ATTENTION: *Spoiler Alert*- If you have not yet watched up to the first episode of season two, be warned!!!
As some of you may know, my boyfriend Bryan is a doctoral student in Applied Physics at Harvard (and you thought theology and science weren’t compatible, right?). Recently, we have begun watching the show House of Cards together. Pretty much every character in the show thus far (we just finished Episode 1 of Season 2) is let’s just say, difficult to like.
Over breakfast this morning, Bryan and I were discussing the show and expressing our shock over the death of Zoe. We cannot believe how quickly Frank Underwood threw her in front of a moving train. Were we dreaming that? (For those of you who do not know, Frank Underwood is the Majority Whip in the US House of Representatives, eager for more power. Zoe is a journalist who suspects rightly Underwood was involved in the death of a fellow congressman.)
Bryan asked me why Frank Underwood talks to the camera throughout the show. I could not really answer why, except to muse that perhaps it was an interesting way to engage the audience. However, Bryan felt it went deeper than that. In Frank’s dialogue with the us (the audience), we, in a way, represent God. God watches us but does not make His presence easily known by swooping down and directly interfering. Our human choices are made, and God allows us to make them. Nevertheless, God is ultimately the one who judges us. In House of Cards, we often judge Frank Underwood’s actions. “How could he be so ruthless and cruel?” “He’s no good.” “He doesn’t care.” Because Frank talks to us directly, we get the impression he is trying to defend himself to us, that by knowing his intentions, perhaps we will like him better, even root for him. What a great representation of the effect of sin! Sometimes our guilt leads us to feel true sorrow and make reparation. Other times, we want to justify ourselves. It makes us feel better, less responsible. An example of this is how Frank, after murdering a recovering alcoholic, tells himself that Congressman Peter Russo would have drunk himself to death anyway.
Some may reject Bryan’s hypothesis as incompatible with a Christian view of God, saying it renders God either helpless because She cannot intervene, or cruel, because She does not intervene. Many theologians, like Edward Schillebeeckx, have insisted that God is impassable, and therefore, incapable of suffering, or that God only suffers insofar as God has a human nature in Jesus, but God as divinity cannot suffer. However, theologians, for example Jurgen Moltmann, insist that God, if God is a loving and saving God, must be affected by all that affects us.
A “suffering God” is not necessarily a less perfect or excellent God. John Haught, a Roman Catholic theologian at Georgetown University, evokes the idea of a suffering God in his explanation of how evolution is not only compatible with, but actually enhances, our traditional Christian understanding of God. Haught expands upon the term kenosis. God’s self-emptying is not only God’s willingness to divest Himself of riches and glory, becoming poor and dying on a cross, but God’s decision to step back and give us our autonomy. God creates the world and then let’s us be co-creators with Her. God freely chooses to feel with us. Sometimes this hurts God, because God loves us and wants a relationship with us, and we often choose to turn our backs on Him. However, our autonomy is a necessary pre-condition for our having a true, authentic relationship with God. Authentic relationships are not coerced. God does not us to come to Him, but gives us grace which we can accept or reject. Relationships are also tricky. We may feel close to God sometimes, and not others. We may have our doubts about God and leave our faith, but that does not mean the relationship is completely over or unsalvageable.
So, the question Bryan and I are left with is, if God can feel compassion for us, can we dare say that we can feel compassion for God? Is this what it is like for God to watch us make choices? Does Frank Underwood talk to the audience in the way we often talk to God? Of course, I am not saying that people watching House of Cards are on an equal level with God nor that we are worthy of passing judgment on other human beings. Yet, maybe watching the show and being a spectator makes us appreciate God even more. We tend to judge harshly. It is certainly hard for me to have mercy on a guy like Frank Underwood. I do not like him, I would not want to be his friend or even associate with him. Just looking at him gives me the creeps. Yet, God looks upon us with more kindness. “For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors (Deuteronomy 4:31).” God is the only one able to judge, because God is the one who gave us the gift of life and the grace to freely choose a relationship with Her. As messed up as we all may be, God wants us. God is the ultimate future toward which the whole universe is striving.
“There is no solace above or below. Only us. Small. solitary. striving. Battling one another. I pray to myself for myself.”- Rep. Francis J. Underwood, visiting the chapel after murdering Rep. Peter Russo