faith lifestyle

The Theological Idiocy of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale

There are thousands of opinions about The Handmaid’s Tale. Many think this show and the novel that inspired it are works of pure genius. I fall into this group.

There are others that feel the show is too graphic, or they’re Christians that are tired of the media making us look bad. And to a point, I get where they’re coming from. But instead of seeing The Handmaid’s Tale as an attack on Christians, I saw an opportunity. An opportunity to tell the truth about God’s character, using Scripture to debunk what Gilead does in the show to terrorize its citizens.

When I first watched the show and then later read the book, I knew the very basis of Gilead’s Republic was hypocritical false teaching. I know a God that sees my imperfection, but loved me enough to sacrifice Himself on a cross for me. For me. What I do not know is a God that thinks we can meet Him halfway, or perfect ourselves into His heaven. That is the exact opposite of how grace works.

Here are the main thoughts I’ve had while watching Gilead be, well, Gilead, and how its leaders’ actions in The Handmaid’s Tale directly contradict the truth of the Bible.

Instead of leaning on God in the unknown, the leaders of Gilead took matters into their own hands. Mistake #1.

At its very core, Gilead reminds me of Babylon. Why? Because what the Babylonians did in Genesis is build for themselves what they thought to be the perfect society:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
-Genesis 11:4

Like human nature is wont to do, the Babylonians thought they knew better than God and had the power to take things into their own hands. If you continue reading this passage, then you’ll know that God dispersed this group of people all across the globe, confusing their languages (Genesis 11:7-9).

Likewise, when the earth was faced with a fertility crisis, the leaders of Gilead decided it was a great idea to force people into submission of ruthlessness and impregnate all the fertile women according to elitism. In Hulu’s version of The Handmaid’s Tale, the leaders even make it clear that their intentions are far from the purity they boast, when the Commanders discuss how they can trick their wives into essentially allowing them to have mistresses.

Instead of following the teachings of the God-breathed Bible like they claim to, they actually directly disobey it. The Sons of Jacob have the audacity to believe that they are in the position to administer the wrath of God. Excuse me, but last I checked, God’s wrath is His and His alone. Did it ever occur to them that God was calling them to trust Him through the pain of infertility, and the chaos of the unknown? It doesn’t appear so.

Gilead is all about works. God is not.

I find it striking just how far the leaders of Gilead will go to erase the truth about grace and replace it with works, all of which only benefit them. Surprise, surprise. When the Handmaids are being punished by the infamous Aunt Lydia for *not* stoning Janine, she essentially says that we can only earn a spot in heaven if we work hard to follow the laws of Gilead and the Bible. I shuddered.

I noticed that many of the Bible teachings the Gileadean government allows are from the Old Testament. In the modern day church, we do agree that the Bible is flat, meaning each part is equally important. However, I have experienced more sermons and formal teachings about the New Testament, because it’s considered more directly applicable to our lives now that Jesus has been crucified and resurrected.

I absolutely don’t think the Old Testament is obsolete for us, but I think it’s telling that Gilead focuses only on the part of the Bible that is intended to show us all the lengths we’d have to go without the resurrection. They completely ignore the topic of grace, which is certainly found all throughout Genesis to Malachi. It’s almost as if the real love story of grace doesn’t exist to the heads of this regime, so much so that they actively sought out a wrong interpretation of the Bible that doesn’t include it. How twisted.

When you see it from that perspective, Gilead bears striking resemblance of the Pharisees that said, “Crucify him” in Luke 23:21.

Instead of the hate that Gilead promotes, the truth of God is that He covered our shame. Many times in the series and the book, the leaders of Gilead, the Aunts, and other elite members shame the Handmaids and anyone that deviates from their imposed norms. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His blood covered shame, iniquity, transgressions, and closed the deep chasm that has been between us and God since the Fall.

Gilead’s leaders are so obsessed with instilling in their population that it takes hard work in your predetermined place of society to earn God’s love and favor. Here’s the truth: we don’t find favor. Favor finds us.

There is nothing at all, not even one thing about human nature that is even remotely capable of wanting God. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. He gives it because His love is all-encompassing, life-changing, and is more than great enough to cover all the ways human nature falls short. What a great God!

Gilead has completely thrown out the respect women deserve. As a result, the society has lost economic potential, political allies, and the sanctity of marriage.

As a woman, watching Gilead take extreme measures to torture other women brings tears to my eyes. It is so evil, so demonic that it incites a rage deep in the pit of my stomach. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

When Gilead threw human rights, namely respect for women as people, out the window, they severely weakened their position in the world. In the show, it’s clear that the population is on rations, and the government has tense relationships with foreign nations. I can’t say I feel bad for the Sons of Jacob. If anything, this fragile political and economic state is well-deserved.

What I find the most interesting, and ripe with poetic justice, if you will, is that they have completely ruined the sanctity of marriage. As I mentioned earlier, one of the flashbacks in the series is a scene between the Commanders while they were merely the extremist Sons of Jacob.

They said “We’ll gather all the fertile women and impregnate them–the Wives will eat that **** up.”

The whole Handmaid model derived from Jacob, Rachel, and Bilhah in Genesis 30 was never about God.

Shocker! It was instead about elitist men being allowed the right to have sex outside their marriages, a very obvious violation of how God designed marriage in the first place.

Fertility issues that lead to concubines happens in two well-known places of Genesis: chapter 16 and chapter 30. In the first instance, it is between Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. Sarai takes matters into her own hands instead of being patient for a child of her own, and disaster ensues for her servant, Hagar. When Hagar runs away after being punished out of Sarai’s jealousy, God comforts her and speaks prophesy to her life (Genesis 16). Sarai acted in disobedience, played with fire, and hurt other people as a result. And that’s just scraping the surface.

Rachel grew jealous of her sister, Leah, because Leah had children by their husband, Jacob, and she did not. You probably know what’s coming. Rachel tells Jacob to have sex with her handmaid, Bilhah, and conceive that way (Genesis 30). Leah does the same, and the competition continues. This dysfunction in marriage and loss of healthy sexual relationships took their eyes from the importance of God’s sovereignty and placed it upon their own obsessions. Gilead does the same.

Even though these two stories seem like examples of what not to do, they make it the center of society. The Handmaid model of fertility takes the importance of enjoyable sex within marriage and ruins it. (Did they even read Song of Solomon? Oh wait, that probably wasn’t allowed!) Most importantly, it places women like June in a position no one deserves, a position of indignity and inhumanity. I can think of few things I’ve seen that are more evil.

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The God of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale is merely the devil playing dress-up.

Now that I’ve said my piece, I leave you with this: the God of Gilead is merely the devil playing dress-up. Satan wants us to believe that we know more than God, and yet at the same time are not good enough for grace. Lord forgive me, because I have felt all of the above multiple times in my life and walk with You.

How fortunate are we, that the true God accepts us as we are. The love story of God’s grace is so deep, so profound that the human brain cannot fully understand it. Until I meet Him face-to-face, I rest in the hope of everyday salvation through the trials of this life and the promise of eternity in paradise.

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke your name into the night

Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope

“Living Hope”

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