Deus ex Machina – “god out of the machine”
“A deus ex machina (plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.”
I’ve admitted elsewhere in my blog that one of my “guilty pleasures” in this world is RiffTrax. Created by some of the minds behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000, they’re a narrative track that you play along with a movie, providing pretty darn funny commentary (or riffs) on the movie.
**full disclosure – the humor is sometimes a tad bawdy, sometimes downright offensive, making me respond in disgust, “come on guys!” only because these folks are very clever, too clever to go for the cheap shot frequently. Funny? Yeah, but… **
WARNING: Gratuitous LOTR references follow:
In the RiffTrax for The Lord Of The Rings, I heard two references to deus ex machina – the first is when Merry and Pippin are being held by the orcs, and suddenly the riders of Rohan show up to save the day. (One of the commentators says, “and it’s the 42nd Deus ex Machina division!”) The other is when the eagles are flying to Mt. Doom to rescue Frodo and Sam, and the RiffTrax says, “we’ve got a flock of deus ex machina incoming!”
So I was curious, and Wiki’ed it. And I then backed up to hear it again, and laughed loudly.
Further reading tells me that it began as a Greek play plot device, and sometimes was represented in a golden couch being lowered to the stage, so that the hero/heroine could just hop on, and be lifted to safety in a miraculous manner.
The deus ex machina plot device isn’t regarded as a great way to go. Sudden, unexplainable rescue doesn’t seem to go over well in our literal rational world. Reminds me of a cartoon with two professors where one has written out his equation in numbered steps, and step 12 says “then a miracle occurs.” The other professor says, “I think you have a problem with step 12…”
The Advent story tells us something different. Evidently, God (capital G) is totally fine with Deus ex machina as a plot device. As a matter of fact, the Bible would seem to indicate that Deus ex machina is on God’s resume.
Sorry if that bordered on irreverent – just trying to paint a picture, and I’m really bad at paint by numbers. Or crayons, for that matter. And you don’t even want to know about the “oil painting set for Christmas” incident one year… ends with a scrawl in a diary that said “I shall NEVER paint again.” That line gave my mom loads of laughs over the years. Me, not so much…
– Adam and Eve; disobeyed, sin entered, banishment.
Deus ex machina: there will be redemption!
– Abraham and Sarah; no son, no legacy, no great nation.
Deus ex machina: there will be a great nation!
– Moses; slow of speech, old, hesitant, unsure.
Deus ex machina: the rod of God, signs and wonders, plagues, exodus, Red Sea, cloud and fire, manna, quail, water from rock, Promised Land.
– People; repeating the same cycle of disobedience and punishment.
Deus ex machina: judges, rescue, times of obedience.
– “We want a KING!” Ooops – that wasn’t what we REALLY wanted, was it?
Deus ex machina: a young man, who wasn’t even recognized by his own family, called in from the sheep and marked as a king, a man after God’s own heart.
All through the long years, God continued to warn and correct, to punish while pleading, “return to Me. I will be your God, you will be My people.” The Faithful One, with arms wide open, longing for His beloved ones to return to Him. And He continued His work, to provide redemption for His creation.
And in the fullness of time, we saw Deus ex machina in living, breathing form. God out of the machine and into our world. No golden couch – “Jump on! Vanish into the clouds and be rescued!” Instead, God’s redemption came in a living man we could see and touch and listen to and learn from. God incarnate – Emmanuel.
Unexplainable rescue? Absolutely.
Bad plot device? I suppose so, if you’re a literary critic. If you’re a fallen creature in need of redemption, however, it’s the best news you could ever hear… the kind that leaves you on your feet, applauding until your hands are red and sore, whistling and cheering and shouting “BRAVO!” until your throat is raw.
God out of the machine; God out of the heavens; God out of the invisible; God made real in our reality.
And not just a little of God – not an angelic messenger, not a prophet as was of old, not a sign saying “this way to our representation of what God would be like if He was here.” Not even the separation of the Holy of Holies – God behind the veil, at the mercy seat – His presence. Fully God, fully human, here in our world; One like us sent from the Father, so we could see how much He loves each of us. Get that firmly in mind – so we, with our human, unbelieving, doubting, rational, logical, unexplainable-rescue-is-a-bad-plot-device eyes could see Him. And know Him. And know that He knows us – completely.
How’s that for deus ex machina? Didn’t see that one coming, did ya? And yet we should have.
God promised; He foretold; He spoke through the prophets; He sent the forerunner; He painted the picture; He set the stage; He posted all appropriate signs and pointers; He had the cast all in the right place at the right time. If God were a director, He’d have so many little gold statues that there’d be no curio cabinet big enough or strong enough to hold them all. And whoever was hosting the awards show would, about halfway through, just say, “let’s cut to the chase – the award for everything, all of ’em, every last one goes to… wait for it… wait for it… the Lord God Almighty!” And everybody who blogged about it in the 5 minutes afterward saying that it was rigged and how those awards don’t really mean anything would look like an idiot, since it would be obvious to all that the awards went to exactly the right choice.
Oi. That was a rabbit trail of epic proportions.
There is no logical explanation for Advent. There’s no nice and tidy recap that shows us all of the breadcrumb trail that explains in a rational manner how this all got resolved perfectly. (Oh, the trail was there, but didn’t lead anywhere anyone was expecting.) Advent leaves the world scratching its head, going, “Wha?…”
Deus ex machina, meet Emmanuel, “God with us.” God’s expression; God’s reality; God’s answer to the conflict; God’s love letter to us all. Don’t try to explain it, don’t try to do the CSI thing and decipher it; no code, no secret decoder ring or clues hidden in public monuments. The almighty, inexplicable God doing what He does best – the miraculous. He redeems us by Himself.
No explanations, just grateful hearts. Thank you, Lord, that, in our darkness, You provide Light. In our fallenness, You provide a way. In our loneliness, You come Yourself to heal our hearts.
Thank you for Advent. And for staying with us through all the days to come.
Deus ex Machina – “god out of the machine”
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14 (NIV)