A "Scandalous" Encounter With the Bible

"Rend your garments! Curse the heavens! Run!"

These imperatives sound like warnings that the end of time is near. Such words ring of an imminent moment of war, doom and gloom. This was not a clarion call to take shelter. It was not a government public service announcement of national danger. I was not at church listening to a fire and brimstone sermon. I heard these words while home watching television. I viewed Scandal's "Ride, Sally, Ride" episode with amazement and yes, trepidation as Rowan Pope hurled threat upon threat at his daughter Olivia.

As a biblical scholar intrigued with the use of the Bible in the public square, I enjoy making connections between this dated text and present time. Whereas biblical narratives are millennia removed from the 21st century, there is something about the people, stories and content of the Bible that has current appeal. Movies like The Book of Eli, songs by U2 and Bono and episodes of Family Guy, to name a few, incorporate Jesus, heaven and apocalyptic themes. There is something about pop culture's fascination with the Bible or things Bible-ish. Scandal is no different.

Mind you -- I am not saying that Shonda Rhimes intentionally writes to present a theological treatise. Nor am I suggesting that this genius behind Scandal is out to convert anyone or teach Bible lessons. She may or may not have the Bible in mind during her writing process. I cannot even say whether she is a Christian or believes in God at all. What I do aver is that there are creative cords in the show with melodies ringing of a biblical nature. At least this is what my interpretive lens sees.

When Poppa Pope tells Olivia to "rend her garments," one can connect the dots to tearing clothes as a an act of mourning. Genesis 37:34 records Jacob reacting in this manner over the supposed death of his son, Joseph, while David responds similarly to Abner's demise (2 Samuel 3:31). Ezra goes as far as to rend or tear his garments and pull hair from his head and beard upon hearing of the people's sin (9:3). That must have been some corporate disobedience -- ouch!

Although there is not a verbatim "curse the heavens," as no one honoring God would do so, at least according to the biblical texts, there are opposite commands. People are not to swear by the heavens or make a promise based on heavenly witness i.e. Matthew 5:31-37 and James 5:12. Yes, Job curses the day he was born, and his wife tells him to curse God and die (Job 1-2), but there is no account that either curse the heavens, the abode of God. The Ten Commandments even warn against wrongfully using the name of the Lord (Exodus 20:7). Thus, in the Bible, there is present the idea of a dialogical dance between human language and the realm of the divine.

Ultimately this most recent episode of Scandal exudes warning upon warning of a new, vengeful day. From Mellie's opening line of "she's running" to the admonitions to "run, Olivia, run," there is a pervasive eschatological or end-times flare. Someone, somewhere has made "god" angry, and s/he is going to pay. "God" would get revenge -- in this case Fitz (the President) would have to pay for demoting Rowan from B-316. The beginning of the end is at hand. (No, Rowan nor Fitz are God!)

Like Joel's prophetic rebuke for his listeners to "rend their hearts and not their garments (2:13)," and akin to Matthew's take on the end-times (Gospel of Matthew, ch. 24), a televised, "scandalous" conversation between a parent and child at the Iwo Jima Memorial cautions those who would hear: "Take note. I have told you, I have warned you, beforehand (Matthew 24:25)."

Rend! Curse! Run!