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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #3 -- Expose Evil Rather Than Enjoying It

Ephesians 5:10 summarizes the first two principles we discussed about a Christian approach to entertainment, Exalt God and Exercise Biblical Discernment, by saying we should be “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”  Then verses 11-12 say, “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.”  This verse gives us the principle Expose Evil Rather Than Enjoying It. 

God hates sin, and we should too.  Therefore it is wrong for us to enjoy it in any way.  Unfortunately, so much of modern entertainment is designed with that in mind—to make money by appealing to our sinful nature.  This is obviously the purpose of most sexual content, and much of the violence—especially when it is motivated by ungodly revenge and uncontrolled rage, or fixates on the gory details.  But there are other, more subtle ways in which the popular arts appeal to our sinful nature, such as covetousness (beautiful stars, rich characters, exotic locations, etc.) and pride (hero worship, humanistic themes, motivations of self-glory, etc.). 

A specific danger that is worth mentioning along these lines is the “glorification” of evil.  Sometimes the villain is portrayed in such a way that the audience is drawn into his evil behavior, to the point of vicarious enjoyment.  A classic example of this is the movie Batman, in which Jack Nicholson’s Joker has more fun than anyone else (by far), and audiences seemed to appreciate and remember this psychotic murderer much more than any of the “good guys.”  Another example, and a rather surprising one, is a Bibleman episode where the Scripture-quoting hero is basically boring compared to the villain, who gets to star in his own MTV-like music video.  After watching this show, my children could not quote any of the Bible verses, but they were dancing around singing over and over again,  “I am the prince of pride, I got an ego ten miles wide!”  So whether it is Batman or Bibleman, be careful that you do not “participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness” by enjoying sin vicariously.[1]

Perhaps the most prevalent problem with today’s popular art (and some of yesterday’s) is the way it makes light of matters that should be taken seriously.  God and religion are played for laughs, and jokes about sex have almost become synonymous with the concept of “comedy.”  But the Bible is very clear that both of those matters are not to be treated as humorous in any way.  The third commandment, says “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain,” and the hottest hell is reserved for those who mock God (see Psalm 73:8-9, 17-20).  And it may surprise you to learn that Ephesians 5:4‑6 uses similar language in regard to sexuality:

There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

So it is a sin worthy of God’s anger and condemnation to be amused by jokes about Him, and it is equally wrong to laugh at any kind of sexual immorality.  God wants His name to be treated as holy, and marital intimacy to be viewed as sacred, because it was designed as a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32).  “That sounds legalistic,” you might think, “to say that we can’t laugh at any 'dirty jokes'!”  But remember that legalism is going beyond what is written, and this is something that is clearly written in the pages of Scripture.  Such things we must obey and teach, even if they contradict the culture around us, or fly in the face of our own accepted practice.
First John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”  This passage has often been quoted to support extra-biblical, universal rules of behavior like “don’t go to movies” or “don’t listen to secular music.”  Notice, however, that once again the concern in this passage is a concern about the heart.  John does not say that we cannot watch or listen to anything that comes from “worldly” artists, but he does say we are not to love the lust and pride that is in them, and is often presented by them.  So I can enjoy (and thank God) for the good things about a Shakespearean play, for instance, while making sure that I do not rejoice in any sin that is glorified, or humor that is inappropriate.  I can also “expose the evil” by explaining to my British literature students how and why it is wrong.  And to use another example of classic British literature, I can split my sides with my friends and older children as we enjoy the unique and insightful humor in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, while skipping scenes like the “virgins in the castle” and the cartoon depicting God.  I can “expose” those examples of inappropriate humor by explaining to my family and others why those parts are wrong, and in doing so we can enjoy a spiritual benefit, as well as a good laugh.  We should not watch movies like that too often, however, because of the next principle, which I will discuss in my next post…

[1] Again, this does not mean that it is necessarily wrong to watch Batman, any more than it is wrong to watch Bibleman.  We just need to make sure that our hearts do not rejoice in the evil depicted.

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