Friday, January 14, 2005

The God of "Joan of Arcadia"

In about an hour, "Joan of Arcadia" comes on. I've taken to watching it with some regularity — not just because of the good acting or the (by-and-large) realistic presentation. The main reason is because I like "Joan of Arcadia"'s God.

If you're not familiar with the premise, God — in several different human guises — appears to teenaged Joan every week with an enigmatic task that she must complete. She doesn't always understand God's commands, often gets it wrong, but most of the time, by the end of the hour, she comes to understand what God was trying to accomplish, which is often pretty different from her own theory of what He (or She) was up to.

That's similar, in a lot of ways, to the way the life of faith really works. And I think that's kind of a departure for popular culture: a God who demands obedience. The "God of TV," if there is such a thing, is usually (1) a joke, (2) an elderly Benevolence, "Our Grandfather Who Art in Heaven," or (3) the Pantheistic Semi-nonentity. Of the last option, C.S. Lewis wrote:
The Pantheist's God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you.
But the God of "Joan" does pursue her. He won't leave her alone. He's constantly bugging her, he makes a pest of Himself. He's a noodge. He drives her crazy. That's a step away from the God of TV and a step towards the living God.

But, of course, he's not the living God. For one thing, Joan's God's incarnations are all docetic — He (or She) is not really any of those people that He appears to be. It's just a trick that He plays; he hasn't become flesh and dwelt among us. This God won't take that risk.

Not only that, but Joan's God offers no sense of the numinous. In the quotation above, Lewis continues: "There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance." And there is no danger in this show, I believe, of Joan ever falling down on her face and worshipping; no chance that she will ever say, "How awful is this place!" No chance that she will ever strike her chest and repent in dust and ashes. There is no hint of the mysterium tremendum.

Still ... it's the only TV show I know of that offers even a remote image of what a meaningful consciousness of a meaningful God might be like in the 21st century. For that I honor it.

And now it's time to watch it.


Jim said...

I like it too Ed. In fact, I'm watching it now while Joan sings. She has an excellent voice.

Angela K. Crandall said...

Hi, so what do you think of the show being cancelled? Quite frankly I'm still ticked off that a quality show has been kicked off the air for crap like Ghost Whisperer, but that's just my opinion. If you feel the same way leave me a message @