[The following blog post took shape between 10 pm and 11 pm.]
Maybe you’ve heard. Jack Bauer, the hero of the long-running television show 24, is currently back on TV to Live Another Day.
Confession: I’m one of five adults my age in America who didn’t watch the show when it originally aired. (To be fair, kid #1 was four years old when 24 premiered, and I was pregnant with kid #2. It wasn’t a good time for me to take on an addictive new show; otherwise, I’m sure I’d have been on board.)
In case you’re one of the four other people who haven’t watched the show, a little background: 24 stars Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) agent who works against the clock to thwart terror attempts against the United States.
When I finally started watching 24, I expected Jack to take on challenges; I didn’t expect him to challenge me. But he did. And here’s how it unfolded…
Part One: Early Spring
Several months ago, my son (kid #1, now in high school), was searching for something to watch and landed on 24. He started back with season one (2001), and then plowed his way through the remaining seasons.
For weeks, walking into the living room while Daniel was watching television, I’d catch random scenes from the show. But really, 24 is not the sort of story you can dip into sporadically and have any idea what’s going on. So I’d catch moments of intense dialogue, scenes of horrific torture, and wide-ranging chase sequences. But none of it made sense. It all felt disjointed. Violent. Gratuitous. Disorienting. Beyond redemption.
Sometimes I walk through my own life and it feels like disjointed random scenes from a television series I haven’t even been watching. Stuff comes out of nowhere and assaults me. Didn’t see it coming. Don’t understand it. It feels gratuitous, unnecessary, tortuous.
I hate that. And a lot of times, when I’m in that place, I feel like if I just understood more, I’d feel better about things.
Daniel kept watching. And I kept shaking my head at the snippets of scenes that made no sense.
Part Two: Early Summer
Then summer rolled around, and all my regular season shows went on hiatus. So, I found myself scrolling through online streaming options, and landed on (you guessed it) 24. Binge-watching my way through season one, every now and then I’d stumble upon a familiar scene, one I’d caught several months back, walking through the living room.
Only now it made much more sense. Now I understood why Jack Bauer was so angry. Violent choices that had seemed gratuitous before now fell into place. I understood the dilemmas now—and sometimes, were I put in the same circumstances, I’d have made the same decisions myself.
Now and then in life, I do eventually get the bigger picture. I understand how events played out to lead to the current circumstances. I can see the background, the motivations, and the sequence of events. I understand what the options were and I understand the choices made.
Sometimes, I get to see the way God’s at work in those events—even the ones that knocked me to the ground. I get to see Him redeeming the horrible stuff I’ve seen and experienced. And sometimes the power of that redemption is so strong, so undeniable, that it dwarfs the previous confusion and pain.
With the satisfaction of the bigger picture, I moved on to seasons two and three.
Part Three: Mid-Summer
My new understanding of the context for those initially confusing scenes did not make everything peachy keen, however. Just because I get it now doesn’t mean I like everything that goes down in the series. Actually, there are moments I hate. Characters I connect with get killed off. Others that I hate get away. Sometimes, the events stress me out so strongly that I have to stop watching and go rant about it to Daniel.
In my non-fictional life, too, getting to see more of the picture is no guarantee that I’ll like it. Finding out how the wildfire started, learning about the perp’s horrific childhood, discovering the origin of the rumor…who really cares when the wounds are fresh or all-encompassing?
The reason why helps sometimes. But sometimes not. Sometimes why can’t even come close to touching the pain.
I keep going back to the show, despite it all. 24 keeps drawing me in.
Part Four: Now
Kinda like life.
I’m not saying my life is some crazy counter-terrorist action show. It’s not. But sometimes the battles I face feel pretty strong.
In the moments when I come through a battle and actually get to see the redemption in it, when I get to see God working all things together for good, I’m learning to celebrate.
In those confusing moments when I haven’t yet seen the bigger picture, and in those painful moments when the reasons aren’t enough, I’m learning to remind myself that the story’s not over. That even though I don’t know how it’s all going to play out, I do know some things: That good God will triumph in the end. That evil will win battles along the way, but it will not win the war.
And this: that the God who oversees the bigger picture loves me, and his grace and mercy write a compelling story in my heart. The kind of story that keeps drawing me in. Season after season.
Kirsten Wilson teaches at Colorado Christian University. She’s attended Flatirons for six years, and facilitates groups at Shift on Friday nights.