Last week, my husband and I started watching The Blacklist. For those of you who are not familiar with this highly addictive show, it is part spy-flick and part love story as the notorious criminal Raymond “Red” Reddington works with the FBI to bring the world’s most nefarious and anonymous criminals to justice. Central to the plot is the relationship between Reddington and FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen. While it is abundantly clear that Reddington loves Liz deeply and has known her her whole life, the nature of their relationship remains unclear. At times Reddington’s love seems parental; at times his love hints at romance but (as of yet) is never sexual. That said, his love never seems creepy, misplaced, or deviant in any way. Relational categories aside, Reddington’s love makes him Liz’s faithful protector, partner, mentor, friend, and biggest fan. Red enjoys loving Liz, delighting in her abilities, her successes, and even her mere presence in scene after scene. As my attempts at definition and description suggest, unraveling Reddington’s deep and mysterious love for Liz is the overarching narrative drive in the first two seasons.
As a trained literary critic whose work typically centers on the novel, I am very much at home with the long, multi-plot serial narratives that define both novels and TV shows like The Blacklist. But there is one key difference between The Blacklist and the novels I usually study. Novels are finished, concluded, done; character’s narratives are written and their actions are available for our judgements. The Blacklist is still going on—it hasn’t been written yet. We don’t know if Reddington will, in the final tally, prove to be a good guy or a bad guy. Everything points to a deep goodness in his character and a truly profound, joy-filled love for Keen (and many other people, despite repeated claims that he doesn’t have friends). If Red proves to be the deeply good, justice-seeking, loving at all costs father/lover/friend figure he appears to be, his character could be considered an intriguing representation of Divine love. But, if Red proves ultimately evil, manipulative, selfish, and corrupt, concerned with his own glory and not the good of others, any such considerations of his character will be dashed. The problem as viewers, as interpreters, is that we don’t yet know how the story will end.
Looking at human life—at the mess injustice, suffering, crime, disease, and death that characterize human existence—it is very easy think of God as concerned with his own glory and not the good of others. Despite the biblical images that characterize God’s love for us as that of a father, a lover, and a friend, God often allows people to face great danger and to suffer greatly. In such circumstances, in the middle of the story as it were, it is very easy to see God as evil, manipulative, selfish, and even corrupt—a fraud if he exists at all. Thus far, the human story can look a lot like The Blacklist. But here is the key difference and the great hope of the Christian tradition: the end of the story, the last episode, is already written.
Christians can look at the brokenness of the world and still believe in God’s goodness and love because, in the final scene, God has saved the world. We may not know what role we play in reaching that conclusion or how it will come about, we may not like the difficulties and questions we face along the way, but we know from the final scene that God’s deep and mysterious love is real. He is truly the parent, lover, and friend he claims to be.