Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: “God Johnson” and Fear of Characterizing God

(image via mymbuzz.com)

The second season of Lucifer recently ended and I have to say that it was amazing. However, there was one episode in particular that I both loved and was frustrated with called “God Johnson”. In this episode, Lucifer and Chloe head to a mental institution where a man has been murdered. The main suspect in the case is God—or, well, a man who thinks he is God, and who even legally changed his name to God Johnson. Lucifer confronts Johnson to tell him that the real God is an asshole, but he stops shorts when Johnson calls him by his angelic name, Samael. This prompts Lucifer to believe Johnson really is God. Later Lucifer admits himself into the same institution and sees Johnson heal a human, again causing him to truly believe this is really God. I was so excited about this! After the show introduced God’s wife, I was hoping we would eventually get to meet God himself and explore the relationship between God and Lucifer in a more real way. Sadly, though, this episode doesn’t take the direction that I would have hoped. God’s character is not engaged with in the same way that Lucifer’s is. God remains just this impassive, omnipotent, but never present figure. Despite how our media loves to play with religion in its shows, movies, etc., the Abrahamic God appears to be off limits in terms of real character exploration.

Spoilers for the Lucifer episode “God Johnson” below.

Lucifer eventually discovers that Johnson is being influenced by a heavenly item that he is wearing as a belt buckle. After it’s removed, Johnson doesn’t remember what happened or why he is in an institution. I am holding out hope that God was still somehow using this man as a vessel to speak to Lucifer and to his wife (the goddess of all creation), but it seems like that will probably not be the case. Which brings me to the my issue: Why are we so afraid of characterizing God? I have seen so many shows portray deities, demons, angels, and other divine figures—but the Abrahamic God? Almost never. And the few times that God is portrayed, it tends to be a bland portrayal where God is all-knowing and all-perfect. Theologically speaking, that is how God is, but since when has media ever been concerned with being theologically accurate? Furthermore, God being all-knowing and all-perfect doesn’t negate God having emotions like some all-perfect robot. So often Christians especially talk about having a personal relationship with God, but portraying God in a more personal way never happens. We never explore God’s thoughts or feelings about the world, humanity, or anything, but we are more than happy to ask about Him through other characters. It’s like we are afraid to even touch on God directly.

I hear that Chuck has been confirmed as God and has shown back up but since I refuse to watch Supernatural ever again I’m afraid I don’t know how that all worked out. (image via supernaturalwiki)

I know the real reason that the media is so afraid to engage with God, though. I’m sure that it’s because they are afraid of offending people. What’s frustrating is that this is not a concern when it comes to deities not associated with Christianity. In Supernatural we literally watched pagan and Hindu deities get ripped apart by the Christian devil, but put the Abrahamic God in a TV show? Of course not. The dichotomy here is terrible: it says we can have non-Abrahamic deities brutally murdered by an implicitly more powerful Abrahamic entity, but they won’t even put the Abrahamic God in a show, let alone show them getting owned by some other deity, or portray them as a nuanced character with relatable flaws. And yes, Supernatural did eventually reveal that Chuck, previously thought to be a prophet, was actually God. I have talked before about how problematic that portrayal is, which makes me one of the very people The Powers That Be are afraid of offending. But the reason I found it offensive is that Chuck is never portrayed as a complex character, but rather as a horny coward. We never get any hint that he might be God until much later and then it becomes more clear that Chuck was faking much of his persona which we never engage with the real God on any level. I would have fewer issues with Chuck being God if he were a bigger part of the show. Because he’s just a character who appears every so often, even if he is given the flaws and characterization I’d hoped for, he is not enough to truly engage with God as a character.

(image via diannethegeek)

Some movies like Dogma characterize God a little more. In Dogma, God is a huge skee ball fan and disappears for a couple of weeks to play. God is also capable of making mistakes, as the Metatron explains how God can kill someone with just their voice, and that they went through five Adams before figuring it out. But that’s pretty much it. Even in Dogma God is trapped in a coma the vast majority of the movie, and of course God can’t speak, so even when God does show up, we learn very little about them. So again, no real engagement with God as a character.

In Lucifer, we get to play with the character of Lucifer and other angels, to re-imagine and wonder about them. Lucifer becomes a more complex character than just some embodiment of evil and sin. We get to learn his side of the story, but we never get to see that with God. Some of you may say that we have heard God’s side of the story in things like the Bible, but the Bible was written by humans with their own perspectives. Many of the books in the Bible and the messages in the Bible contradict each other. So to have God deal with these issues as a character would be phenomenal. I would love to see God as a character, dealing with how people view them or the evil that has been done in their name, or even engaging with characters like Lucifer or the other angels in the same familial drama that we see in other shows. Considering that so many people claim a personal relationship with God, it’s weird that we are so hesitant to engage with that relationship in our media. We can humanize the devil, but we can’t do the same with God, because somehow that is less offensive. I would love to see more complex and nuanced portrayals of God in our media that actually engage with God as a character and not constantly as an unseen force. Despite consuming a ton of media that discusses and riffs on religion, this is still something I have yet to see happen, and that is truly disappointing.

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1 thought on “Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: “God Johnson” and Fear of Characterizing God

  1. That being said, perhaps given that the track-record with portrayals of Jesus in various media has been difficult at best, maybe producers have decided to leave well enough alone…?!?

    It is odd, though, that the one dogma about the Christian or Islamic God’s apophatic ineffability is something that, implicit by the absence of portrayals you mention, is something that all of these content producers have not questioned.

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