Asking The Wrong Questions

I am an avid Netflixer. I don’t waste my life away in front of the television every day or anything like that; I have boundaries in place and disciplines in action to guard against such idolatrous slothfulness. However, I do regularly and thoroughly enjoy letting my hyperactive mind wander into the fictional world of a well-written show. Books are fantastic, too. I read like crazy. But I personally find visual modes of storytelling uniquely therapeutic. Films and shows tend to draw me out of myself more effectively than a book, giving me a short and needed break from all of my over-analytical ponderings.

However, navigating the land of modern entertainment while trying to maintain an undefiled conscience can be a frustrating venture.

I have recently heard a lot of chatter about a certain series on Netflix. So, after finishing Madam Secretary (which I highly recommend), I decided to give it a go. Just a few episodes in, I completely understood the reason for all the praise; this series was brilliantly written and impeccably cast. Everything I value in a show—solid character development, intelligent humor, unpredictability, and more—was abundantly present. My mind was utterly captivated.

Unfortunately, though, my conscience was unsettled. Needless sex scenes, crude language, and other immoralities plagued the episodes in increasing measure as the series developed. Some of you may assume that I stopped watching the show as soon as I realized its overwhelmingly scandalous nature. You overestimate my character. I didn’t stop. Instead, I went into justifying-mode. In an ungodly effort to soothe my rattled conscience so that I could continue watching, I asked myself a few questions:

  • Will watching this disqualify me from the faith? Absolutely not.
  • Will God punish me for watching this? Probably not.
  • Will God still use me if I watch this? Most likely.

This self-Q&A gave me just enough strength to silence my inner objections for another episode or two. But the heart-pricking conviction of the Spirit soon returned in full and unavoidable force. The Lord revealed to me that the nature of the questions I posed to myself indicated I was not all that interested in pleasing him; I just wanted to know how close I could scoot to the outermost edge of my “Christian liberty.” I wasn’t really concerned about preserving a pure state of soul so I could enjoy unhindered fellowship with Jesus; I just wanted to know how much worldliness I could ingest before God would bring his rod of discipline down upon me.

I should have been asking questions like:

  • Is the content of this show re-directing my affections away from God and toward the world?
  • Are the things I’m drawn to in this show wholesome and good or are they dark and evil?
  • Am I, even within the privacy of my own heart, demonstrating that I love God above all else as I watch this show?

Responding honestly to these questions gave me the strength to do what I should have done after finishing episode two: quit watching the show. The fact that I was even trying to hush my defiled conscience clearly reveals that the content of this series was already adversely affecting me, dulling my spiritual desires and energizing my sinful flesh. Tuning into this show did not, in any capacity, demonstrate that God was the greatest love and treasure of my life.

I think my error in this situation is one common to many Christians—especially those of us in the millennial category who have grown up immersed in a culture that feasts on entertainment and a million other forms of pleasure. We ultimately just want to know if persisting in some activity will result in punishment, and, if that isn’t likely to happen, then we gladly persist in that activity. But this is not how the Christian life is to be lived.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And in his letter to the Romans, when addressing the topic of violated consciences, he wrote, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). When faced with a questionable activity, a desire to get away with as much as we can before God gets stern with us should have no place in our evaluation of that activity. This is not an attitude of faith but of the sinful flesh—one that must be struck down and killed. Our evaluation of any and every thing we do in this life should be driven primarily by a passion to glorify God by maintaining a clear conscience before him. When we are gripped by the love of Christ and compelled by a desire to enjoy him as fully as we can, we will ask the right questions and, by God’s grace, make a faithful decision that exalts God and cultivates our joy in him.

  • Lyle Nelson

    “Will God punish me for watching this? Probably not.
    Will God still use me if I watch this? Most likely.”
    The fact that these two questions could not be answered “No” and “Yes” with 100% certainty should probably give an immediate answer to the question. “Would I feel comfortable with another Christian, or someone I was trying to witness to, in the room?” may be another such question. And of course this applies to any form of activity, not just entertainment, although that is almost certainly where it comes up most frequently. Very thought-provoking post, Matt!

    • P0xi

      If you think in terms of “will God punish me” vs “will god reward me”, you are already a lost sheep.

      I personally prefer the life of a goat, but for a lost sheep such as yourself, I recommend you stop thinking about God as your master, and think of God as your friend.

      Friends don’t judge each other over what movies they watch. Friends don’t look down on you if you read a book they don’t like. Friends don’t need to approve of each other, or spy on each others thoughts.

      You need to think like a human being, rather than like a dog, and instead of wondering if punishment or reward is coming, live a life by your own will.

      Do what is right because it is right. Not because you will be rewarded.
      Don’t do what is wrong, because it is wrong. Not because you will be punished.

      If you are just a dog, then I seriously question how much even writing this can help you.
      But if you are ready to stand up and be the man that God has made you into, you will do so now that you have read this. Please understand that there is far more to life than what is in a religious book.

      God did not write the Bible; humans did. It was a machine that printed all the words into your modern Bible you own, and it was a human of ages past who wrote it word by word. It might be true, or it might be lies.

      But what is right is right, because it is helps people, and it creates happiness and value.
      What is wrong is wrong, because it harms people. That’s all there is too it.

  • Before the stroke, I loved zombie movies and shows. My favorite was The Walking Dead. I was also a big fan of Shawn of the Dead. Zombieland, Dawn oif the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, etc. You get the picture.
    After the stroke and I came back to the Lord, I tried watching these things. I was kind of disgusted with myself. Like you, I wondered how I was glorifing God. I have about 1400 DVDs, and realized about 99% of them are at best questionable. Some like Battlestar Galactica (reboot) I try to justify because of their ‘religious’ message, but I find it at odds with my beliefs. The only ones that come close are the overtly religious ones (The Ten Commandments, Risen, Ben Hur, God’s Not Dead, etc.) I just wind up watching I Love Lucy or the Twilight Zone, and even they somtimes have questionable content.
    So what is one to do? I focus on drafting work, doing animation, and editing our church videos. Sometimes I just want to veg out and watch somthing totally inane like The Big Bus.
    Great article Matt!

    • Regan DuCasse

      Most science fiction ARE morality plays. They require people to think about human impact on everything and each other, in a context we are marching towards with regularly.
      Not always in a bad way.
      But as I’ve been trying to impart to the folks here, there is going to have to be other ways of getting attention, or it turns into a yawner.
      I’ve gotten slammed for being repetitious.
      Which is hard to avoid when some people who are regulars to this thread ask the same rhetorical questions or are being obtuse.
      I love the zombie genre, and a movie like 28 Days Later certainly has a frightening plausibility.
      If you wonder about glorifying God, what are the kinds of enduring pieces of art, writing, or even scientific breakthroughs?
      It was a gay, 16 year old genius that found a genetic protein in the prostate that opened the door to literally curing prostate cancer.
      I’ve asked the question before, to imagine a world without anti Semitism, misogyny, racism, or anti gay sentiment.
      Not just in the now, but what if the world had never known such prejudices?
      And the people who are so talented, and could have advanced our species even more, had realized their full potential?
      But no one answered that question.
      And really should have at least tried to.
      Because those things that do advance the human race, and brings more than just spiritual, but also physical and technical comfort, does glorify God in ways it seems isn’t appreciated.

      • AnotherMike

        Happy Post-Thanksgiving Regan,

        I am have been a fan of sci-fi books and some movies in the past, just as fantasy books and movies were as well. Very few documentaries or biographies made my list of favorites in either book or movie format. That stated, while I cannot point to any study worth mentioning or possesses any valid and verifiable peer review, I tend to see some form of morality questions always being asked and answered within the storylines.

        I cannot state that I have ever enjoyed any of the zombie genre books or movies. Horror just never had a place within me to hold onto. Much like brussels sprouts, no matter how they are ever dressed up and placed before me, there is no desire to partake in consuming them. They have no hold on me.

        As for glorifying God in all that we do this is what we are to do, however, as I had mentioned in a previous post not everyone believes in God or has actually placed their trust/faith in Christ. For the people who do not believe in God or place their trust/faith in Christ for their salvation, they will continue to do everything they do (live, socialize, work, produce art / writings / discover some truth in the natural world) for their own glory. For the people who do believe in God or place their trust/faith in Christ for their salvation, they do the same things as the former group but they work to do less of it and move toward glorifying God in all they do.

        As for the 16 year old who found a genetic protean in the prostate that opened the door to literally curing prostate cancer, I did a search for the young innovator and could only find an article about Jack Andraka dated 2013 who discovered a means of detecting pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer early at a cost of pennies and little time to enable doctors and patients the opportunity to fight which ever cancer is detected with a greater possibility of survival (stage 1 vs stage 4). I saw no mention of prostate detection, however, since the article was written in 2013 and Mr. Andraka is now graduated from high school (19 years old now) it is not outside the realm of possibility that he has also found a means of detecting this form of cancer as well. As for opening the door for curing cancer, I must disagree. The best we can aim for at the moment is early detection to cancer remission until the triggers for cancer are found that enables the medical community to effectively “cure” cancer by preventative medicine in the same way regular dental visits and brushing and flossing one’s teeth is the preventative medicine to stop cavities.

        As to whether or not Mr. Andraka has a sexual preference to guys or gals has no value to what he has done or will do in the future that benefits others and potentially himself in the short term.

        As for being able to imagine a world without unjustified discrimination, absolutely. Unfortunately, we will never find this world here, today, or tomorrow where mankind is trying to do it on his own. We cannot and this was revealed to us (mankind) over 2 millennia ago.

        As for advancing mankind, the question is advancing to what? Of the many advances mankind has made from basic tools for survival range in variety (example: better projectiles go from thrown rocks to bows and arrows to guns or from memorization to books to computers or from walking to animal transport to bicycles to motorized vehicles). For medical purposes, mankind is able to make life more comfortable and in some cases extend life up to a point but in 100 out of 100 (or 1:1) cases studied, everyone dies. Mentally, mankind has not improved. People of old were just as smart as people are today. The difference is what their minds are addressing to meet the situations they are facing. Discovering truths within the natural world is easily misinterpreted as making truths but mankind cannot make truths, we can only discover them.

        And the article Matt wrote, I would venture to say it is spot on.

        It is good to respond to you again after the several weeks of being off-line due to family events, holidays, and work priorities. With Christmas coming up I am prone to falling off the scope again fairly soon but I look forward to returning to a normal reading schedule once again with potential dialog, God willing.

    • Stacy

      Watching anything gory, especially involving zombies, makes my stomach turn upside-down. I’m surprised that you didn’t mention VeggieTales in your list of religious movies, given your experience in animation. 😉

    • P0xi

      I think you can watch anything you want.

      Have you read the book “1984”?
      Thought crime isn’t real. You can think anything you want. You can read or watch anything you want. Now, don’t be silly and get addicted, but really now, you’re going too far with your self-righteousness.

      Is virtue for the sake of virtue really worth judging so much fiction as “evil”?

      There is one wrong thing in this world, and that is causing harm to people.
      If you hurt, lie to, or manipulate a person, you are being evil.

      If you watch fiction, have crazy sex with a lover, or want to think about something evil, go for it. There’s nothing evil about thoughts.

      Fiction is not evil.
      The only evil is hurting people in real life.

  • Lynn Cole

    Amen and Amen Matt. Something that’s needed to be addressed for those with a sincere desire to be a Lover and follower of Christ. I have been criticised and even made fun of by others who profess Christ for shunning many forms of entertainment. During this Holiday season if they knew that I would not even consider a “church” Christmas play or pageant, they would probably really think I had gone off the deep end. I am being legalistic, a fuddy duddy, even acting self righteous to some by taking this stance. I have actually pulled away from the “church” because my views seem to have become “radical” among many. I have been on a lonely but rewarding journey as I have held to my conscience in these matters. God is still working with me, prying my hands off of this World and all the worthless things that would want to grab my attention. “Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through your word!” Psalm 119:37 (NLT)

    • P0xi

      I think that temporary things are the reason you are alive.
      Life itself is temporary, so please do not insult the concept of temporary things.
      If God did not want you to live a good life, he would have put you in a solid white room without anything to do.

      You are wasting your life, and God is crying.
      Please try to have more fun. Stop caring about being righteous.

      There is a truth in this world, and that truth is “Be kind to others”.
      There is a lie in this world, and that lie is, “Pleasure is evil”.

      Having fun is not evil. It is completely ok to do whatever you like, as long as it does not harm anyone. Please change your ways, because you get ONE life, and then it is over, and you can never come back.

      You will never be able to go back once you miss your chance.
      Don’t waste the most precious gift you will ever have.

      Either disobey God, or understand that God put you into this world for a reason, and this world also has a reason that God intended it to have, so that the things you see in this world are natural and good, no matter how they make you feel.

      Please try to enjoy yourself more.
      Don’t be legalistic, and stop trying to impress God.

      Live your own life, and when you die and see God in his Heaven, he will smile at you and give you a wink, because he knows what life is like down there.

      He is the sort of person who forgives even a prostitute, you know.

  • apexadam

    Yes Matt. Completely identify with this. As I comment I am getting excited about watching the next episode of a show that in my mind is “mindblowing” while crude and unusual. I need this kind of accountability and reminders to end my ignorance of the Holy Spirit’s nudges.