A Disappointing God in Joan of Arcadia

Believe it or not, I watched ten episodes of Joan of Arcadia yesterday. I did other things while I was watching it–schoolwork, weekly quiet time reading, etc.–but I spent a lot of time with those characters. I’m used to them by now. I like them–even though I see Kevin as a narcissistic jock who thinks the whole world revolves around him and his handicap. But I’ll write a separate post on this soon, since he’s gotten me to think about my own handicap.

In this post, I want to comment on a few episodes in which God disappointed me.

1. On one, God told Joan to make sure her friend Andy’s sculpture doesn’t enter the school art show. Joan thinks this may be a message from Satan, since God wouldn’t tell her to steal a sculpture that’s not hers, right? So she leaves the sculpture in the show, and her friend wins $500. He then decides that he doesn’t need to stay in school anymore, since he can make money off his junk art.

Joan doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t want to steal the sculpture, since stealing is wrong. She asks God for guidance, and she (in this particular guise) tells Joan to use some imagination. Eventually, Joan concludes that all she can do is smash the sculpture. She does so, and her friend Andy doesn’t speak to her for weeks. Her family wonders why she did it, and she can’t tell them that God speaks to her, since they’ll think she’s crazy. When she asks her mom what she should have done, she’s told about other options: the mom could have talked to Andy’s dad, etc.

In my opinion, God let Joan down! It’s not obvious to everyone what his or her options are. Not everyone has imagination. It would be helpful if God had guided Joan rather than faulting her for having an idea-deficit. I was hoping Joan would give God a verbal thrashing the next time she saw him, but she didn’t, because she blamed herself.

Maybe the point is that Joan should have consulted others for advice. On a previous episode, God tells Joan that being alone is hell, which is why we should reach out to others. Perhaps Joan wasn’t expected to rely solely on her own imagination. But the show didn’t make that point explicitly.

That highlights an image of God that I have in my mind: that he leaves people hanging. I’m not the only one who feels that way. Many of you have heard the story of the man hanging by a thread over a cliff, and he hears a voice offering to help. The voice claims to be God, and the man responds, “Is there anyone else up there?”

I think of the movie, The Rapture, in which Mimi Rogers waits for God to rapture her and her daughter. God doesn’t, they steal to eat, and Mimi shoots her little girl. God finally intervenes…when it’s too late.

Maybe we have this lingering distrust of God because we wonder if he’s there at all, or we don’t see him, or we see so many bad things that he allows. I don’t know.

2. On another one, God tells Joan to go to the dance with the school bully. God commands Joan to do a lot of things on the show: to join the cheerleading squad, to enroll in AP chemistry (even though she’s a C-student), etc. But, here, he wants her to go out with a disturbed young man.

This was a particularly gut-wrenching, tear-jerking episode, since I could identify with the school bully. He was alone and angry. He felt as if no one liked him. I have these sorts of anger issues myself! But Joan could reach out to him and recognize his inner humanity.

Joan takes him to the dance, and he gets in trouble because he brings alcohol. Near the end, he points a gun at Joan’s police chief father, and he goes to jail. Joan wonders what exactly she accomplished! And she gets in trouble with her parents because she put herself and others in danger. She can’t tell them that God speaks to her, so she accepts her punishment: she gets grounded.

You know, I wanted Joan to give God a tongue-lashing. I would have given the character of God one myself if he appeared to Joan as a wise-guy janitor or a security guard or a cafeteria worker. But God appeared to her as Mrs. Landingham from the West Wing, and I can’t be mad at Mrs. Landingham. She’s a familiar face. I spend every Sunday with her when I watch Desperate Housewives. I see her on all sorts of commercials. I was glad that she was the one who would give Joan wisdom in this perplexing situation.

And God in the guise of Mrs. Landingham told Joan that she prevented a worse evil: without Joan’s presence in his life, the bully would have shot the assistant principal, over a dozen kids, and finally himself. The episode closes with Joan and Mrs. Landingham solemnly surveying the hallway. So God was disappointing at first on this particular episode, but I liked him (or her) more by the end.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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