I'd planned on writing a more positive, upbeat post for my next blog installment. Sadly, though, that's not what I'm feeling at the moment. It's not so much that I'm sad, it's more that I've had some sobering things on my mind lately. And in the words of the character Albany from King Lear, "the weight of this sad time we must obey; speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."
How'd that Shakespeare quote read? A little pretentious, or did I pull it off?
This austere mood of mine is likely, though not entirely, a consequence of the hours I've clocked in watching Breaking Bad in the past few weeks. It's a brilliant show, it really is. Not exactly the feel-good program of the decade though, and if you've met me you know that I'm, shall we say, sensitive. On second thought, perhaps empathetic would be a better word. In any case, I can't watch a show like this without it seeping into my psyche, so I have a few musings to share if you'll come along on this journey with me.
For those of you who don't know the show, Breaking Bad is about a high school chemistry teacher, who, after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, resorts to some shady dealings in order to pay for his treatment and provide for his family.
Before we get into it, though, I should frame the discussion a bit more precisely. I am a firm believer in the idea that all media, whether it be music, cinema, art or television, speaks in some way to the reality of the human condition. Every song, every episode of every television show, every movie, every painting, tells us something about ourselves, something we desire, something we fear, and more often than not, something we need or something we lack. Everything we do, everything we make reveals something of the presence or absence of God in our hearts and in our lives. This is my biggest problem with the "Christian" objection to enjoying secular media, when secular media often says much more about what it means to be human. In other words, if you only ever let yourself watch Facing the Giants and the 700 Club, or listen to Stephen Curtis Chapman, you risk missing the big picture by a pretty wide margin. On the other hand, if you view the world through a lens of prayerful discernment, you may pick up a thing or two about the nature of humanity, or even the nature of God, through seemingly "godless" songs, shows and movies.
Breaking Bad, within this framework, becomes a treasure trove of insight into the human condition. Going forward, I'll do my best not to spoil anything for the reader who plans on watching the show at some point in the future, but that shouldn't be an issue, because, in spite of its title, this post isn't about Breaking Bad at all. It's about a particular and pervasive theme within the narrative of Breaking Bad: sin, and what sin does to us, to our hearts, to our lives.
I'm not sure the show's creators would call it sin. They'd probably prefer to call it secrecy, deception, pride, or even evil, (Hollywood is not typically super keen on using the "s" word). Don't be fooled, though, it's sin. It's the same age-old struggle between doing what's right and doing what's easy.
The story revolves around Walter White, the show's protagonist (though I must use this word ever-so-lightly), who pursues an unsavory lifestyle in the world of meth production, though initially his intentions seem almost justifiable. He cooks meth in order to pay for his cancer treatment, to save his family from financially drowning should the cancer take his life. The problem is, though, that living a life of secrecy necessarily comes with a price. As Walt sinks deeper and deeper into his life in the drug world, he grows further away from his family, and the lies he weaves to maintain the illusion become more intricate, so much so that deception becomes second-nature to him. It changes him.
And that's where it all comes full circle. The Breaking Bad scenario is an extreme one, I admit, but I'm sure it's a little more close-to-home than we'd all like to admit. Because what Walt's second life did to him, our own sin does to us. This may sound like too broad a generalization, and I don't mean it to sound accusatory, because I'm the prime example, but this is just what sin does, it perverts, it distorts, it deceives. It justifies what we do, as well as the lies that we tell to cover up what we do. And there are consequences for such deceit, for living a split life, because in the throes of sin we lose sight of our identity, or worse yet, we develop two. Sin splits us in half. We remain the fine, respectable, Christian young men and women on the outside, to our parents, to our pastors, perhaps to our friends. But there is a self beneath the one that the world sees, one who will settle for pleasure, often, if not always, at the expense of humanity.
We spend some time in limbo, caught between a world of love, family, and God, and the world beneath, the world of drugs, gambling, pornography, cheating, and lying. It may not always be so drastic, but everyone can relate to the tension. And just as one cannot walk a tightrope for long, this balancing act can't last forever. In the end, or perhaps sooner, a choice must be made, we must surrender to one side or the other. The devil loves to watch us squirm in indecision, caught between these two worlds, but he relishes even more the notion that we will finally turn our backs to God. And this is hell, the act and consequence of finally turning one's back to God. And it is real, and we can see it, in the greed of corporations, in warfare, in the sex trafficking industry. Of course hell is real. It is real on a global scale, and it is real in our own hearts.
But if hell is real, then maybe God is real too. Don't get me wrong, I believe in God, but this is a plea to those who might not be so sure. We know there is evil in the world, we know it experientially. Why not be open to there being good in the world too?
And if God is real, and God is good, then there is hope. Hope for transformation, hope for restoration, hope for redemption, hope for peace. God offers us wholeness that we simply cannot find elsewhere, and belonging in a world we were made for. God is the only refuge from the storms of life that beat us senseless.
In the end we'll all give into one of these two powers, life or death, love or lies, God or the devil. I guess my question is: Why waste time in the in-between, risking that sin will not change us into beings who no longer desire the light?
I'm partway through Breaking Bad, and the show's not yet over with, so we've yet to see whether or not Walt will be redeemed. To be honest, I'm not holding my breath. Either way though, I won't lose sleep about it, because there is something of far greater consequence which deserves my concern. There are real souls on the line, not fictional ones. My soul is on the line. We will choose love, or become so entrenched in selfishness, ego, and sin that we no longer desire it. We will choose God, or become so hardened by pride that we finally reject Him.
Please pray for me. I've felt a little caught in-between lately.
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." - Matthew 6:24
"Elijah went before the people and said, 'How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.' But the people said nothing." - 1 Kings 18:21