The Gospel according to MAID (2021)
One of my favorite shows of 2021 was MAID. It is an unassuming tale about a woman who tries to leave her husband to get their young daughter away from his violent anger problems. The protagonist, Alex, takes almost nothing with her as she escapes their trailer home with little Maddie in the middle of the night. She is forced to live in dire poverty, juggling childcare and hourly work as a maid (hence the title), while navigating the government’s red tape and seemingly impossible hoops to obtain assistance. Ten episodes later, you get a clear sense that the deck is stacked against women trying to get away from abusers. And you can’t help but feel discouraged about the futility of those pushed to the margins of society who cannot make enough money to work their way out of poverty into a decent, stable living.
MAID sheds light on the plight of those who suffer domestic violence, especially women and children who have few resources and, thus, find it difficult to become financially independent of the abuser. But it would be a shame to reduce this incredible show to just these lessons about victimization and a system rigged to fail. What stands out in MAID is the resilient human spirit of Alex and her unflinching love for her daughter. She thinks nothing of loss of sleep, foregoing meals and comforts, and moving from place to place at the drop of a hat—all for the prospect of giving Maddie a chance at happiness, a safe home, and a better future. Alex is not perfect, she makes ill-advised choices from time to time related to friendships, family, work, and money. But her care for Maddie never changes. She is consumed by her love for her daughter, her own heart.
Recently we talked about this in a class I am teaching. What if God loves us like this? As nice as it is to try to imagine, the image made some of us uncomfortable. It is just not the depiction of God that we were raised with. Yes, God “loves me,” but in that stoic, polite, distant sort of way, right? I am not sure what I would do with a divine caregiver who gets “sloppy emotional” when he thinks about me. For some reason, contemplating God as having those kinds of qualities does not fit neatly with the “bearded old man on a throne floating on a heavenly cloud” portrait of the Holy. But there are moments in Scripture where it is pretty noticeable that God has the same feelings for us that Alex had for Maddie. We could talk about YHWH seeing the plight of his people in slavery in Egypt, wincing at the sound of their cries of anguish, and feeling their suffering (Ex 3:7). We could mention the Lord’s self-revealing proclamation to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6). God could have described himself with any terms: greatness, power, holiness, wisdom, righteousness, truth. But he chose to reference first and foremost his love and compassion, his affection and loyalty, his patience and grace. Occasionally, “motherly” imagery is applied to God, as in Isaiah 66: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (v13). In the New Testament, Jesus compares himself to a mother hen who desires to gather her brood under her wings (Luke 13:34).
It is not a new thought for me to imagine that God care of me. He is a faithful provider (Ps 147:9; Matthew 6:26). But when I finished watching MAID, what stuck with me is Alex’s anguish and longing for Maddie to thrive, to be safe from harm and lavished with support and warmth. And I was struck by this thought: Can God even feel these kinds of feelings? There have been theologians throughout the years who find the idea of an “emotional God” dangerous and even impossible. If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, unchanging, how could he experience this kind of yearning and longing? How can he react to human experiences from the depths of his being? I don’t have any answers to those mind-bending philosophical questions, but I do know that Scripture depicts a triune God who made our forms of love to reflect his own.
Perhaps my favorite example of this comes in Philippians chapter one. In Paul’s opening statements, he shares about his love for the Philippian brothers and sisters. He was rotting in prison wondering about his future, and thoughts of their faith and devotion gave him inspiration. He missed them and wanted to be with his friends again: “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus” (1:8). The word translated as “compassion” is splanchnon, which literally refers to human “guts.” When used for feelings, it points to the emotional core of our being. This is the part of us that cries during Hallmark commercials, or starts laughing when everyone else is laughing. It’s a “gut” connection to the world around us. “Compassion” doesn’t quite capture splanchnon. The KJV is probably too literalistic with “the bowels of Jesus Christ” (!). It’s best translated something like “with the affections of Christ Jesus,” or “sincere care.” (That reminds me of one airline that tried to replicate “sincerely yours” on a sign, but instead it read “emotionally yours”).
Here’s the bottom line: because of Jesus Christ, and Jesus’ own love, affection, and devotion towards sinners, he has linked people like Paul and the Philippians, and they can live within and embody Jesus’ own deep affections. Thanks to shows like the MAID, I am reminded of how “love” is not just an idea, and it is not just an action either. Those of us who are parents/guardians are perhaps best equipped to understand the “gut” instinct of dedicating all of our attention towards the well-being of another, from our deepest inner self, our heart, our affections. And, as Jesus says, if you human parents who are imperfect feel such deep love and concern for your children, how much more the Father who loves and gives even more deeply and generously? (Paraphrase, Luke 11:11).
So, watch MAID, let it open your eyes up to the plight of abuse survivors, but also ponder the power of resilient human love—and also the prototypical affections of the God who cares for us with gospel love in Jesus Christ.