Arrested Development was one of my favourite comedy shows (until it entirely lost the plot in seasons 4 and 5!) It follows the wealthy, but incredibly dysfunctional Bluth family, and is full of absurd situations, and some wonderful catchphrases and running jokes.
One of the rare moments from season 5 that still makes me chuckle is when Lucille Bluth (the vindictive, manipulative, materialistic mother character) received some advice from her failed-psychiatrist-turned-also-failed-actor son-in-law Tobias Fünke.
Tobias: “Maybe you don’t want to get hurt, because as I say, ‘Hurt people hurt people.'”
Lucille: “Oh that’s nice! I always say ‘Make people cry, make people cry!'”
In many ways, Lucille Bluth has done to this therapeutic catchphrase what many do to the Bible. She misunderstood everything about the sentence – its genre, grammar, form, and purpose – and consequently she turned a statement about something which is often observably true into a motto for life… an instruction, even! In so doing, she took it as a directive to do the very thing the proverb was warning against, thus neatly proving its point.
The reason for her mistake was a combination of three things: a misunderstanding of genre, poor interpretive skills, and the wicked disposition of her heart. She is someone who gets a kick out of making people cry (making people cry) and so she chose to interpret the sentence in such a way as to give her a therapeutic justification for the desires of her heart.
Throughout the show, Michael Bluth makes the exact opposite mistake to that of his mother. His Father George Bluth Sr., the corrupt real estate investor, set up a banana stand, attempting to make money by selling frozen bananas. Every time Michael visits him in prison, George tells him:
“There is always money in the banana stand.”
Michael consistently interprets this as a figurative proverb, when in fact his father was trying to tell him that there was a quarter of a million dollars in the lining of the walls of the banana stand; something Michael only discovered once he allowed it to burn down!
When reading the Bible, you need to know what you’re dealing with.
It matters whether you are reading a proverb or a promise – something that is generally the case, or something that God has declared with an unwavering oath. Mix up the two and you will cause yourself a lot of heartache.
It matters that you understand the genre, so you know what interpretive tools to bring to bear on the passage. It matters that you ask the correct questions of the text, so you don’t try to treat poetry as if it were science, or songs as if they were laws.
And it matters that you approach with a humble heart, being willing to allow the text to challenge and even offend you, rather than twisting it to fit your own desires.
Otherwise, you may find yourself making Gob’s catchphrase your own…