I had a realization last night about the Twilight Zone episode that featured Billy Mumy as a boy who terrorized the people of his community and send them to the "cornfield" whenever they displeased him: It's about God.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
lord of the cornfield
The boy, whose name eludes me, has absolute power and can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without any consequence to himself. The people live in terror of him, but constantly praise him and say what a good boy he is so they can avoid his displeasure, even when he does something as horrible as turning his father into a giant jack-in-the-box.
I don't know who wrote that particular episode, but Rod Serling was a Unitarian Universalist, and the episode does seem to take issue with the apparent cruelty of God, whom the Bible describes as drowning the entire planet, save eight people and a boatful of animals; killing the firstborn son of every family in Egypt; and threatening repeatedly through his prophets to bring one disaster after another onto Israel. And of course the New Testament declares that those who reject Christ will be cast into hell for all eternity -- similar, I suppose, to being sent to the cornfield. And like the townfolk who can't say enough things about the holy terror in their midst, believers never stop singing the praises of the God they believe did all these things.
Maybe I'm mistaken, but I think a lot of evangelicals get upset by that sort of story, which they see as an affront to the dignity of God and the gospel that Jesus preached. I know that I did, back in my evangelical days. (Although I must admit that evangelicals seem to get even more incensed about negative portrayals of the church and Christians than of God.)
To an extent, I suppose a negative reaction is understandable, because the writer of this episode is misportraying (and misunderstanding) the nature and personality of God, and no one likes to see their beliefs misunderstood or misrepresented. But I think the strong visceral reaction that we Christians often have to disagreement isn't fair to the people or viewpoints we disagree with, and it does a poor job of representing Christ.
Isn't everyone better served by asking where the critics are coming from, and seeing if they have a point? Because if God really were as sunshiney-day-in-the-park as Christians market him as, I doubt anyone would write stories depicting God as a capricious monster. Biblical stories such as the Deluge, the plagues on Egypt and the conquest of Canaan are troubling, or they should be. We try to sanitize them into pleasant little Sunday school lessons about how evil will perish and God will provide for his people, but if the thought of men, women and children scrambling for a foothold and looking for dry land in a world where torrential rain just doesn't stop coming, doesn't bother you; if the thought of a nation full of parents, suddenly bereft of their eldest children, some infants, some toddlers, and some adolescents, doesn't give you pause; if none of the stories from the Tanakh make you stop and think about how God can be the author of such things and still be called "good," then you're not reading your Bible as an adult.
The people who write and tell stories like the "Twilight Zone" episode about the cornfield have legitimate perspectives on the gospel, the Bible, and God as the church has presented them. As people who have received Christ, we believe we have a sacred Truth to share with the rest of the world. But that doesn't mean, nor should it, that they don't have important truths to share with us as well.