Over the years, some clergy have confided to me that there are passages of the Bible they find difficult to accept, much less preach about.
To our modern ears, for example, some of what Paul wrote in the letters that became part of the New Testament sound sexist (“Wives, be submissive to your husbands”) or blind to systemic evil (“Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly”).
Then there are the stories in the Hebrew Bible where an angry God decides to punish or destroy, with fanfare, those who sin or stand in the way of God’s will.
You could argue that some evil people deserved to feel God’s wrath. But, as is the case with wars, a lot of innocent people who got in the way suffered, too. In Genesis, the Almighty decides to flood the world and, in Exodus, God inflicts plagues on Egyptians, including death to their firstborn children.
And that brings me to Hollywood, where biblical epics are back in style.
Some of the same passages considered difficult, even troubling, by those in the pulpit are irresistible to filmmakers with millions to spend on expensive actors and eye-popping special effects.
In this year’s “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, director Darren Aronofsky drowns most of humanity, with hair-raising scenes of people crying in terror as the ground below them is rapidly submerged.
And in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” – now in a theater near you – I watched with awe through my 3-D glasses as director Ridley Scott and his CGI team waged apocalyptic war on the Egyptians.
Swarms of locusts rain down on Pharaoh and his subjects; frogs galore hop into their homes, even into their beds; monster-size crocodiles turn the Nile red with blood from all their human food; and, in a climax that’s more visually arresting than suspenseful, the waves of the Red Sea come crashing down on the Egyptian soldiers, sending them, their horses and their chariots into the deep.
Scott, the Brit who gave us the Oscar-winning “Gladiator,” must have felt a little like You-Know-Who as he presided over all this computer-generated doom and destruction.
The film purports to tell the story of how a faithful God sent Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. Actor Christian Bale, who was perfect as Batman, is an OK Moses. And there are some intriguing scenes in which Moses, a reluctant hero, is prodded by a hyper-articulate boy who is supposed to be either God or God’s messenger.
But the drama and most of the theology are, yes, drowned out by the real reason for this 3-D movie: The “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience every time the director commands “Action!”