Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On Our Best Behavior

At lunch recently, some friends were discussing a movie they disliked intensely called HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Why the strong reaction? All the characters were dysfunctional and involved in dysfunctional relationships, and by the end of the film, nothing got better. This is the key, I think. We're willing to put up with dysfunctional characters behaving reprehensibly, but we want them to learn something and get better, for Pete's sake. Lame characters who remain lame are--well--too much like life.

Everyone loves a redemption story (will have to blog about that some other time), but can you think of non-redemptive stories that we also love?

In my Bible reading, I'm in Judges again. (My fancy study method is to start at Genesis, read a couple chapters a day till I get through Revelation, and then repeat.) Judges is all about non-redeemed characters who somehow got morals-of-the-story tacked onto their lives, and not very effectively, at that. Judges does contain, however, several superlative characters. Consider:

1) WOMAN YOU MOST DON'T WANT TO SHARE A TENT WITH. In Judges 4, when Sisera the Canaanite leader flees to what he imagines is a sympathizing Israelite tent, the hospitable-yet-tricky Jael hammers a tent peg through his forehead while he's trying to get some shut-eye. "So he died," says the narrator, deadpan.

2) LAMEST COUPLE WHO EVER BECAME LEGENDARY LOVERS. That would be Samson and Delilah in Judges 16. HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU couples could have nothing on these two. She must have been one fine-looking lady because all she wants out of him is the secret of his strength. He keeps lying about it, she keeps attempting to betray him, until finally, when "...she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death" (16:16). Meaning, Delilah's constant nagging leads directly to Samson's downfall. Not as quick as a tent peg to the head, but equally effective.

And, just to be equal-opportunity, there's 3) MOST INSENSITIVE BOYFRIEND IN THE BIBLE. In the horrific Judges 19 (don't read unless you can do things like watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and eat a hot dog at the same time), a traveling Levite runs into trouble with the Benjaminites, who want him to emerge from his overnight host's house that they "may know him." Not being a dumb Levite, the guy and his host instead chuck out their girlfriend and daughters to entertain the Benjaminites, while they rest up. In the morning, the girlfriend is dead from ill-usage and lying in the doorway, instead of helping him load up the donkeys. "He said to her, 'Get up, let us be going.' (Or, to paraphrase a la Eugene Peterson: "What the heck? How long are you gonna lie around doing nothing? Do I have to do all the work around here?") But there was no answer." She being dead, for crying out loud! He's lucky she didn't survive; otherwise he probably could have expected a quick tent-peg through the head the next time he nodded off.

Non-redemptive stories tend to leave us with a kind of really?-huh-okay-what-a-bummer feeling. Can't tell you yet if THE MOVIEGOER'S Binx Bolling falls in the redemptive or non-redemptive bucket, but I suspect it's the latter. Hence my difficulty in slogging through it.

If any of you are fans of non-redemptive stories, I'd love to know why.

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