As far as big budget storylines go, the plot of The Following, which began this year on the FOX TV network, is reasonably familiar with its basic premise of good versus evil. A serial killer escapes jail while on death row, and goes on to manipulate more serial killers—his ‘followers’—to commit crimes at his behest. A retired FBI agent (Ryan Hardy, played by Kevin Bacon) is brought in to bring an end to the murders and madness and bring the criminals and their mastermind to justice. The retired cop is a ‘saviour’ of goodies, in conflict with a cowshed of baddies. People are dying, people need saving, bad people need terminating.
This must be one of the oldest stories in Hollywood, if not the world. But it occurs to me that, with their focus on saving the innocent, TV saviours offer only half a solution to the problem. No doubt, good people need rescuing, but don’t serial killers also need a saviour? And wouldn’t their redemption go a long way in the battle against evil at large?
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
According to Jesus, it’s sinners who need a saviour; the righteous can look after themselves. Can you hear FOX TV’s cheque book rustling? Me neither. There’s no car chase, no bomb explosions, no psychological torment. On screen, the typical way to fight evil is to match it with an equivalent, usually violent, force for good. Batman, Spiderman, Ironman and others operate like this, their characters matching violence and evil with violence in the name of good. Were Jesus to be part of the plotline, he’d do things differently. An enemy’s at large? Try loving the enemy (Matt. 5:43). Someone wants a piece of you? Try offering something else of yourself (Matt. 5:39). Someone wants to kill you? Have you ever thought about dying for them? (Rom. 5:8).
The sick need a doctor. Sinners need a saviour. Jesus saves sinners. This might not make prime time TV but in the end maybe that’s a good thing, because TV is a fiction. Jesus is not.