In the second season of the television show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer [spoiler alert!], Buffy is faced with an agonizing dilemma. She is condemned to save the world “again.” Buffy’s former lover is the evil Angelus. Angelus – once the good Angel – has awoken a demon that will swallow up the whole world into an eternity of suffering. In what follows, I read Buffy as God the Father. Angelus represents sinful humanity, Angel is Jesus, and the Spirit is the sword in Buffy’s hand. Buffy attempts to destroy Angelus. But at the moment that she is about to kill Angelus, his soul is returned to him. Unfortunately, only Angel’s blood will close the gaping mouth of the demon. The shift from Angelus to Angel gives a vivid representation of the shifting positions of the first and second Adam in the Christian narrative of redemption. Angelus is evil. Angel carries the weight of Angelus’s guilt without any of the responsibility belonging, strictly speaking, to him. Yet finally, the innocent Angel must bear the consequences of Angelus’s evil for the salvation of the world.
The gender dynamics of this scene complicate and illuminate traditional readings of the involvement of the Father in the crucifixion. Gender subordination and the subordination of the Son to the Father go together, and are ultimately justified by the same theological logic. Reading the Father as an 18-year old girl helps to mark the inadequacy of language to capture God. The evident implausibility, even absurdity, of the image, makes visible the theological truth that God is not a father among other fathers.
In classical representations of the trinity, the Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son that both binds them together and allows them to go far from one another on the cross. So the Spirit is present in this scene as the bond between Buffy/Father and Angel/Son. Throughout his ministry, the Spirit reveals Jesus and identifies him. Yet here, the sign-character of Jesus is connected to a piercing sword. This is also a form of the presence of the Spirit in Buffy’s sacrifice of Angel. At the moment she pierces his heart with a sword, “these three are one,” tied together in a moment of loss and horror that yet follows from Buffy’s love for the world, and from Angel’s decision to trust Buffy’s love for him. What binds Buffy and Angel together is also what separates them in that moment.
The scenario between Buffy and Angel removes the potentially distorting Father-Son relation from the picture. No matter how well the Christian imaginary is disciplined, we cannot seem to remove the Father from fathers, and the Son from sons – God from man. But Buffy and Angel are clearly equals, and her willingness to act out of love, given the gender norms of our contemporary context, is so much more convincing than any paternal sacrifice, for that is what we expect fathers to do. We expect fathers to sacrifice the particular for the universal, but we do not expect the same of eighteen-year old girls. Buffy’s stern devotion to duty, her commitment to her love and care for the world, are also surprising given those norms. And in showing a teenage girl acting in this way, we see that such an action might have a cost. Further, romantic love has taken on an increasingly important cultural role as the space in which passion finds its place. We are often unable to see the father-son relationship as passionate, especially emotionally. Here, it is easier to see the extent to which she is indeed passionately involved in the event. Her love for Angel allows us imaginatively to inhabit the place of the Father’s action.
But there are two other aspects of this scene that make it peculiarly appropriate as a representation of the crucifixion. While Buffy’s pain is evident to us, her pain and Angel’s suffering are not the same, and her knowledge of that contributes to her suffering. She knows that he will go to hell knowing that she killed him, and that will only add to her torment and his. The logic of both Jesus’ dying cries, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” and “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” is evident. The ‘Father’ shares the anguish of both those moments, rather than hovering untouched at a distance as we usually imagine.
The second reason for the particular appropriateness of this scene as a trinitarian representation is perhaps more difficult to see, but no less important. Arguing that theological claims about the Trinity and the crucifixion may well be understood in relation to a popular show about a teenage girl who slays vampires has its own disadvantages. But one disadvantage it is not likely to have is an easy slippage between what is seen in the imaginative fantasy offered in the show and what and who God is thought to be. The absurdity of the comparison may for some serve to make it implausible, but it contributes to the theological point of making the comparison. Jesus is not a good vampire with a soul, but the vampire with a soul may help us to understand something about how Jesus could represent the first Adam as the second Adam. The ‘Father’ is not an eighteen-year old female vampire slayer who goes to high school, but one way of reminding ourselves that equally, the ‘Father’ is not a father, might be to make precisely that comparison.
Linn Marie Tonstad is assistant professor of systematic theology at Yale Divinity School. She is currently completing her first book, tentatively titled “God and Difference: Experimental Trinitarian Theology.”