What if God opened a social media account and sent friend requests to atheists, just to get their attention?
If that idea just made you flinch, you might not enjoy the new CBS show God Friended Me. The premise is just as cringeworthy as you might imagine—and it’s all downhill from there. Miles Hall, an outspoken but amiable atheist, receives a friend request from God. For approximately 12 seconds, he questions the authenticity of such a request, but quickly begins to seriously entertain the idea that he is being pursued by the divine. I’ll spare you the confirming details, other than to tell you that he’s immediately confronted by a burning bush in the middle of an otherwise ordinary urban sidewalk. But I digress.
Incredibly, the premise is one of the least painful aspects of the show. The dialogue relies heavily on wooden phrases and awkward interactions. The pacing is unsettling—we are hurled through introductions, sideswiped at meaningful conversations, and forced to endure lengthy confrontations between characters who barely know one another. And then there are the moments of deus ex machina (no, that irony is not lost on me), wherein unlikely coincidences force (and I do mean force) the action forward. My personal favorite is when a character is hit by a car. As the protagonist frantically calls for help for his friend, another vehicle screeches to a halt, and a minor character from a previous scene jumps out, proclaiming that—surprise!—he is a doctor. After a few seconds of incredibly weak CPR, he manages to resuscitate the victim’s heart, which apparently stopped when hit by the brute force of a car.
There are several moments when the reality of how bad the show truly is shines through clearly and unmistakably. You can see it on the casts’ faces—they are earnestly reciting the dialogue, diligently following through with emotional cues, and desperately trying to make it work, but it’s just not happening. The premise of the show is utterly ridiculous, so it’s nearly impossible to make it believable.God Friended Me may cause involuntary facepalms, but if you can watch through your fingers, you’ll see relationships that reflect the true, the beautiful, and yes, even the divine.
And yet, somehow, there are also moments that do seem realistic. Because the show quickly moves past the questionable God-on-social-media story arc, the script fills half an hour with action that doesn’t directly tie in to the show’s premise. It is in these secondary stories that we find what may be the only redemptive feature of the show. Although the character of God certainly acts as Divine Prankster in this story, the writers also introduce an important characteristic of the real God: the supernatural orchestration of human friendships as a manifestation of his love.
Miles is the recipient of a few clear and miraculous signs from God, but finds himself baffled by God’s painfully obvious attempts to communicate with him through miracles. He laughs at the burning bush, scoffs when God’s profile picture is an exact match for the cloud he sees in the sky (yes, that’s a real thing that happens), and is quickly angered by the incessant stream of friend requests from God that appear as fast as Miles can delete them. But Miles is immediately engaged when God begins sending him friend suggestions. And these friendships, though unlikely, prove to be transformative. His friendship with Cara saves her job, and his friendship with John saves his life. Miles slowly becomes someone who doesn’t rage against the universe, but allies with its Creator to care for its creatures. Confident in his own value and purpose, Miles then turns to mend his own broken relationship with his father.
For Miles, redemption does not come through a formal renouncement of atheism or a dramatic moment of holy chastisement. Rather, it’s the simple pursuit of purpose formed in relationships with others that changes Miles’s heart. Though it may seem simple, that change is deeply transformative, because it heals his interaction with the world and the fundamental core of who Miles is. He can no longer dismiss the existence of God—he has experienced it. Miles finds himself open not only to the possibility of God’s existence, but also to all sorts of possibilities for love and friendship and hope. His relationship with God is being formed through his relationships with others.
As Christians watch this show, it may be easy to simultaneously laugh at the absurdity and harbor a twinge of jealousy for the directness of God’s communication with Miles. I’ve heard people earnestly wish for a direct line to heaven, a way to hear God’s voice with complete certainty. And while I understand the desire for that kind of surety, I’m confident that God wants us to trust him to work all things out for our good. For those of us who are, unlike Miles, already seeking a message from God, the show gently points us toward viewing people in our lives as, quite literally, godsends. Through our relationships in which we share joys and sorrows, meals and church pews, glimpses of God’s perfect love and grace are never far. God Friended Me may cause involuntary facepalms, but if you can watch through your fingers, you’ll see relationships that reflect the true, the beautiful, and yes, even the divine.