Television is pretty much a sport for me, and Breaking Bad makes it to the all-time favourites list. I watched all five seasons within two weeks, and found each episode more gripping, more visceral than the last. At its core, the show is a fierce reflection on how depraved the human soul is, subject to one of the most enslaving powers: greed.
A brief synopsis of the show: a brilliant chemistry teacher named Walter White is diagnosed with cancer. Believing he has little time left to live, White decides to produce methamphetamine (crystal meth) to make a good amount of money for his family. As the show progresses, his cancer stabilizes, and there are many opportunities for him to leave the business. He doesn’t though; even as the millions of dollars begin to accumulate, White can’t seem to get enough. One scene depicts the consequences of White’s actions in a subtle, yet powerful way. Skylar, his wife, takes him to a storage unit filled with stacks of cash, too much to launder or count. “How much is this?” White asks, surveying the pile. “I have no idea,” she says.
There is a gradual disintegration of White’s character from the hero to becoming the series’ main antagonist. From telling small lies to killing anyone who threatens to expose him, the fall is fast and hard. It is clear that the business is no longer about supporting his family, but a way for White to establish power and control. But all the money he could possibly make does not solve his insatiable desire to be recognized and revered. It cannot buy back the time or strength that his cancer has stripped him of or erase the past failures in his life that haunt him.
It’s easy to write off the show as some dramatized depiction, void of any realistic application. It is in many aspects, but the truth remains: greed is subtle, and it’s deadly. Greed has the power to distort your judgement, making you lose sight of the purpose of your resources.
Someone once posed this question: When you can no longer give something up, do you really own it or does it own you? For a while I gave to the poor begrudgingly, only to appease my guilt and to fulfill some social standard. However, clinging on to the minimal resources I had only made me more obsessed and miserable with myself. Many people crave a sense of power and ultimate security that money promises, but even that concept is a moving target. White rested his identity on achieving some figure of money, which was unknown even to himself.
In many ways, it’s easy for me to relate to White. My search for security and significance in greed has proven futile. My expectations and efforts to feel completely assured in my possessions are always met with disappointment. Knowing Jesus Christ personally is, in contrast, fulfilling in many ways; instead of this nebulous chase for security in wealth, there is true peace and joy in knowing my Creator has my best interests in mind. God is no genie, and I won’t have everything I want, but it’s more than enough to have my identity secured in a much bigger kingdom than I can create for myself.
For me, that’s what makes trusting an all-powerful God so comforting, knowing that everything I own will never be something I deserve, but a gift entrusted to me to steward well. It’s a freeing truth that allows me to give generously, but also be financially responsible. My security and happiness is no longer determined by my financial position, but by knowing and trusting my Creator.
Are there any ways in which you can relate to White’s search for security?