Grace is in the House: Reflections on the Series Finale
- Friday, May 25, 2012
In thinking about the character of Dr. Gregory House, I'm reminded of a sermon by William Muehl in which he said that some people don't wear well. Sometimes our disenchantment with them arises from the discovery of character traits we hadn't noticed at first. Other times, our disappointment comes not from the appearance of new data but from the too frequent appearance of the same old data.
The too frequent appearance of the same old data. Yeah, that was House all right. Year after year, I watched the show, hoping—almost praying—for some change to occur in him, hoping he'd learn something, hoping he'd be just a bit less of a jerk.
A time or two, he seemed to approach metanoia, that change of mind leading to change of life which we call repentance. He came close a couple seasons back when he allowed a deluded man, who thought he was a super-hero, to jump off the second floor of a parking deck. The man was seriously injured and House was badly shaken—but only for a while.
Guilt didn't do the trick. Maybe love would work. His longtime love-hate relationship with his boss, Lisa Cuddy, morphed into an active romance in season seven. But by season's end, it was plain that House's love of self trumped all. He rammed his car into her house and that was the last we saw of Cuddy.
Through the years, the good doctor has been shot, stabbed, and punched in the face. He has looked at his ravaged reflection in a toilet bowl and wandered through nightmares of his own making. Time and again, the atheistic House watched science and the supernatural collide. But, come hell or high water, he remained a nasty, overgrown child. Grace—in the form of an obedient (if often mystified) staff, the love of three beautiful women, the constant presence of his one true friend, Wilson—flowed over him like a river. Dry as the Sahara he stood.
He reminds me of a lot of people I've known. I've been a pastor for many years. Nevertheless, it comes as a bit of a shock to realize that many of the sheep I've tried to feed and care for have matched House stride for materialistic, drug-dependent, narcissistic stride. But why should that come as a surprise? After all, the God revealed in the Bible has His hands full with us as well, doesn't He, playing Cuddy and Wilson to our House?
Though, by his own admission, there was nobody more screwed up, House got away with it for one reason and one reason only-he healed people. In this regard, he calls to mind some of the characters in, say, the book of Judges-deeply flawed but somehow, by the power of God, effective. Yet, though many are busy making total asses of themselves few of these display good sense, let alone House's diagnostic brilliance. Nor indeed do they reveal any other redeeming trait. Here, of course, is where the deep and steady mercy of God is revealed. He's not just the God of the flawed-but-gifted, but the broken and useless as well.
In the final episode, House comes to the end of his rope. His only friend has five months to live. Having pulled yet another immature stunt—clogging the hospital's toilets with shredded tickets, damaging an MRI machine—House learns he must return to jail for six months. Desperate to remain near Wilson, with characteristic brazenness, he tries to manipulate first his boss, Foreman, then Wilson himself, to take the rap for him. But neither his boss nor his friend will take the fall. House is on his own.
Or he is until a dying patient offers to accept his guilt and take the blame. For once, House, who lives for puzzles, is completely stymied. He can't make sense of the man's offer. Though the sacrifice of Christ is never mentioned, one can't help but see the parallel with the great redeeming act that frees us for our heart's desire.
Not that this is where the script actually goes. Ironically, House's talent for cheating his patients' deaths kicks in once more and the would-be sacrifice is nullified. Shattered, he flees to an abandoned building where he shoots up with Heroin. When the house catches fire, his subconscious assumes the forms of several departed series characters. Each tries to give him a reason to live. His ex-girlfriend, Stacy Warner, speaks to him of God, calling his atheism facile. Though Stacy's message gets lost among the many House receives, he somehow finds the strength to embrace life and, therefore, hope.
It was too much to hope for, I guess, but I would've liked to have seen House embrace some sort of theism. I would've been happy if he'd simply admitted to the supernatural. It wouldn't have stretched credibility. He was, after all, confronted time after time with the wonder of life and the reality of faith. While I've no idea what sort of religion, if any, the producers of the show have, they didn't shy away from depictions of religious people. House put them down, but they never descended to his level. Usually, these characters walked away stronger in their beliefs than before.
The show prided itself on being true-to-life. "Everybody lies," said House. His show certainly didn't flinch from the theological, existential truth that there is none righteous. If its creators faltered, if they didn't get this poor wretch closer to God—close enough to suit people like me anyway--it doesn't erase grace or conversion from human experience. Yes, a puzzle stranger than any medical mystery House ever faced remains a blessed fact of life. I speak of that mystery, that phenomenon of which even atheists still sing:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see.
*Gary D. Robinson is a preacher and writer in Xenia, OH.
**This Review First Published 5/25/2012
**This Review First Published 5/25/2012
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