“I. Declare. BANKRUPTCY!!!”
NBC’s acclaimed TV series The Office (2005-13) enthralled millions of viewers with its quirky characters and witty lines. The show mimics an actual documentary as it follows the daily lives of office employees for Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The show has Joe Schmoes, smart alecks, kiss-ups, a potential strangler, an artist, a chatty Patty, an alcoholic, at least one drug addict, a cat lady, a crossword- and pretzel-obsessed man, and that’s not every character. So how are they similar?
Simply, they’re all deeply flawed.
Remember when Dwight Schrute sets the office afire and locks his boss and coworkers inside to test their emergency response skills? This highly stressful event gives Stanley a heart attack for which Dwight finds himself not responsible.
Or–in the same episode–Jim and Pam watch a pirated film. Pam’s parents also separate, temporarily straining her relationship with Jim.
Or–in the same episode–Michael arranges a CPR training session in which he insults the instructor and distracts himself with singing the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” to which point other employees join in and dance. Dwight tops it off by slicing open the dummy and cutting off its face to wear as a mask (warning: it’s one the creepiest photos to exist.).
Other episodes involve affairs, cruel pranks (snowball, anyone?), offensive and politically incorrect jokes, envy-driven attempts to sabotage relationships, and the forsaking of one’s own child for an on-again, off-again fling.
Although the show went off the air six years ago, Netflix has helped a new generation enjoy this peculiar group–if you haven’t seen it, you have until 2021 to crawl out from under your rock and binge-watch every episode on Netflix.
There isn’t much in the news about paper companies nowadays, with many businesses taking the popular digital route for cost and convenience. However, the show remains relevant because we relate to the brokenness of the characters. Love, lust, power, greed, envy, hatred. Clearly, The Office wasn’t written as a Christian show; it merely depicts our flawed human nature. We wonder, why would someone behave as these characters do?
The Gospel tells us.
The word gospel comes from the Old English god meaning “good” and spel meaning “news or story.” In Christianity, the Good News refers to Jesus Christ’s birth, crucifixion on the Cross, and His resurrection on the third day. This is the Good News that Christians believe and find hope in, and they have faith in the Gospel because they also believe the bad news.
God created man and woman in His perfect image. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis, sin entered the world and has since–along with temptation–brought pain and suffering into our lives. This pain and suffering looks different for everyone; that’s why we should resist comparing ourselves–our story, experiences, decisions–to others. We aren’t as or less or more broken than anyone–God doesn’t compare us. We’re all broken, living together in a broken world. Yet just as Michael still cares for his employees when they mess up or hurt him–poor Toby, though–God still loves us even when we fall short and make wrong decisions and get angry with Him.
That’s what He said.
- In John 15:9-10–“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love . . . .“
- And of course, in John 3:16–“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Did He stutter? Not for a second! Jesus didn’t hesitate when He went to the Cross. His love was for you was too much to change His mind about enduring the most excruciating death anyone can endure–He hung for six or seven hours with three or four nails piercing his body, and all this time He had no food or water and endured mockery.
Fact: the word ‘excruciating’ comes from crucifixion (cruc- translates to ‘a cross’).
It’s worth considering Angela for a moment. Angela (portrayed by Angela Kinsey) stands out as the judgmental accountant who disapprovingly scowls at her coworkers; she’s also a stickler for rules, never wanting to diverge from tradition, which becomes blatantly obvious whenever she works with the party planning committee. Angela is also the only character to publicly reveal her faith.
We aren’t as broken or less broken than anyone–God doesn’t compare us. We’re all broken, living together in a broken world. Yet, even when we fall short and make wrong decisions, God still loves us.
In one episode, she says the only books she would bring with her to a deserted island are the Bible and A Purpose Driven Life, a Bible study book. If she had to choose a third book, she’d bring The Da Vinci Code (which claims Jesus was only mortal and not the Son of God) so she could burn it. In another episode, Dwight calls her out for wearing open toe shoes at a dinner party with Michael and some coworkers. Her character embodies negative Christian stereotypes–judgmental, uptight, hypocritical, (insert)-phobic. As Christians, how do we think others perceive us? How does God perceive our actions and behavior?
Jesus Christ died on the Cross roughly 2,000 years ago, but God’s Word is still alive and everlasting despite our changing society (Psalm 119:89). His Word remains constant in the midst of rapid transformation because God’s Identity never changes, which is part of the Good News because we might lose our relationship with Him if His love and grace were capricious. One reason we know His Word is true because the Bible says the reality of Christians will include persecution, yet He will make us strong enough to endure any criticism, and we are blessed when this happens (Matt. 5:11, Luke 6:22)! Rather than stare daggers at others, the Bible reminds us to pray for those who judge us (Matt. 5:44, Romans 12:14).
Who knows what Dunder Mifflin looks like today? The dramatic shift toward technology likely ran it up the tree and out of business! There’s no suggesting that the show promotes Christian values. From the perspective of how not to behave or what not to say, maybe you could say the show teaches the inverse of Christian morals. Still, the reality portrayed in The Office and described by Christianity have preserved both the show and the Gospel in our current and future society. Neither conceals or diminishes temptation’s power over us, and this honesty helps us relate to people we never thought we could, people that we–like Angela–cast aside as being less than. Pam’s final quote in the last episode encapsulates this article’s main idea:
“I thought it was weird when you picked us to make a documentary. But, all in all, I think an ordinary paper company like Dunder Mifflin was a great subject for a documentary. There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”
God chooses us to write a beautiful story, and He wants to make us extraordinary! So, rather than declare bankruptcy, let’s declare the Gospel.
Honorable mention, Michael Scott: “Well, happy birthday, Jesus. Sorry Your party’s so lame.”
All Bible verses are from New International Version.