I have a friend whose wife wants him to watch it with her. He got a few episodes in and couldn’t handle it any more. He enjoys watching TV for fun (even British period drama), but, as he explained to me, Downton Abbey wasn’t fun. It was hard work. The darkness was so depressing to him that it kept him on edge, and he couldn’t just relax and enjoy it.
Yet the show has over a million Likes on Facebook. In the United States, Season 2 set the record for the most-watched mini-series ever to air on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic. Season 3 demolished the record, as almost 8 million Americans saw the season premiere. Our English friends seem a bit amused by the show’s unprecedented popularity here across the ocean, but you can’t deny it strikes a chord.
Downton shows us how broken we are. Class doesn’t matter. Wealth doesn’t matter. Gender, sexual orientation, marital status, ethnicity – none of it makes a difference. We are all broken people.
Ocean liners sink. People get sick. Some die horrifically. Siblings are incredibly nasty toward each other. Innocents are condemned, and the guilty escape. Investments fall apart. Fulfilment is elusive. War ravages a generation. Destitution breeds prostitution, which breeds desperation. Reputations fall. Obnoxious pride demeans people and destroys relationships. The unlovely stay perpetually unloved. Dishonesty ruins good things. Condescension, irritation, disrespect, and grudges abound. People are broken. Situations are broken. Conventions and institutions and expectations are broken. Everything is broken.
Yet, the occasional ray of light ignites hope.
The lump in a woman’s breast turns out not to be cancerous. True love is possible. More money shows up. Technology advances. Life improves. Friends and lovers reconcile. The Dowager Countess delights us with her unique perspectives on life.
I’ll be honest: Downton doesn’t offer much hope, but the hope is still there. And that, I think, is why people keep watching.
What Downton Abbey has to say is really not much different from the Bible.
There’s a reason why there’s so much that is dark in this world. There’s a reason why we suffer as we do. There’s a reason why people and institutions are so broken. Adam made his fateful choice so long ago in that quiet garden (Rom 5:12-14). He wanted to decide for himself what was right or wrong, true or false, valuable or worthless. You and I would have made the same choice if it had been us.
And yet there’s hope. Not the hope of women’s liberation, or true love, or producing an heir, or affording a certain lifestyle. But the hope of true life. The hope of finding the delight and fulfilment and acceptance we’ve always longed for. The hope of being united to our Creator and becoming more and more like him and living up to our full potential in him.
When you read the Bible, don’t shy away from the darkness. Realize it. Understand it. Let it resonate with your experience. Don’t paint a smile on your face and pretend everything’s just alright. If you don’t trust Christ for your life, however, you’re stuck here.
By all means, please make sure you find the hope. The real hope of Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection. If you trust in Jesus and your Bible reading leaves you feeling guilty or discouraged or anxious for the future, you’ve undoubtedly missed something important.