Painting Biblical Violence in Primary Colors

Painting Biblical Violence in Primary Colors

I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that we take some of the most violent stories in the Bible and turn them into happy little children’s stories and coloring pages: the flood story; the ten plagues; the genocide at Jericho; Solomon threatening to slice a baby in two. Why, for example, has the Noah’s Ark story become one of the most cheery accounts in Sunday School when it is one of the most violent and disturbing episodes in the Old Testament? 

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD” (Gen. 6:5-8 NRSV).

Here’s how the story is usually portrayed:

Photo
by Susan Pigott

Here’s how it should be portrayed, if we were picturing the story the Bible tells.

Photo copy
by Susan Pigott

I suspect that part of the reason we’ve neutered this horror story is because we (adults) don’t want to think about the very hard questions the flood account raises. What sort of evil could humans commit that God would decide to destroy not only humans but all creation? What kind of Creator regrets creating? How can God be sorry? Why save only one family? What about all the dead people and animals bumping against the sides of the ark?

These questions are not about the historicity of the ark story. They are about the theology of the ark story. What kind of God is this? And how do we reconcile such a God with the God revealed in Jesus Christ?

It’s much easier to sing the Arky Arky song and pretend that the account is all sunshine and rainbows. But there is a dark side of God as portrayed in the Old Testament that we must be willing to confront. This is the God Marcion rejected. Are we doing the same by repainting the violence of the Old Testament in bright, primary colors?

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8 thoughts on “Painting Biblical Violence in Primary Colors”

  1. I’d be interested in a follow-up blog/review of the upcoming NOAH film starring Mr. Cinderella Gladiator Man. The trailer promo suggests it may not be the old Cecil B. DeMille fare. Speaking of films, how ironic that some recent world catastrophe films like “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” convey some of the horror you point out is missing from the Sunday School version of The Flood. I averted my eyes every time The Bible miniseries was advertised, but I gather from the plot summaries that the TV Noah didn’t raise the theological question of how bad does bad have to be before a Creator decides to obliterate his creation. PS: I am moved by your flood painting (“like” isn’t the right word). Perhaps you should publish a Bible commentary someday complemented with your art (like William Blake’s poetry and woodcuts).

    1. I’m not sure I can stomach Mr. Crowe. He about ruined Les Miserables. I doubt I will go see the movie. If I do, it will be when it’s available through Amazon Prime, and then a review would be rather pointless, methinks. These Bible movies always drive me nuts. I can’t sit through them. I’ve never made it all the way through The Ten Commandments with Mr. NRA-Man. I can’t get past the well at Midian and all the giggling girls.

      I like the idea of an illustrated commentary, though, I’m afraid my artwork just isn’t that great. Luckily, the iPad lets me erase and erase and erase. That makes all the difference. I wish the Bible had more horses in it. I can draw those.

  2. Are you familiar with The Brick Testament? It’s a website of the Bible illustrated with Lego pieces and though sometimes his interpretations are… interesting, he shows the Bible’s vicious stories in full detail. The juxtaposition of cute Lego figures and terrible violence is strangely amusing. http://www.thebricktestament.com

    His take on Noah’s ark doesn’t pull any punches. One of my favorite scenes is when he shows Noah and his family exiting the ark into an endless sea of skeletons and death. Here’s a link to that scene: http://www.thebricktestament.com/genesis/god_drowns_everyone/24_gn08_18-19.html

  3. I remember being taught these in Sunday school. Perhaps it was done this way to help teach children about the events without showing the true horrors actually depicted? It’s just a thought and one of the first to come to mind.

    1. Oh yes. I realize that in children’s Sunday School we wouldn’t want to scare them. But, at the same time, we shouldn’t paint Noah’s ark as a happy thing. Plus, once kids are at a certain age, they should be taught the real stories so they don’t grow up just knowing the Sunday School versions from childhood. That’s where I think we make a mistake in church education. We never go beyond the childhood understanding of stories like this one.

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