Just Entertainment?

By Dan Vander Lugt

Today there are an astonishing number of movies in the genre of horror. A large proportion of the DVDs for rent in an average “family” video store are horror movies. The advance of computer-generated effects and digital photography has exponentially enhanced the ability of filmmakers to produce horrific special effects. But what generates the appetite for viewing them? Why do so many people delight in seeing things simulated in film that they would never in their right minds want to see in reality?

Perhaps the appetite for horror is unconsciously generated by a culture that worships affluence, comfort, convenience, youth, and beauty and represses awareness of human and animal suffering, aging, and even the natural cycle of predation. Perhaps a family that actually had to raise, feed, and slaughter hogs, chickens, or steers (or a favorite milk cow past her prime) in order to make a living would be less likely to find simulated horror and suffering interesting. Perhaps a culture in which the sick and aged died at home, nursed by the family instead of by strangers in a high-tech intensive care ward, and where the bodies of dead loved ones were personally prepared by family members for burial would be less interested in horror. Perhaps people who have fought in hand-to-hand combat or seen loved ones die of disease and malnutrition would think simulated death and violence less entertaining.

Be that as it may, the images we absorb—whether in real life or from the theater screen—will become part of us. Willful exposure of impure hearts to gratuitous horror and violence may unleash feelings that should have remained bound. Anyone who willingly focuses on movies that obsess on evil and the occult are likely to develop feelings of fear, anxiety, desolation, and alienation from God.

A person who kills animals for “fun” is a sadist; a person who enjoys raping and murdering people is a psychopath. What happens when people habitually watch movies that contain simulations of such things? How can we take issue with the sadist or the psychopath if we get a voyeuristic thrill from observing the things they do?

A fallen world contains many horrors, and few of us are fortunate enough to pass through a lifetime without encountering some of them. It is the context and interpretative framework in which we encounter horrors of life that make them something we can endure, or something that reduces us to despair. A well done film may contain elements of horror and be an effective tool for understanding the nature of evil and arming oneself against it. But many films exaggerate the power of evil and lack the realism to show good’s superiority in both value and power. Films like these trivialize evil, excuse it, and humanize it.

This is a clear violation of the principle expressed in Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (NASB).

This principle doesn’t imply that books or films that bring the reality of evil into sharp focus are wrong. If that were the case, the Bible itself might be seen as illegitimate reading, as it portrays evil in stark and shocking ways (Genesis 19:4-35; Judges 19–20). Some of the greatest evils committed by humanity result from our willful repression of reality’s dark side. However, the foundation of existence is not evil but our good God. God, the Creator, is love. If evil is willfully pursued—whether in real life or in the fantasy of cinema—its shadows begin to spread before our eyes until we are blinded to the power of our good God and lose sight of His light.

Horror can be appropriate if it is the foil against which goodness is contrasted. However, if we indulge in it frivolously, it will lead to anxiety, hopelessness, and alienation from God. If we plant horrific images deep in our subconscious mind, they are likely to haunt us at the moments of our greatest fear and physical agony. Our subconscious (the part of the mind that generates dreams) doesn’t know the difference between “real” and “make believe.”

This means that the same standards need to be applied to movies and books in the “horror” genre as we would apply to other films and literature.


No More Than That

By Megan Low, Singapore

In a classically professional method of preparing him for the journey ahead, Bilbo Baggins is presented with a contract listing the responsibilities required of him by the traveling party. Nothing short of heroism is desired from him. But along the journey, Thorin Oakenshield the exiled dwarf king is convinced that their greatest mistake is in bringing the little hobbit along. Thorin declares, “He’s nothing but a burden; he never should have come.”

Unlike Bilbo whose merit and hence acceptance by the group is a constant debate throughout the story, we don’t have to prove our worth to God because He knows our value and potential—better than anyone else. He formed us, determines our past, and shapes our future. He knows us completely. And He doesn’t require us to be heroes. Micah 6:8 draws out this point simply and clearly. All that He requires of us is that we “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God.”

Gandalf highlights the importance of such trifling neighborly acts when he notes, “I have found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

When asked why he has chosen the hobbit for the mission, Gandalf replies, “Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.” Simple folks can add courage to spiritual giants. On the same note, not many of us are called to heroic demonstration of faith, but we can support those who are by our childlike faith and simple obedience.

Finally, at the last scene of the film, Thorin exclaims in recognition of Bilbo’s value toward their quest, “Loyalty, honor and a willing heart—I can ask no more than that.” He adds, “Never have I been so wrong in my life.” The hobbit’s courage in not abandoning them during their times of difficulties and his simple desire in helping them recover their own homeland becomes a source of strength for the whole group.

Perhaps it has already occurred to you that God is essentially asking the same things of us. May we continue to be faithful in acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God—for that is what God requires of us. He will ask no more than that.


The Perfect Gift

By Cindy Tan, Malaysia

Jesus Christ was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. His life was unique. As a man, He lived in our world yet He was without sin. His death was also unusual. He died but the grave could not keep Him there. He rose from the dead. Jesus did not live and die just to set a good example for man; He came to be the Savior of the world.

Jesus said that He came “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Bible tells us that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We cannot escape from the judgment of sin on our own; we need a redeemer—one who is without sin. Out of love for His created world, God took on the onus of redeeming sinful man from the tyranny of sin, not with money or any other way, but with the precious blood of His own Son.

The true meaning of Christmas is about the coming of Christ into the world. It is about the Son of God, who existed eternally with the Father as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3a). It is about the coming of a Son of Man named Jesus in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). It is about the Messiah who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). It is about the coming of the “fullness of time” that had been prophesied by the prophets of old that:
– A Ruler would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
– A Child would be born and He would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
– The Messiah, the anointed One, a shoot from the stem of Jesse, a son of David, a King would come (Isaiah 11:1-4; Zechariah 9:9)

Today, we remember the perfect gift of God to man—JESUS CHRIST, SAVIOUR and LORD. He is the ONE who will give Christmas its true meaning. Have you received this gift of Christ in your heart?

One of those days

One of those days

By Megan Low, Australia

Woke up this morning feeling incomplete, discouraged and extremely lousy. I was thinking about my inabilities.

I do not know how to share the gospel in my primary language, or speak a second fluently. I am not good at drawing. I can’t read music. I can only play the drums. But who plays the drums solo? Who records drumbeats only? No one writes solo music pieces for drums. Moreover, I was told that my writing did not meet the expected standard—and all along, I have always thought that I write well. I felt useless.

But I know, in every situation we have two choices. We can choose to rebel against God by questioning His will in our circumstances, or we can trust that He knows what is best for us and will use these circumstances to mold us to His likeness. For some people grow closer to God through trials, and I know I am one. When I realize that I can’t depend on my own human strength, it is then that I know I must lean on God’s.

Then I boarded the train to go to work. It was so packed that I felt like I was in a can. I didn’t feel any better at work. I felt like a robot that was supposed to churn out whatever was and is expected of me. No one seems to care about how I am and what I think. They just want me to do what they say.

This struggle isn’t new to me. It threatens me on bad days like today and consumes me when I am not doing well. I want to be recognized for what I have to offer, and not be remembered for what I cannot do. I want to know that I am alive and human, and that my life can mean something to someone. I want to be loved, listened to, and recognized as someone with the power to make a difference. I want to know that someone cares about me, and that I matter to someone. I want to know that I can really make a positive difference despite my failings and weaknesses. I want to know that God can use me.

According to the world’s standard, if we do not succeed at something, especially what we like to do, then we are a failure. But I know better. Life for us is to build our relationship with God whose love does not depend on what we can or cannot do. The most wonderful thing is that God’s love does not change.

Casting Crowns wrote a song called “Praise You in This Storm” which takes its inspiration from Psalm 121:1-2, “I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Yes, amidst the inner turmoil, I can praise Him because He is my Help. In His unfailing love, I find strength for each new day.