“God” in Popular Culture
I admit it. I watch more TV than I should. I always have, at least since I left home at age 18! My parents monitored my TV watching carefully and limited it severely. And much of the time we didn’t even have a TV.
But somehow I have had the ability to multitask—watching TV while reading a book, even a book of theology, and even writing an essay while watching TV. Of course, that has led to many irritating questions to my long-suffering wife: “What happened?” And “What did she say?”
One thing I have noticed over the years that in both fiction (of which I read a lot) and television and movies characters who talk about God almost always assume that “God” means “the all-determining reality.” That is, they (or their writers) assume that whatever happens, including evil and innocent suffering, is from God. Surely this assumption has seeped into many readers’ and viewers’ minds and caused them to assume the same.
I wonder why that is the case? I have seen many movies and television programs where someone in deep distress goes to a Christian minister to ask “Why?” And “Where is God?” And in most cases the minister has no satisfying answer but mumbles something about God knowing what he is doing. Often, sadly, the minister-character (whatever the denomination or tradition) seems not to have any idea how to have a helpful discussion with the questioner.
I would like just once to see an entertainment (not documentary) show on TV or as a movie where a Christian minister (or any Christian) explains that not everything that happens is God’s doing or God’s fault.
So what should a Christian minister (pastor, chaplain, whatever) or other Christian say when someone asks “Why did God allow this to happen?” Or “Where is God in this?” He or she should say “Not everything that happens is the will of God; God is not making this happen. Yes, he allows bad things to happen because he has given this world ‘relative autonomy’ over against him in order to allow free will. Humanity has deviated from God’s perfect will and brought this brokenness upon the world and ourselves. It’s not as if each suffering person brought that upon himself or herself; it’s that humanity as a whole has turned its back on God for ages and ages and allowed God’s enemy Satan, who Jesus called ‘the ruler of this world,’ to wreck havoc on creation including us. But God has promised ultimate, future redemption, salvation from all this and is being patient, waiting for as many people as possible to have faith in him and turn to him and look forward to the future time when he will wipe away every tear and put an end to Satan’s mischief. In the meantime, God wants to be with you, as the fellow sufferer who understands what you are going through. He wants to comfort you and give you faith to see that this present world is in darkness, away from him, and that he is good and loving and compassionate.”
Of course, much more could be said, but that should suffice in the short-run. Has no contemporary writer of fiction or maker of a television show or movie ever heard anything like that? Why not? Why do they all seem to assume that the person who asks about God in the face of evil and innocent suffering puts the minister, priest or lay Christian in a corner where they have no reasonable response? Even “Father Brown,” whose television writer seems to know something about Catholic theology, has, to the best of my knowledge, ever put words in Father Brown’s mouth like what I wrote above. Mostly, Father Brown is speechless, just a “comforting presence,” even when someone asks him to speak about God in the face of evil and innocent suffering.
Almost universally in American popular culture (and British because I watch a lot of British TV) writers portray their religious characters as assuming, together with everyone, that God must be by definition the all-determining reality and author of evil and innocent suffering. That is simply ignorance on their parts. They need to call up a Christian theologian (I volunteer) and ask “What would a seminary-trained minister say….?”
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