How do I know what God wants of me? To start with, if you think that God wants you to stab a baby or two, guess again.
In Aronofsky’s Noah, the old school homo religiosus figures that God has commissioned him, via dream and vision, to save animal species—innocent just as God made them—from the forthcoming deluge. Noah seems a bit vague about how his own family, and by extension the future of the human species, fits into God’s plan for the imminent mass drowning. Um, well I guess we get saved too, he tells the kids.
How do I know what God wants from me? Noah interprets the barrenness of the one young woman they have, Ila, as a sign that God is intent on a final solution. Later, he finds certainty on this point in a brief vision of himself as a bloodthirsty killer in the midst of a desperate mob. He cannot see himself as morally superior to those whom God will soon destroy; all human beings are rotten at the core. At least, that’s what Noah seems to be getting from God’s unspoken commands.
How do I know what God wants from me? Noah understands his series of signs and visions as a proclamation that God wants humanity to fizzle out with Noah’s family—once they have finished their animal-saving mission. It follows that Noah’s sons must not have wives who can bear children. Noah allows Ham’s intended to die and goes into a murderous rage when he finds that his Naameh, his wife, has conspired to have Ila restored to fertility. This scheme leads to the Abraham-and-Isaac-like scene where Noah prepares to kill his own infant granddaughters, but he gravely disappoints himself: he can’t pull the trigger. Gone from this scene, of course, is the divinely sent messenger who stops Abraham’s hand. Here, Noah has to stop himself. Again, asks Aronofsky, how do I know what God wants from me?
As the movie ends, Noah is still struggling with this question, but now it is: How do I know what God wanted from me? At the end, Noah confesses to Ila that he “disobeyed” God—who wanted him to finish off the human race—because his mind was overcome with love. Ila gets the film’s punch line: God, who knew what Noah could and could not do, had commissioned him for just this reason. Noah can forgive himself; he can stop boozing in his man-cave and get down to farming.
T. M. Luhrmann (When God Talks Back) tells us that some contemporary evangelicals have learned to hear quite vividly the voice of God in their heads. Noah seems not to have that trick, but he faces the same epistemological problem: How do I know that what I think God is saying is really coming from God? Lurhmann suggests that for the evangelicals she studied, checking and balancing against wacko revelations happens in prayer groups. Usually people don’t hear a message from God and go off to act alone. When God gives them something big, they share and discuss. Now how many cubits did he say again? Just as they learn in a social context to hear the voice of God, they check up on apparent divine messages with their peeps. But to be a prophet on a divine mission is a very lonely business. Here be dragons.