I ran across this statement recently:
“The greatest danger of television and movies is helping (us) to grow accustomed to the enjoyment of the absence of God.”
I’ve pondered that for a couple of weeks. I generally agree with the sentiment: we need to be careful about what we intake, and a lot of our intake these days is television and movies. (Note the absence of books, probably for a couple of reasons: one, it’s possible to find books that aren’t absent God, and two, who reads books anymore?) But there are couple of implications that I’d like to tackle.
The first is that God is absent from television and movies. I don’t think that’s true. Just because the writers and directors don’t invoke His name doesn’t mean He’s not at work. Balaam didn’t see God at work in his donkey slamming him into the side of a wall, but He was. As should be obvious from hanging around here and the other places I occasionally write, I see God all over the place in TV and movies.
Remember The Sixth Sense? “I see dead people, walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a clearer description of our spiritual condition apart from Jesus. Later, the protagonist is asked what he thinks they want. “Just help,” he replies. “That’s right,” his friend exclaims, “that’s what I think, too! They just want help, even the scary ones!“
I wrote a guest post on Before the Cross about three years ago on a TV episode that my wife and I watched. No mention of God anywhere, but the struggles that young woman had in her marriage are ones we face every day in Christ.
A friend of mine1 wrote this on Facebook last year:
Saw an incredible movie about Jesus last night… It begins in a oppressed city in the middle of a starving world. The city is under the thumb of a tyrant who controls the water supply in the middle of the dessert. He gives empty promises of salvation to the people while only giving them enough water to barely stay alive. Their prisoner is taken outside the city in shame (like a human hood ornament) into the desert. There, he does battle with the oppressor, crushing his head, then returns to the city and displays the corpse of the defeated tyrant in open shame. The city erupts in joy that their freedom has been won, then he floods the city with water so that the people might drink their fill in freedom. Also, there were some really incredible explosions.
The movie? Mad Max: Fury Road. One of the comments2 said, “Well, this viewpoint makes feel less like I wasted $10 and 2 hours of my life.”
(To be clear: I struggle with this as much as anyone.)
Now, that doesn’t mean we can watch anything. We all should have boundaries, it’s just that our boundaries might differ from each other on hopefully minor points. I have a lower threshold for language on TV/movies than I do for violence, and I have an even lower one for nudity/sex.3 The key to defining our boundaries is the same as above — hearing God speak to us.
And that brings me to the second implication, that there’s something special about TV and movies in this regard. In fact, I think life is the greatest danger to growing accustomed to the (perceived) absence of God. It is easy to spend eight or nine or eleven hours at work doing the tasks we have to do and not seeing God in any of it. It is just as easy to spend a day at the park with the family and not see God at work. And it is dangerously easy to spend a night at the hospital with a friend dying from cancer and miss God’s presence.
God is at work everywhere. Sometimes we just need a stronger pair of glasses, or ears, to see Him.
Just ask Balaam’s donkey.
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. Brennan Manning
This friend, whose name might or might not be Andy, made a pact with another friend of his years ago that they wouldn’t see movies with lasers, trolls, or fingerless gloves. How Fury Road didn’t have any of the latter in it is beyond me.↩
Can you guess the gender of the person posting the comment?↩
As Piper says, “The violence is fake, the words aren’t meant, but that woman really is naked, and somewhere a father’s heart breaks.”↩