Voices: The Onion comes face-to-face with a holy God

Screen capture of a satirical video by The Onion.

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Baptist pastor Griffin Gulledge recently shared a video on Twitter from the satirical news website The Onion. Baptist theologian Myles Werntz called it “the most theologically profound video of the year.” Baylor University’s Matthew Lee Anderson said the video was “more edifying than some sermons I’ve heard in my life.”

The video, originally from 2014, shows a journalist conducting a face-to-face interview with God himself. I would strongly recommend following the link above and watching the video yourself before reading the rest of this article.

In the video—which, again, is fictional and satirical—the unnamed journalist prepares to start the interview in a fancy, well-furnished room, as though he is interviewing a politician, celebrated academic or other world leader. Then God arrives.

In a very effective jump-scare, God suddenly manifests in the room as an immense, terrifying, bright, pulsating entity. (You really must watch the video to get the full effect.) The interviewer begins screaming in fear, falling from his chair and collapsing to his knees as he begs God for mercy.

The Onion gets biblical?

As a satirical and secular publication, one would not expect The Onion to be particularly well-versed in Scripture and Christian theology. But their video actually is much more biblically accurate than many Christians might realize.

Another Christian on Twitter said of the video, “Looks like the Onion read some Isaiah.” Specifically, The Onion seems to be drawing—either knowingly or unknowingly—on the sixth chapter of Isaiah, in which the prophet has a face-to-face encounter with God and receives his commission to prophetic ministry.

In Isaiah 6:1-5, the prophet sees “the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple” (NASB). In just a few verses, Isaiah unpacks the intensity and majesty of Israel’s holy God.

And how does the prophet respond? In verse 5, Isaiah cries out: “Woe to me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of armies.” So, Isaiah’s face-to-face encounter with God is quite similar to that of the journalist from The Onion.

But there is a vital difference between the two.

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The mercy of God

In the video from The Onion, the fate of the interviewer is implied to be destruction. By the end of the recording, the camera lens is cracked, the room has gone deadly silent, and the journalist is nowhere to be seen.

But what is the fate of Isaiah? “Then one of the seraphim [angels] flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your guilt is taken away and atonement is made for your sin’” (6:6-7).

Isaiah knows as a sinful human being, he cannot survive the presence of a perfectly holy and righteous God. God’s presence can bring only ever destruction for the wicked and unclean, which Isaiah knows himself to be.

But in an act of stunning mercy, God unilaterally makes Isaiah fit for his presence. Using an angel and a coal from the altar—the place in the temple where sin offerings were burned—God purifies Isaiah and declares his sin forgiven. Isaiah is utterly unworthy and unfit to stand in God’s presence, but God graciously makes Isaiah worthy and fit.

The presence of Jesus

One of my seminary professors, Kimlyn Bender, pointed out an interesting parallel to Isaiah 6 found in Luke 5. After witnessing Jesus work a miracle for the first time, Peter falls to his knees and cries out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (5:8).

Peter recognizes he is standing in the presence of God in human flesh, and like Isaiah, Peter is struck with terror that being in God’s presence will spell his own destruction. Yet Peter is not destroyed.

Later in Luke (8:43-48), the ante rises even more. A woman with an incurable vaginal hemorrhage, which makes her perpetually ritually unclean, touches Jesus. Rather than her touch rendering Jesus unclean, as such a touch ordinarily would have done, the woman’s contact with Jesus heals her and renders her clean (See also Mark 9:20-22 and Matthew 5:25-34.).

The New Testament portrays Jesus as the very presence of God, albeit in human form. And Jesus’ presence does not bring destruction. Rather, Jesus’ presence is a source of cleansing, healing and forgiveness. This in no way reduces the holiness and righteousness of God, but rather magnifies God’s grace.

Through the crucified and risen Christ, God says to those of us who repent and believe, “Your guilt is taken away, and atonement is made for your sin.”

The gospel according to The Onion

In their video, The Onion gives a surprisingly biblical and memorable depiction of God’s utter holiness, righteousness and power. The Onion, of all things, gives a firm corrective against popular images of God as some warm, cuddly, “sky daddy” figure.

Even many Christians do not fully appreciate the holiness of God. We do not spend enough time thinking about what it actually would be like to come face-to-face with God, to enter the presence of the One who is all-powerful and utterly perfect. We do not spend enough time meditating on our sin and what it does to us.

But The Onion only paints a partial picture and misses the gospel. The God who caused Isaiah and Peter almost to collapse with fear of the consequences of their sin is the same God who took on human flesh and “while we were still sinners… died for us” (Romans 5:8).

With their video, The Onion certainly has prompted many people to laughter and some to reflection on God’s holiness. But this video also ought to prompt Christians to revel in the grace and mercy of God.

Joshua Sharp is a chaplaincy services assistant at Waco Center for Youth. He holds a Master of Divinity from Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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