Does Good Omens promote the Gospel? Not quite, but it comes close

Book of Good Omens, brown cover, hardback, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, on black background with the text "Does Good Omens promote the gospel? Not quite, but it comes close..." workthegreymatter.com

This is the second of a pair of posts about Good Omens. I’ll start with a quick recap of where I got to in the previous one, and don’t worry, this post is half the length of its predecessor.

There was this bit:

We should appreciate then that the story is about misfits trying to change the establishment, far more than any modern concepts of witchcraft. In fact, all the heroes, by their very nature and identity, transgress the bounds of acceptability in one way or another.

And this bit:

The question for critics, if they can concede that Good Omens is a good piece of storytelling, is whether its transgressive core is against Christian belief. Because let’s face it: disobedience, mischief and rebellion aren’t exactly renowned Christian virtues.

OK, let’s get stuck in.

Inclusion vs Exclusion in the gospel

I’m not suggesting that being a misfit, or an outlier, or a stigmatised person makes you good or above reproach. Rather, I mean that when people at the margins of society act in faith, that’s when we see hope manifesting most clearly. No wonder then, that Jesus spent so much time with tax-collectors and prostitutes, or that Paul ate with slaves and Gentiles.

When we realise that God loves those whom we would discard and forget, that he makes himself known to them, and that he teaches us through them – that’s when we see redemption in action. That’s when the kingdom of heaven grows on earth; not in the assimilating creep of empire, but in the creating of new possibilities and renewed futures.

In my view then, Good Omens might not be a substitute for the gospel, but it does have resonances. Its universe seems to frame faith as valuing creation, working with your ‘hereditary enemies’ for the common good, being intentional with your actions, holding a sense of fun, not being cruel, and believing in peace. As ethics go, maybe that’s not quite as rounded as it needs to be to meet all stages of life, but it’s a very far cry from Satanism.

And no, the story doesn’t frame faith as believing in Jesus, but then it’s satire, not a sermon.

The ineffable plan

Given that we never see God (well, apart from that moment when Jesus is crucified) it’s hard to say that the show actually questions God’s wisdom; more likely, it questions the wisdom of those who claim to be on his/her/their suprasexual side.

This is relevant because I’m not sure the church has really got its head around the concept of obedience. On the one hand Jesus said that his disciples would obey his commands (that whole ‘be kind to each other’ stuff) and I’m really not going to argue. On the other hand, Christians also emphasise submitting to God a lot, which gets very thorny when family members, church leaders or organisations are deemed to directly represent God. Disagreeing with them is interpreted as rebellion against the divine.

Good Omens isn’t willing to tolerate that. Instead, it pokes and questions accepted wisdom.

For example, it’s appalled by the violence of some events recorded in the Bible — particularly the flood in Genesis and Armageddon in Revelation. The show asks whether we should be blithely, passively accepting such ‘divine plans’ as good. It’s almost saying, “If this is God’s plan, then is God actually good? And even if we can’t change God’s plan for the future, is it right that we don’t even try?”

Bear in mind, there are groups of Christians telling their kids not to bother going to college because the rapture will come any day now. This is not OK. And as toxic theologies go, that’s just the tip of the fat-berg.

Good Omens rightly speaks against such fatalism, and Christians should too. If we’re concerned that our questions represent rebellion against God, then consider Abraham, Moses or Habakkuk — they all debated with God and asked whether what he was planning was right. Wrestling with God is not the same as accusing God. And yes, our agency matters.

Obedience

In its truest sense, obedience is neither a one-way street nor an end in itself. Spiritual abuse grows from the disconnect when obedience is separated from the good that that obedience might achieve. Meanwhile, there are plenty of Bible stories that debate the ethics of obedience vs disobedience (towards both parents and God) and human initiative vs divine intervention. Funnily enough, it’s not a simple topic. Even if Good Omens doesn’t have all the answers, it makes an interesting contribution to the discussion.

I’m not saying I have the answer for why suffering happens; sometimes I get overwhelmed wondering why God allows everything to be as difficult and as complicated as it is. Neither am I saying that I fully understand the book of Revelation; even when I try to read it in the context of its genre, I can’t escape its resonances with Jesus’s words in Mark 13.  And yet, even with the dire warnings, Jesus also told his disciples to pray so that the end times won’t be as severe as they might otherwise be (Mark 13:18-19). Almost like he doesn’t want the end times to be so terrible. How does all this reconcile? I don’t know.

What I do believe is that the person in charge up there is the same as the one who was crucified down here. Christians should remember that before we call him violent and we should be wary of carrying out violence in his name.

And if that means some stories of the Bible sit less comfortably with us, then so be it.

Concluding thoughts

Good Omens tells us that factionalism costs everyone, that people matter, that people’s choices matter, and that unlikely people can be instrumental in making good happen. It’s not sure about whether or not there really is a God, or what kind of being God might be, but it holds open the hope that maybe God’s mysteriousness will surprise us in good ways. You know, ‘ineffable’ and all that.

Sure, I look forward to the day when we see angels portrayed with a wry and rich sense of humour; at the moment, the devil still seems to get the best lines. But I’m not going to let the packaging, props and costumes of a story get in the way of its message and meaning.

Meanwhile, this show tells us that order – however nicely designed that order may appear to be – is no substitute for peace. It challenges us to be disrupters (but not malicious ones), to be willing to work for good with those who might be our ‘hereditary enemies’, and to be glad and grateful for good things.

To me, that message doesn’t seem so very far from God’s wisdom.

 


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