The scene opens on a priest inside a confessional, who slides open the panel to reveal paramedic Davis Bloom who is struggling with trying to control his seemingly inevitable transformation into a monster-like creature called the Destroyer.As I watched this opening to Smallville’s “Turbulence” (an episode loaded with God-talk, both literal—did you catch the reference to Billy Graham?—and thematic) I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s letter to Roman believers where he talks about how we live when we are under the "law," trying to be good and do right under our own power:
Bloom: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I. . . have hurt many people—people that I care about.
Priest: I’m here, my son. Go on.
Bloom: Something . . . takes over, without warning. It’s a beast inside of me, fighting to get out.
Priest: We all have our inner demons, but we must learn to control them.
Bloom: I’m trying, Father, the best way I know how.
Bloom puts a his hand over his face.
Bloom: But . . . I—I drive through Metropolis at night, searching for a way to save myself.
The image switches to a memory and we see Bloom, driving his ambulance at night, as he comes upon a drug dealer roughing up a boy.
Bloom (in a voiceover): Too much sin committed on those streets.
We watch Bloom turn on the siren in his ambulance and get out of the truck as the drug dealer runs away. Bloom runs up to the boy on the ground.
Bloom (continuing the voiceover): When I find someone who’s lost their way, I reach out.
We watch Bloom step on and crush a vile of drugs lying next to the boy, who he grabs and pushes away from him, growling at him to go home. Then Bloom goes after the drug dealer.
Bloom (in voiceover): And when I come across . . . evil . . .
We see Bloom, his eyes now glowing red, approach the drug dealer.
Bloom (voiceover): . . . I do everything in my power to put it to an end.
We watch Bloom grab and beat the dealer, and we hear Bloom snap his neck.
Bloom (voiceover): When I stop the wickedness that I see . . . it keeps the beast from coming out.
We watch the red light fade from Bloom’s eyes as the drug dealer slumps to the ground. The scene changes again, and we now see Bloom, back in the confessional talking to the priest.
Bloom: It makes me feel . . .
Bloom pauses and shuts his eyes.
Bloom: . . . human.
Priest: Stay on your righteous path, my son. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Emotion runs across Bloom’s face and he lifts a crucifix and kisses it.
--the opening to “Turbulence,” last night’s episode of Smallville (you can see this part of the episode on YouTube).
Indeed, it is as if a beast lurks within. We do what we don’t want to—and we don’t do what we do want to. And Davis Bloom’s desire to do good but his difficulty in and lack of ability to control that beast he’s becoming is a worthy image of what happens when we try to control all those broken, dark and selfish bents we have with in us. We can’t do that on our own. We can’t “save” ourselves.
What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.
Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
I find the priest’s words to Bloom insightful—to a point. He is right in that we do need to find ways to deal with those impulses and bents. But I don’t think it’s as much about “controlling” them as it is turning away and learning to live a new way. When we try to use our own methods (even in trying to be "good"), things get messy (as it does for Bloom as the episode goes on). Interesting, earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul says this about sin:
Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God's good commandment, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own.But we aren’t doomed. Paul reminds us that we can be freed from this beast within:
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.God doesn’t just give us a way to control the beasts within us; he heals us—deep to our very core. He changes us. He gives us a new and amazing Life.
With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!
And God doesn't leave us on our own, trying to figure out what to do now. He gives us ways to work with him in learning to live in this new life. These “spiritual disciplines” (as we’ve come to refer to them)—like talking with and listening to God (prayer), spending time reading Scripture (meditating, studying), learning to put the needs of others ahead of our own interests (serving), celebrating God’s goodness and reality (worship, celebration), etc.—are some of the ways we can bring ourselves before and open our hearts to God so that he transform and teach us more about living in and out of this new life.
It may seem to be a somewhat subtle difference, but I think it is significant. God is not about teaching us to control our sin but healing us so that we can live as we were created and meant to. That doesn’t mean we won’t struggle with our brokenness and bents—afterall, we are still in the middle of the Story where darkness, sin and evil thrash about in their throes of death—but it does mean we will work from a different place and understanding when we confront it within ourselves and others.
In some ways, Davis Bloom discovers something similar at the end of this episode. Caught in the consequences of his own attempts to save himself and do “good,” he is “saved”—at least momentarily. But he doesn’t save himself. Someone else does. And that person is associated with love more than any "law" or action of his own. That moment is less a Christ-like metaphor than an echo of the power of being loved—and loving others. But, then again, that is what God is all about.
On a last note, I’ve always found Smallville to fall solidly on the side that we are the ones who choose our own destiny and path. It is interesting to me that Bloom’s been told more than once that he has "no free will"—that he is doomed to be the Destroyer and has no choice in that matter. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with this one.
(Image: WB) smallvillectgy