catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 6 :: 2010.03.19 — 2010.04.01


The end

It is with some embarrassment that I publicly admit to having watched two entire seasons of a certain television series that documents the chase of a wrongfully-convicted felon and his genius brother in their attempt to escape to freedom and win back their names. “I am only human,” I tell people, having been known, prior to this confession, as a quiet intellectual. “Really?” they reply, “I would never have pictured you watching that,” and if mutual friends are around, they quickly pull them over and relay the news, laughing. It’s kept my usually-inflated ego in check, if nothing more.

What I put up with, as a viewer, is knowing that the solution to all the show’s problems is dangled in front of me with each new episode — the strung-up carrots of new evidence, surprise allies and what seem like fool-proof back up plans — only to be yanked away and replaced by a slew of new questions. Like the effect of certain addictive substances, the modern television series leaves us at the end of each hour with an itching need for more.     

I often wonder what the Bible would look like if it were scripted by Fox’s (or perhaps for some of the racier segments, HBO’s) finest. Seriously, think about it. The more I have mulled it over, the more I realize how much both worlds have in common. Maybe this is because smart writers don’t just write, they understand the human condition, and capitalize on it.

Take the bit about questions, for example. When Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise, we are left with an enormous question mark: how are things going to be made right? The story continues, and just as the solutions that are written into network series come and go, leaving us anxious in our seats with tension, we are left wondering if this is ever going to be solved. Judges, prophets, priests, kings and a complex legal system all did what they were meant to do, but ultimately, they weren’t enough to resolve the conflict. And so we keep watching. The reality is, like the modern serial drama, these individual episodes cannot be understood independently, but fit into an unfolding whole.  And so, finally, after centuries of waiting, we witness the story’s climax: Jesus of Nazareth, whose life, death and resurrection finally offer a response to the question we were left with at the beginning of this all. We breathe a sigh of relief and sit back on our couches. And yet the show goes on, and tension lingers. We are left here, and things are still really messed up. We aren’t home yet.

We know things are going to work out. That is the way television shows, movies and novels, barring a few exceptions, have always ended: happily ever after. We’ve come to expect it, and reassure ourselves at the points of greatest conflict: “This can’t be how it ends!” The protagonist lives on and gets what he wanted — or something close — in the end, right? And yet, we are told these stories convincingly enough that it at times requires belief beyond the evidence that things are going to work out. To venture back into the language of Scripture, it requires something like faith.

In a sense, the tension these writers put into their television shows is the same as that which was recorded in the Bible millennia ago. We know how our story ends — God wins — and yet there is enough tension in our narrative to shake us in our belief sometimes. The abundance of appalling suffering, the doubt that comes with being an adherent of one of many faiths, and the apparent contradictions between the story of Scripture and the story of modern science all require us to look beyond what we see, and move into faith.

These guilty pleasures have garnered so much television success not only because they present us with questions that can only be answered in future episodes, but because they capitalize on our capacity to believe something, despite the odds with which we are presented sometimes. They require faith — faith that they’ll get off the island, faith that they’ll get out of prison and prove their innocence, faith that Jack Bauer will finally get all the terrorists. There is something inside us that needs to believe that in spite of all this, things are going to work out well.      

Author’s Note: Most of my thoughts are second-hand, if not outright stolen. The idea of Scripture as story can be found better articulated by author Donald Miller, particularly in a talk he gave at Mars Hill Bible Church, and in a book titled The Drama of Scripture, authored by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, professors at Redeemer and Trinity Western Universities respectively.

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