The first time I saw a commercial for the show I thought, “man, who would watch this crap?” Then, one fateful thursday night when there was nothing on the other 10 channels we get, I stopped on the show. After the first night, I was hooked.
As I have watched the show I always walk away saying, “what is it that I like so much about this show?” I mean, the whole premise of the show is that Earl is working to “right” all his “wrongs” under the supposition that if he does good where he did bad then he will be rewarded with a better life. This is all motivated by his belief in karma, which Earl seems to ascribe deity.
Now, my problem is that this is clearly unbiblical. The problem lies in the fact that, at its root, the list is self serving. Earl’s motivation is that he wants a better life… He goes down his list, righting his wrongs, mostly because he doesn’t want bad things happening to him anymore.
This is the problem of having a life that has not dealt with the Cross of Jesus Christ. At its deepest level, the center of your actions are focused on yourself. This is true in both the religious and non-religious world. In religion, self is at the center. You do work to please a God so that you can receive a reward (paradise, enlightenment, nirvana, etc).
This stands in stark contrast to Christianity. In Christianity, God is at the center of all. Contrary to the misconception, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is not for you to enjoy a life of eternal bliss. The sacrificial death of Jesus is for the redemption of people who can never redeem themselves so that God’s grace in Jesus might be glorified (Ephesians 2:7). John Piper is one of the best contemporary scholars on this concept. Piper points out that God’s glory and our joy are closely related… such that, our greates joy is when God gets the glory he has ordained that he receive.
When one has received the gift of salvation is Jesus Christ, he or she then is transformed (not by their actions like Earl) but they are transformed as a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). When this occurs, something very amazing happens. Men and women are motivated to show this transformation through outward works. The difference between these works and Earls works is what is at the center. For those redeemed by God in Jesus, the center of their actions is not themselves, but God. Their good works (righting wrongs) is not to earn favor with God (for he has already given them his favor freely, apart from any work) but instead, they are full of joy and their good works are showing the reality of the change in their life.
A great example of this is found in Luke 19. We see a tax collector named Zacchaeus. After encountering Jesus, his life is transformed. The result is his making restitution to those he had stolen from. The restitution was not to gain Jesus’ favor, for Jesus had already show him favor by choosing him. The restitution was out of a heart transformed by an encounter with Jesus.
See, Earl’s problem is that the very thing that motivated him lie, cheat, steal, etc is the same thing that motivates him to do good things. In the end, he is looking out for himself.
But, I guess I watch it because I have hope for earl. See, Earl’s greatest strength is that he is humble. well, sort of… I guess humility is marked most clearly by looking out for other and not yourself (Philippians 2:3-11)… but compared to say, the nerds at the OC or the Apprentice, it is refreshing to have a TV character that isn’t annoyingly prideful. While his theology is off, Earl might just get it someday… Maybe some day he’ll add to his list, “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:18-32).