popular culture help, or perhaps even challenge us in theological construction and practice?


[1] Ulrich Simon, The End Is Not Yet: A Study in Christian Eschatology (Digswell Place: James Nisbet & Co, 1964).
[2] Darren Aronofsky, “Noah,” (USA Paramount Pictures, 2014).
[3] Simon, The End Is Not Yet,  174.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 175.

Image Credit: Wiki

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