Reviews > Culture

Joan's God shows up in prime time

Culture

Issue: "Considering the heavens," Jan. 24, 2004

Joan of Arc was a late-medieval teenager to whom God supposedly spoke, directing her into the conflict between England and France. Joan of Arcadia is a 21st-century TV teenager to whom God talks, directing her into the conflicts of everyday life.

Joan of Arcadia on CBS has been one of the few new shows to become a hit, scoring big both with teenagers and critics. Christian and pro-family groups are hailing it as one of the most positive shows on television, both for bringing God into prime time and for its pro-family themes.

Joan (Amber Tamblyn) is an ordinary teenager, a "C" student somewhere in the middle of her school's social pecking order. Dad (Joe Mantegna) is the chief of police, struggling to be a good cop against the pressures of the politicians, and Mom (Mary Steenburgen) worries about money and their kids, Joan and her two brothers, a science nerd and a bitter wheel-chair bound ex-athlete crippled by a drunk driver.

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To her astonishment, God breaks into Joan's life, appearing in the guise of ordinary people-a cute boy who passes by, a lady crocheting on a park bench, a gardener-and assigns her a task every week. Learn how to play chess. Take a chemistry class. Build a boat (recalling the old line about the name of Noah's wife). Don't let your friend enter the art contest. Why is usually not very clear, so Joan typically has to act on faith, whereupon God's mysterious ways lead to redemptive moments. A mean history teacher who insists that Joan of Arc was crazy recovers his calling. A friend is dissuaded from committing suicide.

The God who talks to Joan is shown with respect. He is omniscient and omnipotent, benevolent-though He sometimes takes Joan to task-and mysterious. His ways are not Joan's ways, and when He deigns to give her a glimpse of the "big picture," Joan gets overloaded and faints dead away.

The show's worldview is theistic, which is wonderfully refreshing, and it may well help secularist viewers get their imaginations around the concept of God. It is not specifically Christian, though. Joan's family doesn't go to church. There is nothing about salvation. None of the theophanies tells Joan that he has died for her.

This is an ecumenical deity, to be found, Joan is told, in all the world's religions, in the Bible but also the Koran. And yet, the show may be more Christian than its creators realize. A Hindu or Buddhist god would not be this personal. Muslims would be greatly offended to consider Allah depicted as a human being. Only Christianity teaches that God did become a Man and that He comes to those who sought Him not.

The show's theme song is Joan Osbourne's "What If God Was One of Us?" He is. His name is Jesus.

Those who like the thought of God speaking to them need to learn that they too can hear God's voice, anytime they want. It's called reading the Bible.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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