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God in a Sitcom

September 26th, 2003 by Jason · No Comments

The incarnation is a scandal. The fact that God became a full-fledged human was a big deal for at least the first 500 years (think Arius). But now it doesn’t shock us. Jesus: Son of God in a body…yawn, how about those Dodgers? I think one of the primary reasons it doesn’t shock us any longer is because we either have a hard time imagining what Jesus would look like or we imagine Jesus using such popular images as a white-robed, long-haired, sandaled, brown-haired, otherwise nondescript guy. No pimples, lanky adolescence, and certainly not engaging in burping and other bodily functions. Well, a new sitcom, Joan of Arcadia , not only gives us a fresh chance to “baptize our imaginations” (as C.S. Lewis recommended) with what is so scandalous abou the incarnation, but also raises some interesting questions for Christians.

The basic plot of the sitcom is that God appears as a number of rather ordinary people, ranging from a “pretty hot guy” to a black cafeteria woman with a bit of snap, to Joan, a teenager learning to adjust in a new town. When God appears as these people, and with a personality that Joan describes as “snippy” it made me wonder just what such an encounter would be like. The image I have of Jesus is often so far removed from anything in my everyday reality that it loses its power and absurdity. God having dinner with me, and helping to finish off a huge mud pie (you can tell what I had for dessert tonight ;)?!

Ever wonder why the disciples seem so dense? Why it took so many miracles, so many failures, and why Jesus had to tell them ten times over that his mission lay at the cross? I think part of it is that hanging out with God is befuddling. I imagine that the disciples spent some nights awake watching Jesus sleep, wondering how this guy with a 5 o’clock shadow and doing something so ordinary as sleeping could be the same guy who had raised young Jairus’ daughter back to life just a short while earlier.

And from the viewpoint of the resurrection we see that it is not only unexpected and scandalous for God to become incarnate in a single person in history, but also an act of gracious love to enter our world, share in our sufferings, and conquer our enemies.

Joan of Arcadia also raises some questions that are worth pondering. Why are shows like these at least mildly popular ( Touched by an Angel and 7th Heaven are similar)? Or, as Joan’s mom asks one befuddled priest: “What is God doing right now? What is he thinking? Is God bored? Run out of ideas? God’s a father right? Then why doesn’t God do something about his children that are suffering [referring to her parapalegic son]?” The priest doesn’t quite know what to say, other than “I’ll pray for you,” and when we start to actually start answering those questions ourselves their difficulty becomes evident.

To the question of evil Christians respond that Jesus bore our suffering and sins. However, while that means our sin has been paid for and we don’t have to bear our suffering alone it doesn’t negate the fact that we still must bear it. Perhaps some suffering must be borne if we are to mature and be refined, but all of it?

The incarnation also raises the problem of particularity. Why did God show up at the certain time and place that God did? Why did God come only once, and stay for such a short amount of time and remain in such a relatively small area? As one columnist puts it:

We are living here on a planet in shambles, terrorists running murderously amok, the Mideast on the verge of exploding, humanity plagued by hateful prejudices that go back centuries, poverty and depravity rampant, and when God decides to intervene, it’s to straighten out a few troubled folks in a small town and solve a murder case? It’s just too ridiculous.

Even if this show raises eyebrows with comments like “I came off a bit harsh in the Old Testament, but am nicer in the New Testament and Koran” (I’m not sure Jews would be too keen on that statement), it reminds us that spirituality is not a dead topic. The question of how a person can find meaning in a crazy and hurting world is alive and well. And while religion might be spurned as an answer (Joan reminds God that she is “not a religious person”), questions about God and the desire to be known by that God remain alive and well.

Tags: kingdom naturalists