I admit I got hooked on the CBS Sunday night series God Friended Me. Even though I find myself rolling my eyes far too often at some of the cheesy coincidences or the many ways Miles and Cara awkwardly inject themselves into the middle of people’s lives, I still find myself moved by the story line and blaming my watery eyes on allergies.
The show is about Miles Finer (played by Brandon Michael Hall), an atheist who is also the son of an Episcopal priest (played by Joe Morton) who gets a friend request from someone named God. Each show centers around a friend suggestion made by God which Miles and his band of friends (Cara and Rakesh) strive to help. The side story happening alongside the drama of helping their new-found friends is their quest to discover who is behind the God account, because, well, the atheist Miles knows it most certainly can’t be God.
While the story line is intriguing, the theology behind it is not surprisingly dreadful. Miles’ dad, the priest, offers very little in the way of correcting whatever misguided views his atheist son or lesbian daughter have. More importantly, he presents his role as priest, and that of his church, as nothing more than a place where people discover their purpose in life. The implication is that faith is simply discovering what your heart wants and going after it.
What’s implied by the father is explicit with his son. In this week’s episode, Miles and Cara are discussing life and both affirm the necessity for everyone to follow your heart’s desire. In fact, Miles states, your heart will never lead you astray.
In this way, God Friended Me does a marvelous job at positioning the Self at the center of the universe. It affirms what all of us are all too easily persuaded to believe: If I desire it, it must be good. In this show, God friends me and affirms all that I am and the Church is there to support and nurture that belief.
Scripture, of course, has something very different to say about the nature of our hearts and the innate goodness of our desires. The prophet Jeremiah warns us that our heart’s are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Who can know it? he asks. It can be known, but to do such requires wisdom, and wisdom requires a fear of God (Prov. 9:10). Without a holy fear of God, without surrendering our hearts, our wills, our lives over to God, we cannot rightly trust any desire we have.
I know in myself that I have desires which are not of God. And I am not speaking of just the obvious ones, or the addictive ones. I am not speaking merely of those desires which if acted upon might cause harm to myself or others. I am speaking also of those secret and not so secret desires which can parade themselves as virtue in our culture today. Desires like ambition, greed, fame, pride. A desire to be liked by others. A desire to be known for my good deeds or pitied for my bad. These desires, and many like them, are not from a pure heart but from one that is rooted in the things of this world. To advise me to trust my heart and follow after it would be foolish indeed.
CBS is not the only platform telling us to trust our heart’s desires. This message comes at us from all angles, including the Church. I’ve written here in the past about the impasse the United Methodist Church is experiencing over homosexuality. At the root of this struggle is a God Friended Me theology, one that suggests that if a person loves something and is not harming anyone, it must be good. It’s an easy, and appealing theology to embrace. It certainly tickles the ears.
One of my daily practices is to read a portion of Psalm 119. There is one theme in this longest chapter of the Bible which is abundantly clear: The writer desires nothing more than to be molded according to the word of God. If the desire does not spring from God’s law, the psalmist wants nothing to do with it. I have written in the past about how praying this to be true of me has changed my life. It’s a prayer I continue to pray today, and have begun praying for our Church.
James couldn’t be more clear when he wrote that temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away (James 1:14). Having a healthy skepticism of our heart and it’s desires is wise, and praying continually that our heart and it’s desires be conformed to the word of God is prudent. Doing so gives us assurance that indeed, God has befriended us, and we are his friends if we obey his commands (John 15:14).