Our youngest is struggling with a decision. This summer, in her copious free time, she began watching and loving a certain TV show, a show with great characters, excellent writing, witty humor . . . but with very inappropriate storylines. (I wasn't sure about her watching the show either, but I didn't stop her. I freely confess my failure in this area as a mother: over the years, I have done a terrible job of policing my children's TV time, and I still do.)
Now, she is feeling convicted that she shouldn't be watching this show. And let me start by saying I'm incredibly proud of her hearing and responding to this conviction completely on her own without her parents' interference at all. But she has come to me for advice on the matter, and I'm trying to figure out how to advise her. The easy answer, of course, is to tell her to turn it off. But the easy answer isn't always the best answer. I don't just want her to obey me today; I want her to develop wisdom and discernment on this issue that will carry her throughout her life.
The reality is, there is very little around in the way of video entertainment in our day that has nothing objectionable in it. If we eliminate everything that doesn't conform to our Christian beliefs, we are, for all practical purposes, eliminating everything. I know people who have taken that route and would promote it to others; I just don't think that's realistic for our family. Cocooning yourself from the world is cozy, but your salt and light are trapped in your cocoon with you.
These concerns came up as I assembled my reading list for my Freshman English class this year. Most of the classics one needs to read in high school English classes are not “Christian” literature, and they include decidedly unchristian elements. Odysseus cheats on his wife. Shakespeare's comedies have a lot of bawdy humor. The violence and cruelty in A Tale of Two Cities is painful to read at times.
But part of our being made in the image of God is that we approach life in terms of narrative, and Story is a necessary way of making sense of our world. One of the complaints I have about most “Christian films” I've seen is that, in a well-meaning attempt to not glorify sin, they have sugar-coated the stories to the point of making them unreal and therefore meaningless. They are just as bad as the shows that DO glorify sin. None of them are real, and so none of them serve the purposes that God intends narrative to serve in our lives.
I'll be teaching my students this year that almost all of the stories we read will have an element of truth in them – but it is always incomplete truth, truth that needs to be informed by scripture. We can't avoid storylines with ungodly elements because the world we live in is an ungodly world; we have to learn how to read – and view – with a discerning mind.
Which brings me back to my daughter and her new favorite TV show. To watch or not to watch? The truth is, I have watched some very ungodly shows that have drawn me closer to God because they depicted the reality of sin and made me all the more grateful for a God who loves me enough to rescue me from that reality in myself. I've also watched some ungodly stuff that really messed me up.
So here's the advice I think I will give her: ask yourself, when I watch this show, does it bring me closer to God or further away? Do I find myself making excuses for the behavior of the characters I watch, or do I find myself sorrowful for the pain they don't realize they're causing themselves (like I would for a friend in that situation)? Do I see my standards changing for the better or for the worse because of watching this?
And in the end, really, is there something else that would be a better use of my time?
I am becoming increasingly cautious of ever using television or movies as “mindless entertainment”. We do need mindless entertainment on occasion, but unfortunately, we can't afford to rest our minds while we allow the world's images and stories to enter them.