In Person of Interest, there is a computer system, a “machine” with artificial intelligence that surveils America, looking for threats. The machine becomes a god-like figure. Of course there are many ways in which this analogy falls short, but what I’m intrigued by are the different ways a few of the characters react to this “god”…and what we can learn about our own relationship to God.
Harold Finch – a “religious” man
Harold Finch created the machine (as I said, the analogy breaks down in some parts), so he knows it. He knows all about it, knows how it thinks, how it works, what it does…and how it communicates. The thing is, the machine isn’t static. He created the system to grow and change and adapt, he just isn’t prepared for it to grow, change or adapt in its relationship with him.
Harold gave his life to the machine, obeying its orders. The machine spoke to him, but only to give him the numbers of people who needed saving. This was the communication that Harold had prescribed from the beginning. So the machine gave Harold numbers and Harold served it faithfully by protecting those people. He served the machine. He even had a relationship of a sort with it, but that relationship was distant and impersonal. It wasn’t anything like the relationship he had with Mr. Reese and those he served alongside.
Harold is a lot like a lot of us who grew up in the church. We know God. We know all about God. We know His word, His thoughts, His ways. Sometimes though, we are so used to what we know, we miss the changing dynamics of a personal relationship with a God who, though He never changes, is also not static and often doing a new thing. So, we serve God faithfully. We give our lives to Him and to His cause, doing our best to save the lives of our fellow man through evangelism and missions and service of various kinds. We even know that God talks to us, through reading His Word mostly. But, our relationship with Him is more one of servant than friend. It’s a little like Harold’s relationship with the machine, distant and impersonal…nothing like our relationship with other people. That doesn’t surprise us though, because God is God…like the machine, he is intangible and distant. Of course we have more dynamic and personal relationships with our fleshly, tangible fellow man!
Root – a “new convert”
Things with Harold and the machine were consistent and Harold was satisfied with things, until Root showed up. Root was a wild child, a truly bad person, until she met the machine. In truth, she’d always been drawn to machines, but this one was different and it captivated her completely. She dedicated her life to serving the machine and the machine changed her. It made her a better person.
It also talked with her. Not like it talked to Harold, in code and sporadically. No, it talked to her like a friend. Maybe because she talked it it like a friend. The machine wasn’t just something for her to respect and serve, it was something she loved. And as such, she wanted to know it, to talk to it, to relate to it…all the time. She pursued the machine, looked to it constantly—for direction, for thoughts, for insight—was always wanting to talk with it…with her. The machine wasn’t a machine to Root, it was a friend, a living being that she loved.
Naturally, this was a bit frustrating to Harold. Part of him wondered why the machine didn’t talk to him like that—hadn’t he known and served the machine from the beginning? Wasn’t he a good man (especially considering who she had been)? So many doubts and so much hurt and confusion. And yet, part of him wasn’t sure he wanted the machine to talk to him like that—it didn’t seem right or safe. He’d put up rules and guidelines in the first place for a reason. Harold respected the machine, but he was a private man who liked boundaries. Root didn’t approach the machine with boundaries. She gave herself to it with abandon. She told Harold the machine didn’t talk to him like it did to her because he told it not to, and it’s respectful of his wishes and boundaries.
The interesting this is, all Harold had to do was ask and he would have received more. I haven’t finished the series yet, but as of this point…he still hasn’t asked for more.
Root is like a new convert to Christianity. Many people are “religious” and curious about gods and religion (some, granted, are not). They seek and explore and dabble…and then they find Jesus and realize He is the real deal. He is bigger and more powerful and more beautiful than anything they’ve known and they give their lives to him. Many were once terrible people, but they give their lives to Jesus with abandon. They don’t want “religion”, they want Him, all of Him. They don’t want rules and regulations and limited contact. They want to know Him, to talk to Him and hear His voice, and they have no pre-conceived ideas about what that should be like, so they pursue Him fully, with all their hearts, and give him unrestricted access to their thoughts, actions, lives, emotions… They love Him. He’s not an impersonal god to them; He’s intimate and personal. And you’ll hear them talking just like Root, saying things like, “God told me to tell you…” or “God told me…” and they’ll talk about things God likes and doesn’t like—not just the big important things, but little everything day things, too.
Some of us who have been Christians for a long time will struggle with these new converts. Why doesn’t God talk to us like that? Do we really want Him to? Is that even real? Maybe they’re crazy. (People always assume Root is crazy.) The truth is, though, God is a respecter of persons and usually our relationship with Him is a lot of what we want, demand, ask for.
What I love about Root is her blind obedience to the machine. The Bible talks about how God is a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119). In other words, it’s not a bright light for the whole path so you see where you’re headed. Rather it’s a light that enables you to go step by step into the dark. You get light and understanding for the next step as you take the present one. This is how the machine leads Root. She doesn’t have the whole picture, just the next step—and she loves it. She sees it as a grand adventure. Because she so fully trusts and believes in the machine she’s okay with not knowing the whole picture. I find her joy and absolute trust in the unknown journey inspiring.
Mr. Reese—a “follower”
Mr. Reese works for Harold Finch. He almost never talks directly to the machine (only in dire emergencies, and when Mr. Finch isn’t available). It’s not that he hasn’t given his life to serving the machine, but more accurately, he’s given his life to serving Harold, and therefore the machine by proxy. He doesn’t have a deep desire to talk directly to the machine. He is happy to let Harold talk to the machine and pass the information along.
Mr. Reese is like a lot of Christians who are content to follow their pastor or mentor…but don’t have a deep desire to talk with God themselves. It doesn’t make them sad that God isn’t talking to them, they’re content to get their information second hand. They follow Jesus, but aren’t really friends with Jesus. They’re fans…even respect Him, and maybe they even love Him in the way they would love their hometown football team, but that’s not the same as being in love with Jesus and being His friend. It’s not the same as someone who truly wants a relationship with Him.
That relationship seemed sufficient to Mr. Reese – it allowed him to do his job serving the machine just fine. When it broke down and failed him though was when tragedy struck. When things went “wrong” and he lost someone he loved, he blamed the machine. He was hurt. Angry. Confused. If the machine has so much power, why didn’t it save her? It saves so many other people, why not her? And he ran from the machine.
Root and Harold, because of their more personal relationship with the machine handled tragedy differently—each with more grace in proportion to the depth of their personal relationship with the machine. Harold didn’t get angry and blame the machine; he resigned himself to accept the machine’s sovereignty. Maybe he felt the machine had some limitations…but he still believed in it and trusted it. He had the mentality that the machine was good and it was doing all it could. Root who had a deeper and more personal relationship with the machine responded with more joy and resilience than Harold. She said the machine never promised her that the way would be easy…only that it would be worth it. And she eagerly moved forward, setting aside past pain and suffering and looking forward to the prize (much like Paul in Philippians 3).
Now I realize this is just a ridiculous TV show, but I hope that any fans out there will be encouraged, as I have been, to pursue a deeper relationship with God. To realize that the depth of your relationship with god will determine the grace with which you are able to handle tragedy, which you’re sure to face at some point. To hunger for a more dynamic, personal, interactive relationship with God, one in which He speaks to you and takes you on wonderful adventures…one in which you are so madly in love with Him and so fully trusting that you could follow His every leading without question. That people might think you are crazy because of the astounding way in which you hear from Him. I pray that we all set aside our previous ideas about what our relationship with him could or should be and that we pursue more. Let it not be said that He wanted more but respected our boundaries. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss out on anything with Him.