Thursday, February 15, 2018

Mountains Out of Molehills: Personal Jesus

Mountains Out of Molehills is a feature here at Somewhere Only We Know that zeroes in on political, religious, etc statements made by authors, publishers, etc that really don't have anything to do with the overall story, plot, or character growth of a book (or other medium).

I introduced this feature concept in this Discussions Only We Know post. Incidentally, this first edition of Mountains Out of Molehills is about a TV show. And while this episode I'm discussing does have the potential to play into a particular character's growth (or whatever the opposite of growth is), the statement being made is one I cannot ignore. This is a LONG post, I am aware, but please bear with me as the message is so important.

Like many, I'm a fan of the TV show Grey's Anatomy. I've appreciated the fact that the show even has one single character that has faith in God--April Kepner played by Sarah Drew. I binge watched the first 12 Seasons of the show and only have been watching the show as it releases week by week on Hulu since the middle of Season 13. As such I've come up against several issues with April and how her faith is portrayed throughout the prior seasons--specifically surrounding her divorce from Jackson Avery played by Jesse Williams. This is not to even mention Callie Torres's (Sara Ramirez) twisting of Scripture from several seasons back. Regardless, as a binge watcher, I could easily watch an episode, find myself miffed with the message that the writers of the show were sending in regards to Christianity, and then move past it onto the next episode dismissing my frustrations only to be entangled with the continuing story line.

But not any more.

After the episode titled "Personal Jesus" which aired January 25, 2018, I found that I couldn't stop thinking about the message this episode was sending to the viewer. And I couldn't keep myself silent any longer. I've long since wanted to start this feature but found myself holding back because I couldn't find the right words to describe what I wanted it to be. But after this episode, I knew that I had to get my thoughts together so that I could address this episode before too much time passed from when the episode aired.

SPOILER WARNING!!!! This post has detailed information about the Grey's Anatomy episode Personal Jesus mentioned above. If you're not up to date with the show here's your warning to leave now!!!

I'm just going to progress through the episode and address my thoughts alongside some of the dialogue taken from the site:

APRIL: In the course of one day, Job received four messages, each with separate news that his livestock, servants, and 10 children had all died. He continued to be a faithful servant. He still praised God. He persevered. ...- Job's faith was tested. And he passed the test. ...And for his faith, God rewarded Job with twice what he had before. ...

At this point, I'm thinking, "Good on them for including a Biblical story in this episode. However, the story of Job is one normally associated with immense suffering. Where is this going to go?"

Skipping ahead...Karin Taylor comes into the ER in labor...

I don't like to question God, but I have got to wonder about this particular design. I mean, the combination of the size of the baby's head and the female anatomy, it just feels like ... an odd act of cruelty, or, like, maybe a little bit of a slip. Like, maybe he was tipsy when he came up with it. I mean, we know God likes to drink the whole "water to wine" of it all. It just doesn't seem like that far of a leap to think that ...

Well first of all, Karin the entire design of childbirth is a part of woman's curse as a direct result of her sin. Genesis 3:16 "To the woman He said, 'I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children." So yeah Karin not an act of act of punishment and consequences sure. I'm not even going to address the absurdity of her whole comment about God liking to drink due to the miracle of turning water into wine. Read the Scripture, harmonize it, and you will find that while there is no condemnation for drinking alcohol itself, there is against drunkeness. But yeah, just go ahead and tell the viewers that God's a big ol' drunk who makes harsh decisions of cruelty because He's unable to hold his drink. Grrr...

Moving along...April tells Jackson that she just delivered the baby of her ex-fiance, Matthew. The very Matthew she left at the alter to run off with Jackson. He responds with asking her how that was for her..."Which was Ironic? Comical? Soul-crushing?" Simply reminding her that she left someone who shared her views on faith for love which has now turned out to be a failed marriage.

Next, 20 year old, David Roman comes into the ER...Let's take a look at the dialogue.

I wasn't trying to kill myself. I-I would never try to kill myself. I'd go straight to hell.
- Why'd you cut yourself, then? ...
Matthew 5, verse 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, you cut it off. And I couldn't stop sinning.
-You mean masturbating?
So I tried to cut it off.

My thoughts..."Oh of those crazy fanatics that make all of us Christians look crazy as all get out." We'll come back to this storyline but for now we're moving on.

Next up a 12 year old black boy, Eric, is brought into the ER with a gunshot wound. He was shot by the police for breaking into his own house because he lost his key. I'm not touching the statement being made by this story line with a ten foot pole, however, this story is essential to describing the progression of April's feelings throughout the episode.

And we're back to the 20 year old literal fanatic...

-20-year-old tried to cut off his hand. He was masturbating too much.
-Oh, my. That seems like an overreaction.
I was following God's Word.
-Yeah, not quite sure you heard Him right.
If you don't know the Bible
-No, I do. I do. And the Bible also says that your body's a temple and you should use it to glorify God.
I'm trying to, but temptation is everywhere.
-Yeah, well, the Bible also says that God doesn't tempt us beyond our ability. He doesn't give us more than we can handle.
"If your right hand causes you to sin, you cut it off."
-David, when God created the world, he also created metaphors.

Again I thought "wow I'm actually surprised that they're allowing April to do just a good job debating this crazy person."

Meanwhile, April directs the family of the 12 year old gunshot victim to his side. Some things happen between the parents and the policemen who are present to guard the "suspect." April and Karin then share a moment where Karen uses the same phrase "God doesn't give us more than we can handle." I'll come back to this later. Jackson then relates a story about how he once targeted by the police in his own neighborhood for "fitting the description" of a suspect. April doesn't mention this directly but I got the impression that she might be wondering if Harriet, her daughter with Jackson, might one day face a similar situation.

April next has a conversation with Matthew, the jilted fiance:

Karin is terrific.
-Yeah, she is. It's the best thing that ever happened to me. And I guess I have you to thank for that. I mean, it hurt, being left on my wedding day.
Matthew, I'm so sorry
-At my wedding in front of everyone I knew and loved. It hurt. And I wasn't open to being hurt again like that, so Karin and I we had a long friendship before I let myself realize that she was She's the love of my life, you know? Of course you know. You You have that with Jackson. And I h-heard from the pastor that you were pregnant, so you have, what, a 3-year-old now?
I had a I have We have Harriet. We have a beautiful daughter named Harriet. She's 1. And she's the light of my life.
-Well Guess it worked out perfectly for both of us, then. God used that pain and turned it into something beautiful. Guess He knew what He was doing all along, huh?
I am so glad you found Karin.

This conversation is packed with so much. Matthew has found a way to move past the pain that April caused him and is now happily married and a father. And he thanks both April and God for that. Although it does seem that he's still slightly bitter toward April and I would say God also considering the phrase "Guess He knew what He was doing all along, huh?" April's only yet again reminded that her relationship with Jackson failed even though she's obviously still in love with him. She's reminded of the son they lost who would have been three. But there is Harriet in the mix and she is a blessing. Yet, I'm not sure based on this conversation that April would say that God had worked everything out in her situation.

I'm skipping the part where a doctor who studies orgasms tries to explain to fanatic David that orgasms are good and actually created by God. Although Karin has been experiencing pain and complications since birth, it is now apparent that she's in real distress. The 12 year old boy, Eric, who was shot by the police has since died in surgery. April responds to the police officers looking for a statement:

My statement is that a little boy was at home when your fellow officer shot and killed him. You can't just be out there shooting people 'cause you're afraid. How am I supposed to have any faith in a system like that?

And yet again, while she didn't say the words "how am I supposed to have any faith in a God that will allow this to happen" the sentiment rang out from every word.

April is then called into fanatic David's room where they have a debate:

-You know scripture, right? ...
-A or B God created the Earth in seven days, or evolution happened?
Both. 2 Peter says that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, so He measures time differently, which means he could have used evolution to create the world.
-Do you think that Jonah really survived three days in the belly of a great fish?
The Bible is is a book, David. It's full of beautiful stories and metaphors and and poems that shouldn't be taken literally.
-But 2 Timothy says all scripture is inspired by God.
Yeah, inspired by, not dictated by.
-What about "thou shalt not kill"?
Well, come on. That one is definitely literal.
-Aren't they all? Luke says "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
I know. I know He
-James says, "Do not merely listen to the word. Do what it says."
Within reason! You have to do what it says within reason, okay?! We don't chop off our limps! We don't cut our babies in half!
-Then tell me what to do if this won't! If I can't trust this, if it's not the truth, if the Word of God is just a bunch of stories, what does anything mean? What is any of this even for?

I don't personally agree with April's assessment on creation...although her statement about time being different to God is true. I do believe Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a great fish. Yes the Bible is a book about beautiful stories and metaphors and poems and some of them are just that...metaphors, but most of them are literal. The problem is that you can't just take one or two here and there and pull them out of context and apply them to every other situation. You have to be familiar with the Bible as a whole. You can take any single verse and pull it out of context or link several together that have nothing to do with each other to force them to say something that God was not intending to say. I always come back to Psalm 14:1 which says "There is no God." Yet that's not the entirety of the verse. The verse actually says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" We've all seen masters at twisting words on various TV shows--especially shows with lawyers--or listen to politicians for two seconds and you'll see words twisted to mean what they don't. You have to listen to the entire message. You have to read and be familiar with the entire Bible to understand God's character and to know how to differentiate between what is literal and what is figurative. And even then we still get it wrong from time to time.

At the end of the episode April continues the voice over that started the show:

"Eli, Eli lama sabachthani?" That's what Jesus said on the cross before he died. "My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?" Job asked the question, too. But he kept the faith. Equal parts light and dark And what did he get for it? Replacement children. PTSD. Was it worth it to have been a faithful servant? Or would it have been better to just curse God's name from the beginning? Where was God throughout all of Job's suffering and pain? He was winning a bet with Satan. ...Makes you wonder where He is through all of the unfairness and inequity and cruelty in the world.... Where is he now?

Again taken out of complete context...Jesus's question to God was while He was hanging on the cross bearing the sin of the entire world--past, present, and future--and God can have no part of sin. Habakkuk 1:13 "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing." Isaiah 59:2 "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you..." Regardless God had not betrayed His Son. It was Jesus's mission from the beginning to come in the flesh and live and die at the hands of His creation so that He could be raised from the dead redeeming the price of blood from all who would repent and follow Him.

April's statements that Job received REPLACEMENT CHILDREN as his rewards for remaining faithful ticks me off to no end. As someone who has actually lost one child and yet born another living child, I would think that she would understand that the grief of her loss doesn't negate (or at least doesn't have to negate) the immense joy brought on by her now living child. I don't think she feels as if Harriet is a replacement child for Samuel, the son she lost. I don't know a single person who has lost a child that feels as if their subsequent children are replacements--the tone of utter contempt April uses when stating this shows how disgusted she is at the idea of Job's additional children. The grief of loss doesn't mean joy can't be experienced in new children. And the new children do not mean that the grief of child/children lost ever goes away. I'm sure Job continued to feel the grief of his first ten children throughout the rest of his life.

But to April's question of whether it would have been better to have cursed God's name from the beginning and where God is through Job and the rest of the world's suffering...well here's the thing. When God created the world He made it perfect. But man chose to go against God. God only had two rules for Adam and Eve. Yet Satan placed doubt in Eve's heart. Was God really good? Was God keeping something from them? And Eve sinned. And Adam with her. Death for all men entered the world with Adam and Eve's sin. And the world has not been the same since. Broken and marred by humans. Not how God created it at all. So if all men die and bad things happen then who among us is worthy to be exempt from "bad things"? From death? Who deserves to live a life free of pain? Who is sinless and therefore deserves this? None. If even Job who God considered blameless and Jesus who we know was sinless lived lives of difficulty and suffering and loss, how can we expect to escape these things in our lives when all of us have fallen short?

Knowing who God is should be enough to answer this question. It's what God told Job when Job questioned God. Job 38:

"Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 'Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone--while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the cloud its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, "This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt"? Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?' ...'Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years! ... What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? ... Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion's belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's dominion over the earth? Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, "Here we are"? Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?"

And he goes on for another chapter ending in chapter 40 with "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" And Job's response is what ours should be as well when we dare to question God and His plans and His goodness. "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer--twice, but I will say no more." And then God questions Job again.

"Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor; and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at all who are proud and humble them, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you."

God continues offering these rhetorical questions to Job. And again we should all reply as Job (chapter 42) "I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, "Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

As if this isn't enough to satisfy the question because God is worthy to be praised simply because of who He is, there is more. God in His great love for us--His great concern for our salvation--He emptied Himself of deity and came in the form of a man born of humble circumstances who lived and died at the hands of His creation so that He could rise from the grave and redeem all those who will believe and follow Him back to Himself with the price of His blood. This doesn't speak to a God who doesn't care about the cruelty and pain in the world He created. But go right on ahead April, you curse God and see where that gets you.

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