He’s so nervous he could vomit. And of course who wouldn’t be when the world’s worst terrorists were shooting machine guns (and crossbows?) at them? But poor Chuck Bartowski is not cut out for this job. He’s not a “secret agent man,” he’s a computer repair man at the local Buy More (the fictional equivalent of our Best Buy Geek Squad). Ever since secret government information was imprinted onto his brain, however, he’s found himself tangled up in one caper after another. But the major theme of Chuck is not the average man vs. world terrorism (though this in itself is a fitting topic for discussion and the show has something to say about it too). Rather, the recurring theme of this delightful new comedy is “truth.”
Chuck has already forced me to ask of real life that same ethical/spiritual question: who has a right to know the truth?
Previous episodes have found our bumbling hero wrestling with the truth repeatedly. He struggles to trust the two governmental agents who refuse to let him in on the game. They not only can’t tell him about all the secrets running around in his mind, all the missions they have to accomplish, and all the things they as individuals have done, but they can’t even tell them who they really are. Casey and Sarah (if those are their real names, and they aren’t) are forced to leave Chuck in the dark. This constantly compels Chuck to doubt them and their good intentions for saving the world. He is thrust into precarious situations each week where he must decide afresh, “do I trust these people?” In a recent episode all this “truth” talk came to a head.
The story revolved around the release of a terrible poisonous gas that, before it killed you, forced you to tell the truth. What is it about this show and the truth? At first I was rather annoyed by the redundancy of each episode, asking again and again, “who has a right to know the truth?” Part of the answer to NBC’s love affair with this theme on the show is related to genre. Chuck is a “spy-show,” and part of the genre of espionage programs is mystery. The constant battle with the truth helps to create that mystery. But the content has already forced me to ask of real life that same ethical/spiritual question: who has a right to know the truth?
Christians throughout church history have wrestled with this question specifically. So, American missionary to Burma Adoniram Judson believed that you must always, under all circumstances, tell the truth. He faced severe persecution, and may have even brought harm on the few Christians that did exist in Burma by speaking so plainly about his faith, and about converts, to the emperor. On the other hand, Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that the only people you had to tell the truth to were those who deserved to know the truth. In his mind, then, he could lie to his Nazi interrogators about the other men who were involved in the plot to kill Hitler (known as the July Plot). Who deserves to know the truth? Don’t all people? Are their circumstances where it is acceptable to lie, or “withhold the truth?”
If Jesus is our example I can’t help but remember him before Pilate. “Are you the Christ?” Jesus’ answer, of course, was in the affirmative and he was crucified. But perhaps this is a poor example. After all it was Jesus’ goal on earth to die for the sins of His people and pay their debt to God that they might have eternal life.
There is another example of Jesus I think about. Jesus performs miracles and tells the healed to “tell no one” about what he has done. “Keep it a secret,” the Son of God says. Now as an Evangelical I certainly deny that Jesus lied, or sinned in anyway. So therefore, am I to conclude that secrets are acceptable in certain circumstance? Is Chuck’s world of mystery and deceit, of lies and secrets a justifiable one? Can we conclude appropriately that our government is in the right to keep secrets? I think the answer is yes.
There are a number of other texts we could turn to for confidence in this assertion, I’ll spare you a Biblical theology of lying here. There are occasions where keeping secrets, withholding the truth, even lying is acceptable. The occasions are circumstantially specific, and there is no license here for free-will “truth-hiding” and secret keeping that simply aids our own perverted agendas. But in appropriate contexts we can rightfully withhold the truth, I believe. So, it may be safe to conclude that Chuck’s world of secrecy and concealment are not only good television writing, but they are justifiable parts of reality.