Doctor Who and Exodus: On Discovering Your God’s Limitations

Perhaps the most significant thing that we have known all along but were reminded of forcefully in “The Girl Who Waited” is this: the Doctor is not infallible. It is not a given that he will make everything right by the end of the episode or the end of the season or the final episode of Doctor Who ever. Indeed, in some situations there is no way to “make things right.” If older Amy continued to exist, scarred by being stranded on her own for 36 years, that would have still been a less than perfect outcome. That older Amy ceased to exist is a less than perfect outcome. There are Kobayashi Maru situations in real life. Sometimes there are no winners.

Today’s sermon at church was the climax of the ten plagues of the Exodus story: the Passover and the death of the firstborn. In that story too we get the impression that we are dealing with the strongest of gods – but not one that is infinitely strong, nor infinitely wise – doing the best that he can to get his people out of slavery. Just teleporting them to a new location doesn’t seem to be an option. And so the deity of the Exodus must resort to inflicting tragedy on every single family in Egypt – presumably even the families of the midwives who had helped save Hebrew infants, not to mention other slaves who were victims of Egyptian injustice rather than its perpetrators.

There comes a time when we mature to adulthood and realize that our parents are imperfect and fallible. Might it be the case that coming to a mature faith involves recognizing that the image of God that we have, and which we think depicts an almighty, omnipotent, perfect and benevolent one, likewise has shortcomings?

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  • Anonymous

    It seems like it is mandantory that the West limit “God”s right to destroy civilization!! It doesn’t matter whose “God”! Because “God” is used to justify many atrocities.

  • Matt

    Interesting to see a theological take on Who. In particular given that this
    Season seems to draw on New Testament themes (death, resurrection in the impossible astronaut for example) unexpected if not actually virgin births and so on. This contrasts with the previous season that seemed to take fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm as its jumping off point.
    To my mind a key point about Who and what makes it great family entertainment is the difference between The Doctor and God.
    A deity must be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. The strength of the Doctor is that he has just one of these characteristics omnipresence. Making him powerful, but not invincible. If I had to choose a Shakespeare character heost resembles I think I would plump for Puck.

  • David Harting

    As someone with no formal training on the Bible, this could all be completely off base. But this is the Internet and I can post anyway!
    If we are going to believe that the God who lead his people out of  slavery also created the universe, then I don’t think we need to necessarily read the story of the exodus as a God doing the best he can. I think God could have come up with a decent list of reasons against teleportation, and thus elected plagues and looting.Which brings up another point, the distinction between imperfect solutions and an imperfect God. Solutions and problems are entangled, and problems are arguably a human, worldly matter.  Thus, it could be humans who make an infallible God seem fallible. However, the exodus is not the only instance in which God acts less than infallible; i.e. at the Tower of Babel, God seems threatened.But this brings up another important distinction, the difference between abstaining from action and lacking the capacity for action. At least I dearly hope this is a real distinction, for the sake of myself and my potential progeny.

  • Samuel Lawson

    Would you say then, that the fact that God is used to justify atrocities is an argument against the existence of God? It’s your right to think so. My take is that it is an argument that some people are unscrupulous jerks who will use any excuse to do what they will.

  • Samuel Lawson

    “A deity must be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.” Although this is the litmus test for God in some religions, it is by no means universal. Norse gods, for example, exemplified the importance of struggling towards an end. Even Christianity supports that God either has limitations, or at least chooses to obey a certain set of laws for reasons unknowable, otherwise there was no reason for the crucifixion.