Spirituality has often been popular in Hollywood, but lately it seems faith-based programming has stretched its reach beyond film into prime time television. Following on the heels of the now-canceled Living Biblically, CBS premiered on Sunday, September 30ththe series God Friended Me, about an atheist podcaster, Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall), who receives a friend request from God.
It’s a humorous presentation in the same vein as Will Smith in Hitch. Hall’s mannerisms and gestures made me laugh the same way Smith expresses his character. I really enjoyed Hall’s interpretation of a guy who loves life but struggles to find his place. Like so many atheists, he is not necessarily adamant about religion but gives the very hip response of so many young adults today, that religion forces us to believe certain things, and he instead, “wants everybody to take responsibility for their own lives.” He even has his friend, a Jewish rabbi, on his podcast.
It is precisely then when God sends him a friend request. It’s clever use of details, such as the profile picture of God is the sky with a single cloud which is what Miles sees when he looks up at the sky—the exact same-shaped single cloud, make one chuckle. Or when his friend, Rakesh (Suraj Sharma) tries to hack into the God account but says it’s not like anything he’s seen before and blurts out, “This code is sublime!” But, the heart of the story comes when Miles receives friend requests from other people whom Miles does not know through the God account. These are people he helps in the most unsuspecting ways. When he saves John Dove (Christopher Redman) from jumping in front of a subway train he finds out he is a doctor struggling with life, but who ends up medically treating another God-friended person, Cara Bloom (Violett Beane), when she is hit by a car. Though a rather contrived plot, it does show how our lives are more interconnected than we often think. Miles becomes the agent of change in the lives all those with whom he comes in contact.
Violett Beane (Cara), Brandon Micheal Hall (Miles), and Suraj Sharma (Rakesh) in the CBS series "God Friended Me"
So many “atheists” are like Miles. They go through life thinking they are in charge and have power over the universe, that is, until something beyond their powers happens to them. Miles’ podcast title is “How I Plan to Change the World.” Some of the same old arguments to religion come forward, about being spiritual but not religious, yet the writers, Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, cleverly add in the song by Rag’n’Bone Man, Human, which speaks about being human, fragile and weak, and that if we want a Messiah than we must look up higher. It’s a song that won’t stop playing on Miles’ digital devices forcing him to realize that there is something more to life that is beyond him.
By making someone like Miles the protagonist of the story, who grew up Christian and is the son of a Protestant Pastor, but lost his faith as an 8-year-old when he prayed that God would cure his mother of cancer but hears that she is killed in a car accident coming home from the hospital, the creators are reaching out to a huge chunk of the population. When God does not answer their prayers as they want, they just stop praying...and believing.
At the end of the first episode, Miles reflects on all the circumstances in which he found himself because of God’s friend request. He realizes that people need each other. We are all so lonely and isolated, but God connects us to one another through genuine goodness and kindness. The voiceover muses, “God has a plan, a grand design…we need to ask the tough questions of life.” He reflects that life is really about healing relationships, beginning anew, and finding love in unexpected places. For all who struggle with life’s challenges, the show offers hope. Miles says, “Change is never easy, but we just need the courage to take the next step.”
Anyone who believes, this show gives encouragement. For those who do not believe, it touches on the deep, existential yearnings that are present at the core of every human being. And it does so through humor. We are restless until we find God, as Augustine reflected so many centuries ago. What I like the most about the show is that it does not tie everything up in a nice little bow. It doesn’t solve all the moral issues or make everyone’s lives perfect. There is room for the messiness, the struggle, the sin. But, that’s where faith really takes root, in the messiness of life. God’s grace seeks us out, transforms us right in the place where we wrestle with the supernatural and our own humanity. And that makes for a good comedy—laughing at our human foibles and fumbles even with regard to faith. I look forward to watching the rest of the series, praying that it touches those who are tottering on the edge of life, yearning for that something more that burns within the human psyche. If this television show does that, then kudos to the creators!