Faith & Fandom
BoJack Horseman: Consequences and Condemnation
I never imagined I’d be doing a BoJack chapter. It’s one of those Netflix shows I never anticipated watching in the first place. The animation looked wonky and the whole anthropomorphic animal adult cartoon just didn’t seem like something I was going to be interested in. Even as I write this, I only know two adults that are passionate about the show. I think it was the fact that Jesse Pinkman/Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad played the sidekick character that finally caused me to give it at a try, and within two seasons I realized I was dealing with something profound.
The show is ugly, brutal, toxic, heartbreaking, and painful, but still profound. Sure, it had a fair amount of silliness and visual gags, but it was full of stuff that really hit me hard. It talked about alcoholism, addiction, substance abuse, assault, depression, divorce, and the honest outcome of bad choices more than almost any other show out now, or in the history of television for that matter. So often, as I sat back watching BoJack make the choices he or the people in his circle made, it would put my stomach in knots thinking I would never make those choices. Then sometimes, I saw BoJack and crew making the exact same bad choices I have made in my life and it went from a knot in my stomach to a knife in my heart. It’s a hard thing when you see characters who hover inches from rock bottom for decades mirroring the parts of your heart or life that most people never see.
For those of you who don’t know much about BoJack, but you are stubbornly or faithfully reading this chapter regardless, here’s a little backstory. Back in the 90’s, he was in a very famous TV show (enjoy having that stuck in your head for a while). It was akin to Full House, but his time on the show caused him and many of the people he worked with to spiral into dark places. Many of them never recovered from these dark places.
Even though so many of the characters in this show lived in a place of desperation, they lived in such denial and delusion that they often never saw themselves for who they actually were. One of the first moments in the series that truly taught me that this was going to be a profound journey came in season 2 when BoJack and Wanda were breaking up. Wanda is asking what happened between then, and BoJack bitterly reminds her that she never really knew him. She makes this statement, “You know, it's funny; when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”
That hit me at a time when I wasn’t being honest with myself about who I was or with the people I was focusing on in my life. I’d love to say that quote hit me and I learned my lesson, but I didn’t. Instead, I now had a well-written quote to remind me. When I was getting hurt or wounded in relational situations, now I already knew this lesson and chose to ignore it.
But I honestly didn’t need Wanda, the ironically wise owl, to remind of this. This was something scripture had long made clear to me.
“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,” - Galatians 6:4
“But test everything; hold fast what is good.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:21
Paul made clear statements in two different letters that we should test our own actions. Even when we are dealing with prophecies and spiritual things, we have the responsibility to test them. If we aren’t testing our actions and motives, we are probably going to end up deceiving ourselves.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to even take it a step further and not just search ourselves. We need to honestly invite God to search us.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” - Psalm 139:23-24.
Like we see in BoJack, and so often in our day to day lives, it often doesn’t matter if others examine us. We examine ourselves, or even God examines us if we aren’t willing to actually make the changes that our examinations warrant. BoJack was in a constant cycle of spiraling downward with toxic relationships and destructive substances. When the people that loved him most actually stood up to him about it, he often pushed them even further away. His actions were truly despicable. He brought pain and suffering to so many lives.
If we are honest, if our failures were broadcast before the world to see, we probably wouldn’t look much better. BoJack’s cyclical failures just happened to be packed into digestible 12-episode seasons, where ours just seem to be on a constant loop. BoJack went through his highs and monstrous lows. He went through them with Charlotte & Penny, Secretariat, Philbert, and of course Sarah Lynn. The rocky first 5 seasons drag us through seeing BoJack simply reverting back to the same patterns he always displayed.
While this scripture may sound more relative to Mr. Peanut Butter, it definitely is more appropriate for BoJack.
“As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.” - Proverbs 26:11.
Like dogs, BoJack (and us on our worst days) kept returning to the things that are often the most destructive forces in our lives. Finally, BoJack checked into rehab for real. He was willing to deal with his issues beyond his own strength. He finally admitted he needed help, but he wasn't exactly exploding with confidence. Before checking in, he asked Diane, “What if I get sober, and I'm still the same awful person I've always been, only more... sober?”
She tells him, “I think that is a very real possibility. Look, you have two options. You can go back home, and try and do things your way, like you’ve been doing all your life, or you can see what these guys have to offer.”
That’s what we effectively do when we give our lives to Christ. We stop trying to handle everything in our own strength and ability (the way we do in almost every aspect of our lives), and we let God do what only He can. Scripture teaches that there is powerful transformation and change that comes from surrendering our lives to God.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” - 1 John 1:9
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” - Romans 12:2
Scripture paints for us a clear portrait here. Instead of trying to fix everything in our own efforts and strength, let God do what only He can. With his power, our hearts can be clean, and our minds can be renewed. We gain the perspective to live a life that can be free from the burdens we’ve been dragging behind us.
BoJack goes to rehab, he serves his time, and even though it takes forever, he finally ends up in a healthy place. When he finally makes it out, he goes to visit the people he has wronged. Eventually BoJack ends up at a historical reenactment of a colonial church service. The message hits him way harder than he anticipated. The pastor declares this:
“Are we doomed to die in the shadow of our sins? Does thy Lord turn His back on His colts? Nay, for to forgive is divine. If God forgives thee, thou must also forgive thyself. ‘Though thy sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.’ It is only when we show ourselves forgiveness and mercy that we truly live a life of grace, that we are reborn.”
BoJack had seen the way his life affected others. He saw that he needed to seek forgiveness and accountability from the people he had wronged, but still had struggled to accept forgiveness for himself. He had done horrible things, but could he truly forgive himself and live in grace? He finally believed it was possible.
Leaving LA behind, he took a collegiate role teaching acting. He also tried to invest in his sister’s life. Living clean, he was finally in a place where he felt like he was no longer living in his past. But sadly, his past didn’t stay in the past.
The story of Sarah Lynn was heartbreaking, and there was nowhere for BoJack to hide from his most shameful secret. Over the course of talking it out with his closest friends, things devolved –
BoJack: “Since I've been out of rehab I've been on my best behavior.” Todd: “But before rehab...” BoJack: “No. They can’t get me on old stuff*, I’m a different person now... What’s the point of working on myself and getting sober and getting better if no matter what, there are people out there just waiting to tear me down? … No, it’s not fair. If you start listing every single thing everyone’s done, then everyone’s a monster.” Diane: “I think you should do the hard thing, and be honest. About everything. Things will get worse before they get better, but you won’t spend the rest of your life waiting for the other shoe to drop.” BoJack: “This place was supposed to be a fresh start for me. Rehab was supposed to be a fresh start. But no matter how many starts I get there’s always the same ending. Everything falls apart, and I end up alone.”
BoJack was in that place so many of us live. He wanted a fresh start, a new life, forgiveness, grace, but with no acknowledgement of his actions and their consequences. It’s this hope that plays out in the back of all of our minds. WE want grace to erase all future accountability of our failures. This isn’t how things work practically in life with people, but this is much closer to the case when it comes how God handles things.
“You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” - Micah 7:19
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” - Psalm 103:12
When God forgives our sin, we are forgiven. They are off the table. The problem is that we live in a world that doesn’t operate with the same grace and oversight. Our actions in this world still bear consequences in this world, and God’s grace doesn’t automatically negate our own consequences here.
I have God’s grace all over my life, but if I backhand William Shatner in the face at the next comic con I'm at, there will still be consequences for my actions. Even though BoJack truly had made life changes and was living a healthier life than he had in 20 years, his consequences still found him out. This is something we need to understand and accept. Our sins, mistakes, failures, and bad life choices always have the potential to rear their ugly unwanted head.
“But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” - Numbers 32:23. “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” - Luke 8:17
The “Hollywoo” Reporter exposed BoJack, and within hours he was on tv explaining and spinning his actions away. He even came out cleaner on the other side. But the fact is, even in his confession, he was still holding back. In the verses listed above, that stuff just doesn’t stay hidden. As he greedily took a second swing at his interview, everything came out completely, and he was truly exposed for all he had been. It shattered all he has ever been in the public's eyes. The world rejected him. Condemned him. His teaching position was gone. Hollyhock was gone. He is out millions financially, and left virtually alone.
This leads him to spiraling out of control yet again, almost dying, and ending up in prison. Now he was condemned both socially and judicially. Even though he made steps forward, his past caught up, exposed, and condemned him.
Thankfully, this is where our story diverges a bit from BoJack. Yes, our actions will be exposed. Even if our actions manage to never be exposed on this earth, we will one day stand before God exposed, not just for the bad, but for the good as well.
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” - Ecclesiastes 12:14.
“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” - Romans 12:14.
We will be exposed. We will give an account. This part is unavoidable. But the great thing about grace, is that we don’t have to hide to avoid punishment or live in fear of being discovered. I shared earlier 1 John 1:9; it’s in confession we find freedom. When we come before God openly and honestly confessing our worst, we won’t receive condemnation. God looks at our worst and loves us with His best.
BoJack always attached himself to people who gave him the closest to that acceptance – Diane, Todd, Princess Carolyn – but even the people who were most patient with him couldn’t give him the acceptance and absolution he needed. Even the people that loved him the most had to condemn him at times when they were completely honest. But the great thing about being completely open with God is that we will never receive condemnation from Him.
You should read all of Romans 8. Seriously, do that. I’m not going to print the whole thing here. Regardless, take a short break from this book and go read Romans 8.
But just this passage to leave you with this:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh...
...What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 8:1-3, 31-39.
One of the reasons BoJack struggled so deeply with loving himself, finding peace, and turning from his destructive habits is because he saw himself as his failures. He never thought he could be loved, accepted, or forgiven for who he had been if people ever really knew him. He tasted a fresh start briefly in Connecticut, but it didn’t last because there was still fear of condemnation from his dark past. The show, in true BoJack fashion, leaves us open-ended with no clear determination of what will become of BoJack once his prison time is up.
I, for one, am hopeful. I’m hopeful he will find peace. I’m hopeful he will rise above his past and self-condemnation. I’m hopeful for reconciliation with Hollyhock. But more than that, I'm hopeful for you. I’m hopeful that you will stop hiding from the things lingering in your life and past. My prayer is that you will see yourself as more than your failures. Even if everyone in this world condemns you, there is a God who will love you, forgive you, and even in the bold face of your failures, won’t condemn you. In the face of your failures, you will find a God that still wants the abundant and best life for you.
John 10:10 is one of my all-time favorite verses and I have no idea how many times I quote it per book, but it is something that resonates so deeply in my heart.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” - John 10:10
There are so many things in this life that want to rob us of quality of life. The most common culprit is our own actions and condemnation. But Jesus wants us to have the best life possible. I hope that for you. I believe you will find that in Him, and in that process, you will be able to view your life not from fear of being found out, but in peace of what God has done and will do in you. I hope that when you see your “view from halfway down,” you won’t be filled with dread, but peace.