[Caveat: This post contains spoilers.]
A Very Brief Synopsis
As you would probably expect, Amazon’s original series Hand of God is not theologically sound. This may be due to ignorance or rebellion on the part of the show’s writers. Either way, this helps contribute to the overall sleaziness of some of the show’s main characters.
Hand of God is about a Judge named Pernell Harris, who experiences a conversion to Christianity shortly after his son’s supposed failed suicide attempt. Harris, under the manipulative influence of a huckster Joel-Osteen-esque pastor, as well as trauma-induced hallucinations, believes that God is allowing his comatose son to audibly speak to him, as well as in visions. His son’s instructions lead Harris to understand that his son’s suicide attempt may have been the inevitable result of some underhanded corporate espionage which left him heart-broken and financially ruined. The information, however, isn’t always good, and this leads Harris to question whether or not God is actually the one who is leading him, or if he is emotionally and psychologically disturbed by his son’s incapacitation and inevitable death by euthanasia.
He flounders about, first concluding that his supernatural experiences were merely the product of a broken psyche, and later attributing a divine origin to the visions and audible “revelations” concerning his son’s plight and the cover-up behind it.
Despite the horribly bad theology, the writing is good. Judge Pernell Harris is a central character, but he is not the only focus of the show. The lives of the characters intersect in many places, revealing a complex web of human relationships marked by the dual realities of human empathy and cut-throat “soft” sociopathy.
Pernell Harris’ inability to judge whether God or his brain is leading him to discover the truth about his son’s plight forces the viewer to ask himself the same question:
How would one know if God or one’s brain was causing them to have a supernatural(-like) experience?
Without the aid of the Scriptures, Judge Harris does not know from where his experiences and their attendant revelations originate. He has no means whereby he may decide either for or against a supposed revelation from God.
Harris’ attempt to understand what is happening to him leads him to several authorities. His best friend, another corrupt civil authority, his wife, an accomplice to his immoral activities, and his manipulative and fame-obsessed pastor, contribute to the cacophony of conflicting interpretations of his condition & experiences.
And not one of them can make sense of his situation. Harris must operate on blind faith, arbitrarily interpreting this or that auditory or visual experience as originating from God or from his own mind.
All is up for grabs.
Yet the answer is simple. Scripture tells us plainly that a so-called prophet, in this case Harris is the prophet, who gets it wrong even one time is a false prophet. It also tells us that the prophet who can perform signs and wonders, in this case Harris exposing hidden knowledge via the revelation of apparitions and disembodied voices, but who teaches another deity other than the one who is revealed in the Bible is a false prophet.
Wherever the source of Harris’ information is, therefore, it is not God. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:21-22 respectively read:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”
“…if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
Harris’ god is supposed to be the True and Living God. However, his god condones murder, swearing, lying, and a variety of other sins that are freely engaged in by Harris. Harris’ god is supposedly the Lord God of Truth, but his information fails to deliver the goods.
What Does it Matter?
Given that this is a fictional show, many might ask: Do the question and the answer even matter? The better question, however, is this:
Given the tendency of many professing Christians to speak of being led by God’s nudging, prompting, wooing, etc, is there any way we can say the question and answer don’t matter?
Judge Pernell Harris is a fictional character. What he represents, however, is very real. He is a man who underwent a traumatic experience, had a religious rebound of some sort, and is now, after having fallen flat on his face by trusting in the promptings and voices and visions of his god, trying to find out if God is speaking to him, or if he’s even real at all.
This was, in fact, my own experience when I was a teenager. As a teenager, 15-16 yrs old, I had struggled with OCD, clinical depression, suicidal ideation, and alcohol and drug abuse. Upon going to a youth group event, I found myself emotionally worked up, intellectually concerned with Christianity, and working to be a Christian by changing my behavior.
I had a vision or two. I even spoke in tongues. But as the false promises of charismatic leaders I looked up began to fail, as the reality of my hatred of God’s law and gospel began to stare me in the face, I began to lapse into my old ways. I returned to the atheism of my youth and grew even more hardened toward Christ than I had been before.
The question and the answer matter, a lot.
As Christians we have the responsibility of accurately presenting man’s problem to him. We do this by preaching the law: Man, the image of God, broke covenant with God by sinning against him and, thereby, plunged himself under the wrath of God . As Christians we also have the duty of accurately presenting God’s solution to man’s problem by preaching the Gospel: Christ crucified, punished in the place of sinners, bore their wrath in order to save them from it.
The Message is the Medium
Unlike Pernell Harris, we can know whether or not a supposed “word from God” is truly of divine origin. How do we do this? By looking to Scripture alone which tells us that it alone is the necessary and sufficient source of God’s self-disclosure to man.
Our promptings, feelings, hallucinations – auditory and visual – are not how God speaks to us. God speaks to us in his Word, the Holy Scriptures. He reveals man’s condition, man’s problem, and the solution God alone can provide for both of these realities.
All in All
Hand of God, ironically, paints a very accurate picture of what many false professors of faith in Christ look like, and should remind Christians of the sad and terrifying reality that some in the church have believed a false Gospel and are, consequently, not Christians at all. The useless pastor in Hand of God, moreover, provides the Christian with a mirror image of himself when he fails to preach the law and the gospel, instead choosing to tickle men’s ears in order to gain money, power, and/or popularity.
The question and the answer, mentioned above, I think are good enough reasons to watch at least some of the shows. However, if you are convicted by shows or films with swearing, violence, and partial nudity, then I do not encourage you to do so.
Soli Deo Gloria.