The Power of Point of View

The Acts of God Through the Perspectives of the Apostles

photo-1by MATTHEW WHITLOCK   Sometimes perspective criticism begins not by asking what is seen, but by asking what is not seen. The Blair Witch Project—unlike the reveal-all horror movies of today—never shows its antagonist. The audience never sees the Blair Witch. They only hear rumors about her and see the results of her actions. Similarly, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie Rebecca, based on the Daphne De Maurier novel of the same title, develops its central character through the dialogue of other characters. A young woman marries a widower whose deceased wife is named Rebecca. As the plot develops, Rebecca haunts this young woman through the discourse of reminiscing characters. Rebecca never appears in the film, not even in a picture. Hitchcock only allows the camera to focus on small hints of Rebecca’s “presence,” such as stationary with a gothic “R” on it. The Academy, unfortunately, does not give an award for an actress who “appears” only in dialogue.

In Acts of the Apostles, Luke develops one of his central characters primarily through the discourse of other characters. This character is God. The “camera” of Luke’s narrator gives us hints of God’s involvement in situations. The characters then comment on God’s actions, turning these situations into explicit God-events. God moves from the background to the foreground because of character discourse. Character discourse develops the central character in Acts. Character discourse turns the narrative’s situations into significant events.

In the opening chapters of Acts, the narrator implicitly refers to the acts of God either in the passive voice (1:2, 9; 2:4; 4:8, 21) or in the depictions of supernatural situations (1:26; 2:2; 3:7; 4:31, 33; 5:5, 10). But God is never referred to as an active agent in the narrator’s discourse (in the entirety of Acts, the Greek theos appears in the nominative only once in the narrator’s discourse, whereas it appears over fifty times in the discourse of other characters). For example, the narrator employs the passive to describe Jesus’ ascension (1:2, 9) and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (2:4 and 4:8, 21). God’s involvement in the former event is made explicit in Peter’s discourse (2:30-36). God’s involvement in the latter is foretold in Jesus’s discourse (1:4-5) and confirmed by Peter’s discourse (2:14-21)

The narrator’s depiction of supernatural situations also implicitly points to God’s involvement. A lot falls to indicate the selection of Matthias (1:26). A sound from heaven suddenly comes like a mighty rushing wind (2:2). A man is healed (3:7). A gathering place is shaken (4:31). A husband and wife fall dead (5:5, 10). In two of these cases (2:2; 3:7), God’s involvement becomes explicit when characters explain the significance of these events after they occur (2:14-36; 3:12-26). In three of these cases (1:26; 4:31; 5:5, 10), God’s involvement is expected because of characters’ prayers or declarations prior to each event (1:16-22; 4:24-30; 5:3-4, 9). But whether the characters’ discourse is prior to or after each event, God’s involvement is explicit only because of their discourse. The narrator’s task, much like Hitchcock’s camera, is to leave implicit clues of God’s involvement that connect with the discourse of the characters.

What is the aesthetical effect of Luke’s portrayal of God? First, the lack of explicit references to God’s activity in the narrator’s discourse creates mystery. Similar to Rebecca and The Blair Witch Project, Acts of the Apostles creates voids of wonderment, which in turn creates awe. The master of perspective himself, Henry James, has commented on his creation of mystery in The Art of the Novel. Whether antagonist or protagonist, a character not explicitly depicted by the narrator cultivates awe and curiosity in the audience, even long after the final scene. Is there a more appropriate way to depict God in a narrative? Second, the mystery created by these voids begs for comment. Mystery begs for interpretation. What is not fully seen cries out to be painted by words. Luke’s narrative—a narrative perhaps more appropriately titled “The Acts of God Through the Perspectives of the Apostles”— exemplifies this act of interpretation. Is there a more appropriate way to call an audience to interpret God’s actions in the world?

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1 Response »

  1. Nice! In answer to your question, I can’t think of one, because I think the whole point is what we name God–what we characterize God to be through our interpretation of God’s actions. In that way, many people have it backwards, asking others what God’s name is. When someone becomes special to me, I rarely use their given name. It seems too formal, too un-intimate. I wonder if God isn’t pleased when we get creative? Would it be more important to pass the test of life with “right” answers, or to invent original ways to appreciate, honor, and love the divine wherever we encounter it/her/him?

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