Somewhere in my teens, I became minutely aware of the atrocities aired (unapologetically) over mainstream radio. I was amazed that things people won’t even talk about in public for fear of being seen as perverts, addicts, or having some serious mental issue is all okay if presented under the guise of popular music.
If I printed out words from a number of songs in the current Billboard top 100 and handed them to someone, they’d likely look at me with embarrassment. But if I handed those same lyrics to the same person in music form with an attractive beat they’d probably drive off with their preschooler in the back seat, singing together as they went.
Why is this?!?
How Do We Measure Our Choices?
Our ability to compartmentalize things in our lives doesn’t make them less offensive to God. The ability of our culture to recognize what leads to and away from hell is not the measure we should use to determine how we are doing as individuals. In other words, it doesn’t matter what Hollywood says you can do, or how you rank against the other people in your life. Just because you’re not as sinful as your class partner or co-worker doesn’t mean the choices you are making are cozy.
Scripture tells us to “pay attention to what we hear,” (Mark 4:24) and to remove any- and everything from our lives that might lead us to sin (see Hebrews 12:1 and Matthew 5:29) – no matter the perception of our friends or culture.
Sin Will Grow Where We’re Unaware
There is a story of a frog that upon being placed in a pot of boiling water, immediately leapt out to its safety. The fable continues that should the same frog be set in a pot of lukewarm water and the temperature slowly increased to boiling, the frog would continue to rest and not perceive the danger – even to the point of its own demise.
We need to grow in awareness of how ‘minor’ sins can affect us and grow or transform into ‘major’ sins over time. I struggle with drinking too much (diet) soda. If I don’t remain aware of this tendency, one or two cans each day can turn into three, and into four, then five, etc.
And isn’t it true that most decisions in our lives are ‘slippery slopes’? It is rare that a choice is an easy black-and-white, win or lose in correlation to right and wrong. Take the first commandment for example: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) At what point of my interest or use of something has it become a ‘god’ to me? The same goes for the third commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. At what point am I no longer keeping Sunday as a day of rest in honor of the Lord? When is something to be considered work and how much work is acceptable for a day I’m supposed to take ‘off’?
This is not about being scrupulous, but about filtering what we hear to keep ourselves as close to Jesus as possible.
We need to refuse to allow anything to lead us astray – even things that could be regarded as only minor triggers. If we do not pay attention to what is getting into our minds and hearts, the truth can become eroded and we can start perceiving it to be relative.
Not Just Music Choices, But Viewing And Reading Choices, Too
Jesus tells us that, “the eye is the lamp of the body…if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness?” (Matthew 6:22-23)
I would never invite someone into my house to walk around half- [or fully] naked in front of my family – nor would I sit and ‘listen’ to someone discuss it in explicit detail (as in a book). Is it really any different because the person is on TV? How about if the characters are cussing incessantly, portraying lies as though they were truths, or mercilessly torturing or killing others?
What if Jesus were over for the evening and you were going to watch something together? What would you choose? Many would say, ‘well, (insert scoff here), that’s different.’ But the truth is that it’s really not.
Jesus is more real than whatever it is you find yourself watching or reading. And to say that since you can’t see Him makes it a different scenario is really just a faithless cop-out to do what you really want to do, despite the fact that it’s pulling you away from Him.
(Hang tight – I’m about to climb off of my soapbox!)
So…Where’s The line?
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes being presented with sin in a book, movie, or song highlights the beauty of the change that later occurs for the better. But consider how the author or artist/director chose to portray their message. We don’t need to see or hear the details of a steamy love scene to find out that a character is promiscuous or pregnant. There are so many other ways to tell a good story.
(And please don’t try to tell me that sex and nudity in movies are art reflecting the reality of life. If you want to see the beauty of the human body portrayed healthfully, check into Theology of the Body or the artwork in the Sistine chapel.)
Historical, fact-based, renditions also have a place in our music, book, and movie libraries. In this case, though, I would ask how much blood, gore, and foul language you have to go through to get the point? Some of these movies go way above and beyond what is necessary to teach us the essential lessons of our past.
My Conclusion Is This:
What we put into our bodies, we’re going to get out. Try eating a whole cake yourself and tell me otherwise!
There is not a black-and-white answer here although I think I’ve made my point clear. Ask yourself if what you’re seeing, reading, and listening to is making you holier and drawing you closer to God. Do you ever find yourself slipping into thoughts about what you’ve heard, read, or watched and realize that those thoughts are less than Jesus-like? If so, it might be time to put whatever that was and other things like it away.
St. Paul tells us “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing [to God], whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Phillippians 4:8
It wouldn’t hurt any of us to continually pray about and consider our tv, book, and music choices through that scripture-based filter.
[A final prayer:] St. Paul, may you always hold us accountable to your wisdom-filled words from God! Never leave us to our own human weaknesses but continually ask the Father to accompany us with His graces that we would only want to see the world through His eyes.
David Crowder: Prove it (feat. KB)
This song is a call to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit; to let go of the sinful chains that would hold us captive.
My favorite line is full of truth: “Only a slave would enslave men.”
Those of us that have accepted the gift of freedom [from sin] that is Christ are in the business of helping others get free; not binding them!
So why do we support those that are in the business of entangling and entrapping others – through music, books, and media? Especially when there are better choices (i.e. the above song)?
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up on a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you want.”
Let’s make the choice to step into Christ’s freedom and in true love encourage others to do the same.