Suppose you pull up to the drive-through window of your favorite burger joint. Taped to the order board is a sheet of paper with the following message: “Our shipment of hamburger has been determined by the State Health Department to contain significant amounts of E. coli bacteria. Please order at your own risk.”
What do you do? You step on the gas pedal and leave the premises promptly, right?
Today’s entertainment is often “contaminated” because it applauds and glamorizes truly foul behaviors and attitudes. I maintain that one of the best ways to guard our hearts when it comes to media (Proverbs 4:23) is to view sin as God does. He’s not wishy-washy concerning sin. He hates it. Not the people. But the sins. If we learn to hate evil as He does, it helps us hit the gas pedal and leave it quickly behind.
I realize that this talk of hate could be taken out of context. I understand that among faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love. God is love, and I get it when the Lord commands us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Yes, love is the driving force behind the Gospels, Christ’s sacrifice, and our response to God.
But the Bible also commands us to “hate what is evil” (Romans 12:9). And in Proverbs 8:13, we learn that “to fear the Lord is to hate evil.” Jesus in Hebrews 1 is described as a person who “hat[ed] wickedness.”
Sadly, many of us don’t really hate evil. We tend to tolerate, ignore, live with, and excuse it. When we go this route, we often focus on how far we can stretch the limits, not on pleasing God. In his book, In the Meantime, my pastor, Rob Brendle, explains:
Cheap grace allows for—even endorses—living close to the line because its primary purpose is to get us out of the jam we put ourselves in every time we fall into sin. Cheap grace exists so we can sin and sin and then be sorry and make it all okay. It requires no transformation, just acknowledgment that God loves us, wretches though we are, and has provided perma-forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. There is no repentance, no turning the other way—just sinning and apologizing. . . . We like having a license to be weak, to stumble, to fall, and to fail. We like cheap grace because it requires little of us beyond some semblance of sincerity.
When it comes to entertainment, many people cross the line because of cheap grace, believing it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to seek God’s view of such “little” matters as movies, music, video games, television, and the internet. But as Brendle points out, that has a significant downside:
[Not getting to the root of our sins] leads to living close to the line. People who follow Christ this way don’t actively resist the Enemy, and so they passively aid him. Sin encroaches in our hearts like the tide coming in, each wave advancing farther up the beach, erasing previous watermarks and leaving once-dry land under water. Without active resistance, the devil keeps taking ground. We don’t usually choose to march on up to the line and defiantly camp there; instead, we find that after each successive bout with sin, our inhibition has shrunk, our tolerance has grown, and our shoreline has eroded just a little bit. And one day we wake up to find that we’ve been living close to the line for some time. With a twinge of sadness, we resign ourselves to the reality that the line now defines us.
Until we follow Christ’s example and despise the things that He died on the cross to save us from, it will be hard—perhaps impossible—to be truly discerning. We can’t count on entertainment to depict activities like dishonesty, gossip, recreational drug use, rebellion, and any sexual relations outside of marriage as anything but glamorous, fun, sexy, and no big deal.
When I was a child, my family took a summer vacation to visit my grandparents in Arkansas. To cool off in the stifling heat and humidity, we drove to a nearby stream. There my grandfather led us to a swimming hole, but it wasn’t very deep. So we all began building a dam using rocks and tree limbs. When my mother reached for a certain “stick,” it swam away. It was a water moccasin, a poisonous snake!
Horrified, Mom rallied us to get out of the water, pronto. My grandfather killed the snake and hung it on a branch to serve as a warning for other potential swimmers.
As with venomous snakes, the proper reaction to poisonous media content is avoidance. But occasionally we choose to swim with the water moccasins anyway, believing we won’t get bitten. “I know I can handle it,” we rationalize. Or, “It may be poisonous, but I know I’ll get the antidote at church this Sunday.” Or, “All my friends swim here, and they’re still alive.”
I would suggest that until we hate poison, we’re likely to fall victim to it. Despising evil makes it much easier to stay out of snake-infested media streams. Mind you, I sure wouldn’t describe it as easy! Just easier. And I’ll be honest, media discernment is not always black and white. It’s often 51 shades of gray…or more.
But just because it’s often not clear-cut doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to make those sometimes difficult, but ultimately God-honoring, decisions. Remember the verse in the Bible that commands us to be holy? And yet, God knows we’ll never get there by our own effort. Then why did He even put that verse in His scriptures? I believe it’s because He wants us to know where the bar is and work with His help to get as humanly close as possible.
The same is true about hating evil. The bar is set high. It’s our job not to lower it, but to prayerfully see if we can’t get close every time we choose to be entertained.