Monday, July 5, 2010

You're judging this [expletive] the wrong way: Pulp Fiction & miracles

"Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous."

I used the term "judging" in the title of this 3rd installment exploring  Pulp Fiction's treatment of redemption, but I'm not using it as it has been used in previous posts on the theme of judgment

For you fans of Koine Greek, there's a nuanced difference (pun intended) between krino and diakrino (and katakrino, and anakrino, etc.). In this post, we're talking about the issue of discernment - differentiating one thing from another; what we're differentiating are coincidence and providence.

Coming towards the peak of the movie, as Jules and Vincent are having breakfast, they get into this wonderful conversation about pigs and dogs, and they share a laugh, relieving some tension after one crazy morning. This is a second conversation they've had, trying to sort out what's what, in which Vincent demonstrates very clearly that he's a reasonable guy who has a brain in his head. Whether trying to determine if character can make a pig unfilthy or whether touching Marcellus Wallace's wife in a familiar way justified being thrown off a balcony, he's able to bring Jules to consider his point of view. And, his intelligence makes him accountable.

But, as capable as he is, yet he sees things differently when Jules considers their not being hit with any bullets to be a miracle.

In the car after retrieving Wallace's briefcase from Brett's crew, just before Marvin is shot, Vincent recalls an episode of Cops in which a cop is in a gun fight with an assailant in a hallway; he unloads, but hits nothing. "It's a freak - but it happens." And, he's right. It does happen. That's a perfectly naturalistic way to explain what happened.

At breakfast, Jules mentions thinking about the miracle "we witnessed", yet Vincent is adamant, resolute - "Miracle you witnessed. I witnessed a freak occurrence," he steadfastly maintains. When answering Jules' question "what is a miracle?" he answers "an act of God, when God makes the impossible possible - BUT, this morning, I don't think, qualifies."

And then Jules says (and here's the kicker) "you're judging this [expletive] the wrong way. It could be that God stopped a bullet, he changed Coke into Pepsi or he found my [expletive] car keys. You don't judge [expletive] like this based on merit. Whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is, I felt the touch of God. God got involved."

Jules boils it all down to "on and off". The degree of the miracle is irrelevant to him - it's the fact of the miracle at all. Philosophically, it beautifully and elegantly reflects the fundamental question, "where do we come from?" It's either we're a cosmic accident, or were created by a creator. It's one or the other, on or off.

I hear you, Jules.

The Bible records miracles that no one could dispute was a miracle. Today, cynics and skeptics will say "well, why don't we see these incredible, undeniable, irrefutable miracles today?" Jules is saying the degree doesn't matter - part the Red Sea, heal someone, find my [expletive car keys]...the question is, did God get involved, at all, or not?

Pulp Fiction shows us that miracles still do happen, but we may just be judging this [expletive] the wrong way. Further, certain events happen in a succession that, looking back, appears to have been guided by an unseen hand. The entire film is showing the crazy sequence of totally unpredictable events that ultimately would lead to Ringo and Yolanda not being killed by a couple of professional hit men, but given another chance - a series of providential happenings to support an end result.

I got a speeding ticket last year, I chose to fight the ticket, and requested a court date to tell my side of the story. In January I got the date, which was Monday, June 28. As May turned to June, the popular discussion in the media in Toronto was the G20 preparations, security measures, how it would affect traffic and transit. I thought nothing of it until it dawned on me that the main meetings would occur on the weekend of the 26th and 27th.

Turns out the police were quite busy that weekend, logging the highest number of arrests in a single event in Canadian history. Think about that - my court date "just happened" to be set for the next day after a weekend event that will, for a number of reasons both good and bad, go down in history.

Monday morning I showed up for my day in court. The officer did not appear, and the prosecutor advised the judge that the charges should be withdrawn. As a matter of routine process, the judge nodded her consent and told me, "sir, the charges against you have been dropped, you're free to leave." And that was that. I had been all prepared to speak to my defense, and events transpired so that I didn't even have to.

Now, everyone else on the docket who had received a ticket from the same officer enjoyed the same opportunity. If I asked the question, "was this a miracle?" the naturalistic answer could be, "nah, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for what happened - the cop probably had worked a ton of overtime and was just too tired to be in courtroom B at 9am."

Sure... or maybe not. Maybe he just happened to have some vacation time and said "I want nothing to do with this G20 crap, I'm heading to the cottage, and no one will miss me because everyone will just assume it's about the G20 thing."

Or, maybe this...or maybe that...or maybe Coke changed to Jules said, we may be judging this [expletive] the wrong way. I tend to accept that providentially, my court date was set to coincide with the event of G20 and/or whatever other circumstances subsequently prevailed to prevent the officer from being in court. But, it could also have been just a coincidence.

Coincidences provide us with a choice. An obvious, irrefutable miracle would take away ur choice to acknowledge "God getting involved." But Jules mentioned at various points after his "awakening" that he "can't go back to sleep" and that his eyes are "wide [expletive] open".

Jules "once was lost, but now he's found; was blind, but now he sees." And what he's seeing is that, behind the guise of a coincidence, beyond a freak that may in fact be explainable by some more naturalistic means, are occurrences that really are miracles.

My friend recounts a story (and I may retell it wrong - if you read this, man, feel free to comment and correct!) of him driving along the highway at dusk. He typically drives in a particular lane and, at some point, for some reason, he ended up in the other lane, just driving along. After a few minutes driving in this lane he typically doesn't drive in, he passed a deer running along in the lane he normally does drive in: this deer was running in the direction of traffic with him, so that as he drove towards it, its non-light-reflecting rear-end was facing him - he did not see the deer until he was beside it, passing it. Had he been in the driving lane he normally drives in, in all likelihood he'd have hit that deer and the combination of its size, the size/shape of his car and the speed at which he was travelling, the collision would have been grossly injurious if not altogether fatal.

He mentioned it to me, knowing who I am, and expecting me to say something along the lines of Jules Winfield: God got involved. And, of course I did, because that's how I see it.

I once drove my family from Toronto to Detroit and back in a car that - unbeknownst to me - had a hole in the gas tank. Then the car broke down on the Monday after the weekend trip and I took it to my mechanic: he found it and told me that, by all accounts, the car should have exploded at some point during over 8hrs of driving and wouldn't have believed someone could drive that long and an explosion not happen, had he not seen it with his own eyes. With all the explanations he could reach for as a mechanic, he shrugged and said, "that's a miracle."

Pulp Fiction is showing us that we are free to choose to see it either way, and if we decide to naturalistically explain certain things, no one will call us crazy. In fact, these days, we'd be considered all the more sane, rational and intelligent. We can be Vincent.

Or, we can choose to see it Jules' way. And if we do, then we might see that the miracles we thought don't happen anymore are actually happening all the time.


  1. I feel that miracles do happen allot more often than most people think...but like you mentioned, it depends on how you want to see that miracle (or for some coincidence) or interpret that event. God gave us free will, and with that will comes choice.. ultimately it comes down to what you decide. Lets hope for many its the right decision.

  2. Check out this article for an example of the issue.

    Notice how Richard Dawkins' name comes up. Arguing that a coincidence is not as uncommon as people think is one thing; denuding the possibility of cosmic significance and, by extension, trying to make this an argument against the concept of God is, to me, disingenuous.

    But, that is precisely the point of this Pulp Fiction post on miracles. People can choose to explain away a particular coincidence, just like Vincent Vega. And, every coincidence isn't necessarily anything more special than that. Sometimes, a coincidence really is "just a coincidence."

    But, not always. Sometimes, things do happen that should make a person pause to consider - is there anything more to this?

  3. Hmmm point taken. And even with those that are not 100% believers at times and in certian scenarios, at times do step back and think, "was this just blind luck or some sort of intervention from beyond?" And ironicly for many it does take something like that to consider for the first time there might be more to life or existence than what they see around them...many former athiests have had simular events happen to them that made them reconsider that there truly is something out there watching over us. And thats a good thing.

  4. I had lunch with a colleague at work on Thursday, we've been sharing notes on our personal "main themes" for this period of our respective lives.

    Providence is the topic for both of us. The next day, Friday, she emails me the following:

    "My Daily Devotional I received today is based on Proverbs 29:18, 'If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed'. This is exactly what you and I were discussing yesterday."

    Go figure. How's that for a timely confirmation of the focus - God is "getting involved", gives us the choice to recognize it or not, and hopes we can help others see that he is getting involved.


What do you think?!