The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 17, 2013

Craig Tally: God's story doesn't translate to screens well

By Craig Tally
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — The opening line of a review about Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" reads "highly controversial and enormously successful." I'm not sure about the controversy, but I have no doubt that the movie was a smashing success at the box office. Some would say all the attention is good; Christ is being talked about, at least. I would not agree.

I chose not to view the movie and spent a considerable amount of time explaining my decision. I simply think that putting the last twelve hours of Christ's life on the cinema screen will not tell the meaning of those hours. Undoubtedly it was a good movie, but the matter of Christ's death is far too mysterious to be portrayed on screen.

Nor did I watch "The Bible," the recent television series proposing to tell the stories of the Bible by broadcasting them onto television screens. While the "stories" can certainly be broadcast, the "Story" cannot. More is needed -- much more.

The "Story" of the Bible is not communicated through some kind of monologue. The "Story" of the Bible is to be personally shared, in a caring environment in which dialogue is encouraged.

Is God a violent God? Does God really order the mass killing of mothers and children? Does God demand the total destruction of complete cities? Was God the commander-in-chief of an ancient army setting out to invade lands? Dare we recklessly throw these images upon a screen and hope for the best?

How we reconcile those stories of violence and injustice with the idea of a loving, caring God is an enormous task. How we legitimately translate those ancient stories into timeless wonder is a critical process. How we describe the relevancy of those old stories for today's world involves painstaking effort. Personal involvement is essential to successfully describing "how" we believe God was with Israel and how we believe God was in Christ.

Certainly these matters fall within the concern of Jesus when He spoke of the Kingdom of God working like leaven deposited in a larger amount of unleavened dough. Just as the transforming influence of leaven cannot function without being part of the unleavened dough, so also the Kingdom of God, with its message, cannot function without being part of the world.

Therefore, I am concerned about children who viewed those episodes. I wonder about the impact of the violence upon their tender understanding of God. I well remember assisting my children, and children in my churches, with their introduction to these stories.

I am concerned about the image of God projected upon that screen. Because of personal experiences, there are those who already struggle with these questions about violence and God; about a seemingly uncaring God; about a God who appears to act as violent as do human beings. I worry that there is no one there to help.

I am concerned about those people who are already inclined to see any idea of God as being archaic and irrelevant. I fear that this series does nothing but reinforce that inclination. Of course, there will be those who turn away from God, but there should be someone there who is saddened, as Jesus was with the rich young ruler.

When an apostle drew his sword, ready to fight for Jesus at His arrest, Jesus told him to put it away, effectively telling him he was getting in the way. I worry that our bumper stickers, our slapping the stories onto television and movie screens, our impersonal means of trying to tell the story of God end up getting in the way.