‘Joan Of Arcadia’: Getting Personal

Joan has a personal relationship with God. And I mean personal. She actually talks to God, and He talks to her in a human form. This is the plot of Joan of Arcadia, a new show on CBS Friday nights. Joan arcs stories between episodes and blends comedy and drama (comparable only to Joss Whedon’s Angel and Buffy), and it has enough subplots to make Alias look like an easy follow.

While Joan’s relationship with God is the core of the show, she and God also intersect with some of the other subplots in the show. This includes the police chief father (Joe Montenga), her paraplegic brother (Josh Ritter) and a mom who works at the school (Mary Steenburgen), as well as a wide array of eccentric friends.

Most episodes involve God asking Joan to do something. Sometimes they are vague, such as “help somebody in need,” and other times direct, such as “take AP chemistry.” But this show isn’t Touched by an Angel, thank goodness, and I don’t say that in vain. You see, Joan’s relationship with God is complex and honest, as relationships usually are.

Most Christians throw around the term “relationship with God’ like most people throw around the word love. But do any of us know what this relationship means? To some, it means going to church, reading the Bible and asking God for something. But Joan has taught me that a relationship with God is so much more. The relationship we see is filled with frustration, sorrow, anger and a lot of improvement.

In one episode, God asks Joan to “help somebody in need.” When she sees a woman on a bus crying, the ensuing conversation leads her to offer to be the babysitter of her young child. Joan then finds out the women’s son is dying of cystic fibrosis, and because of this, the son has an infatuation with death. This infatuation is fueled by no belief in the afterlife, and he displays this infatuation by watching disaster shows on the Discovery channel.

During a visit to the cemetery, Joan convinces the boy that God does exist and cares about him. But where Touched by an Angel would stop is where the depth of Joan begins. On the bus ride home, Joan runs into God in the form of the boy He first appeared to her as. Joan irately says to Him, “You have a lot of explaining to do.” Joan wrestles with God about why He created people, only to have them ripped away from the ones who love them by death. God says there is nothing He could say that would make her understand. But He explains that the true ugliness is going through life alone. When the bus arrives at her house, God reminds her there are people waiting for her inside. The show ends with her standing outside, Ben Harper singing, “You are blessed.”

Other shows deal with the butterfly affect of our actions (of which only God is aware); the human sin of “lack of imagination” when dealing with problems on a bigger scale; and forming new relationships that go beyond one episode.Most episodes are about how God relates to His creation, including humanity, or vice versa.

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Too many times, we are afraid of having this kind of relationship with God because of fear, lack of faith, a refusal to admit God has hurt us or doubt that this kind of relationship is even possible. But as the show demonstrates, God is gracious and patient to understand us and love us, even when our feelings toward Him are less than perfect. And this is necessary for a growing relationship. We see this in the Bible—the frustration and anger we are so afraid to show God are evident throughout the lives of David, Job or even Jesus when He says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” on the cross.

Many Christians would feel uncomfortable watching the show, or may even put it down. But learning from this show could give us a chance to go from being religious to being people who are actually getting closer to God. Interaction with God is something we desperately need, even though there are so many obstacles to overcome: God’s secrets, our lies, hurt feelings. We need to interact with God on a personal level. This involves trying to hear Him through all the voices in our head, seeking His will for us as individuals and being honest about our feelings toward Him. But in the end, as long as we continue with the relationship and don’t give up, we will grow closer to God.

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