Story Arcs, Sitcoms, and Shifts in Theology

Several years ago, Jim Kumorek introduced John and I to Babylon 5. Months of watching every season sequentially gave us a great appreciation for the series. Babylon 5 was groundbreaking because it was the first "long format" television series (though it took through Season 1 to hit stride).

Now people like JJ Abrams, Joss Whedon, and the writers of Heroes and 24 have become masters of the genre creating huge hits. The challenge is that you have to watch every episode and the story arc takes time to unfold to completion. (Thanks to Netflix and TiVo, this is not a problem.)

Contrast that with the hour-long drama or sitcom. It makes sense to me that this was the popular format up through the mid-90's. After all, it is difficult to be able to see all 22 episodes in order year after year. Entertainment had to be bundled in neat packages with minimal character development resolving all loose ends in the timeslot with nice, neat bow.

It occurs to me that long format television is somehow more satisfying. You know the characters better. You actually care what happens to them. And maybe something in us resonates with longer, more complex story arcs.

This morning it hit me that I grew up with "short format" theology. Small problems were solved with 3 point sermons. And the macro story went somthing like: "You are lost. Ask Jesus into your heart. Life is perfect. And if it is not, we will all be bailed via resurrection shortly."

It is easy to see how that type of theology results in short-term thinking. eg) cram tracks down people's throats and bully them to convert, write off lost causes, no concern for the environment because it is all going to blow up anyway.

In an odd way, Babylon 5 has made me aware of a better gospel. The "good news" isn't the short format version of praying a prayer to get bailed. The good news is that the God who made the world loves it. That He has spent all of human history reaching out to Man. That there is a very desperate, very real battle between good and evil for the souls of mankind.

Those of us that call the planet Earth home are living in a sort of bondage. Despite human progress, we can't seem to solve the rule of evil in the world. Genocide and descrimination abound, slavery still exists, death and disease afflict us all...deception, cruelty and abandonment cause untold pain on small and grand levels.

It would appear that "the Gospel" is large-format. That one man, Jesus, stepped into the middle of human history living out the character of God, then sacrificed His life. And something about that sacrifice changed everything. Not in a sitcom sort of way, but as part of a much larger story arc. One that results in the defeat of death. Not just for Himself, but for all of us.

That type of theology produces a much different result. It produces hope and not synthetic perfection. It produces love, because that is the power of the One who is saving us. It produces peace. Because as characters are unexpectedly killed, or change sides, or fail abysmally...the story isn't over.

And that resonates.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall