Last season, I really enjoyed watching Joan of Arcadia, a show about a young woman who sees and hears from God in the form of many different people who speak to her. In it’s first season, the show’s view of God was pretty good. Sure, “God” was a bit of a universalist (never a mention of Jesus, e.g.), but over all, the directions “God” gave to Joan were consistent with the God we know through Jesus Christ.
Things never went in a nice line from point A to a predictable point B, but when Joan followed God’s direction, people were helped. When she resisted or defied God, people (sometimes including Joan) were hurt – again usually in some unpredictable way. That’s how God works. We don’t always know why we need to do things, but if God guides us to do them, following leads to positive results.
But in season two, “God” has been sending Joan on some kind of “divine scavenger hunt.” Even when she does exactly what God says (which happens much more often this season), the results are usually ambiguous at best. Frequently, the outcome is that Joan collects some interesting experience. Not infrequently, someone is hurt be Joan’s actions. God seems capricious. It’s less like season one’s “see how self-sacrifice can make the world a better place” and more like “I hope the ordeal I just put you through will teach you something about life.” That’s just not my experience of how the real God works.
You can still get something good out of it, and I’d rather see this show even as it is than another reality show or another show about the occult. At least it gets people to engage questions of theology. In fact, Teresa Blythe has produced a study guide for Joan of Arcadia that can be used in churches.
Still, I hope that “God” gets over this phase of getting Joan to run through the maze to get a piece of cheese that is more-often-than-not snatched away at the last minute. Enough people think of God that way without a TV show to encourage it.