How to Make the Most of Movies: Part 2

In the previous post we spent some time looking at how storytelling is the foundation of a movie and that our consumption of stories through movies should be filtered with wisdom. There are more obvious ways we can filter our movie selection to guard our hearts and minds from what Scripture and our Spirit-filled consciences would label as objectionable content, but outside of categories that are more clearly avoidable, there is also great wisdom in recognizing that the storyteller behind a film often has an agenda that does not take the best interests of the viewer to heart. With that in mind, two questions were posed that can help us analyze the content of the movies we watch: “What is the purpose of the story?” And “What does the storyteller want me to believe?”

But now that we are more aware of the dangers and how to be cautious with movies, is there anything actually good that can come from watching a movie? Can God be glorified through our experience in the theater? I believe so, and it starts with the profound reality that in Christ our minds are to be different than they were before. Paul issues us a command in Romans 12:2, saying “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As followers of Jesus, God has put his moral law on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10) and we are to leave both our former way of life and our former way of thinking (Ephesians 4:20-24). And although watching a movie can be a relaxing experience, we should always be diligent and alert with our minds (1 Peter 1:13, 5:8). So, equipped with wisdom from God’s Word, here are at least three practical ways to honor God by putting your renewed mind to work when watching a movie:

  • Through the gift of prayer watching a movie becomes time with God. By faith in who Jesus is and what he accomplished, we have direct relational access to God the Father and we are invited to talk with Him through prayer (Matthew 6:8-15; John 16:22-28). In fact, because the Spirit of God dwells in the believer, our lives should be filled with more time in communion with God through prayer than not (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This means that we are free to dialogue with the Creator of the universe even as we watch a movie, and dialogue with Him about the content of the movie. Seek to take advantage of this opportunity.

  • With more and more of God’s Word in our mind, celebrate the things in movies that are true to life. When we we see a soldier in Hacksaw Ridge risk his life to save fallen comrades, we see heroism and love for one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). When we see the bravery and dedication of women in Hidden Figures push against both racism and sexism, we see people living out the reality of their God-given dignity and value (Genesis 1:27-28). Celebrate with God about what the movie you see got right.

  • When a movie seeks to make something look incredible, meditate on how much greater Jesus is than whatever the movie tries to make look great. I remember watching one of the recent Superman movies and for a moment as I saw him fly through buildings to battle his rival I felt genuinely impressed with what he was capable of and the power he displayed. Then I began to use that opportunity to think about how much greater Jesus is than Superman. Here are just a few examples of the thoughts a person can have: A. Superman flying through buildings gets the attention of people in that city, but when Jesus comes back all of creation will at once know he is back (Matthew 24:23-31). B. Superman cares a lot about one woman, Lois Lane, but Jesus cares more deeply for his people than anyone else could, as he not only made them but also saved them (John 1:1-3, 15:12-14). C. Superman may be impressive as a conceptual character, but Jesus is real, and one day everyone will know it (Philippians 2:9-11).

Whether it is one of these methods or another, strive to make the movies you watch more than just your entertainment. Let us put our minds to use and seek to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).

How to Make the Most of Movies: Part 1

Movies are both a powerful and very modern way of storytelling. In this post we’ll talk some on the topic of how to be wise and guard our hearts and minds with regard to movies. In the next post we will look at how movies can be used positively to stir us to think on what is true and God honoring. For us to understand how to best appreciate their benefits and be guarded against their drawbacks, let’s start with the basics and think about how movies are both similar and different from the stories told long ago.

Entertainment through the telling of stories goes back for thousands of years in human history. Oral traditions in civilizations from the past carried along tales from generation to generation, and each new generation would enjoy with delight the unique characters, settings, and plot of each story told. And even back then at least these two questions could be asked: “What is the purpose of the story?” and “What does the storyteller want me to believe?” Some stories are crafted very intentionally, and some less so, but many stories have a purpose or a goal in mind for the one telling the story. They could be told for the purpose of encouragement, or to remind people of their heritage, or to shape the way the listener thinks about some topic. Stories can carry more purpose and intended impact on the audience than just simply that they are a form of entertainment.

In older times, if a storyteller wanted to obtain a particular impact on their audience through the telling of a story they could do so in a number of ways. They could adjust the content of the story, they could change the way they told it verbally, or they could add presentation to the story through visual cues. Much has changed from older times, and so also has the ability for a storyteller to achieve their desired impact on an audience. From actors on the stage of a play to early motion pictures and beyond, visual and audio stimulation through storytelling has changed dramatically.

When a person watches a movie, especially in the theater environment, their senses are often so overwhelmed by the barrage of stimulants that they are no longer conscious of all the information they are digesting or the impact the film is actually having on them. One example of this kind of stimulation would be the usage of low-frequency sounds during some films to cause the moviegoer to feel anxious or afraid, even though the noise is imperceptible to human hearing. With tools like these and many others at the modern storyteller’s disposal, it means there is even more wisdom in asking the questions “What is the purpose of the story?” and “What does the storyteller want me to believe?”

But why are those two questions important to ask both in past times and present? Why does it matter for a person to know the purpose of a story and what the storyteller is trying to convince them through the tale? Because not every storyteller has the best interests of the listener in mind, and movies can have a profound impact on our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. God has told us, and human history has confirmed, that humanity is fallen. From the time of Genesis 3 and the fall of human beings into moral corruption we have seen time and time again that human hearts are simply not pure, and therefore the hearts of those who craft movies are not pure either. On top of this, we also live in a broken world, where the demonic realm still has profound influence (Ephesians 6:12) and Satan still deceives the nations (Revelation 20:3, 8). This does not make all movies evil in and of themselves, but it does mean that we should be cautious of expecting that what we are receiving is always morally neutral. By contrast, everything that God tells us is true (Proverbs 30:5), pure (Psalm 12:6), and profitable for us to hear (2 Timothy 3:16).

God also instructs us through the apostle Paul that we should be careful to set our minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). This doesn’t mean there is no place for the enjoyment of a fictitious story, but even stories with elements that are fictitious must touch on our reality at some point and what they say about our reality matters. Consider how the Lord of the Rings series speaks truth to the reality of fallen humanity through its portrayal of the corrupt desires for the ring, or conversely how What Dreams May Come speaks falsely by representing God as distant and passively interested in the affairs of humanity. More subtly, consider how a film like Night at the Museum portrays life in the midst of a divorced marriage as quite functional, despite the reality that most families with divorce operate with dysfunction and hurt, or how the movie La La Land does not fairly represent the turmoil of relationship opportunities lost.

Whatever the movie, let us strive to be more than just passive onlookers and instead let’s keep our minds in the game, as the movies we watch are capable of more than just entertaining us.

Easter Sunday has passed, now what?

In fulfilment of what God had promised, Jesus, the perfect Messiah, came and took our place on the cross. By faith in him our sin is satisfactorily punished through his atoning sacrifice, and we gain the Law-fulfilling righteousness of the sinless life he lived. As Paul put it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) On the third day Jesus triumphantly rose from the grave, conquering death, proving true all he said, and embodying the resurrection hope that every believer now has in him. And after spending some further time with his disciples, he ascended into Heaven and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father. But now what?

How was Jesus’ departure after the resurrection good news for his disciples then, and how is it good news for us? His disciples, and most of Jews at the time, thought that when the Messiah came he would bring freedom from outside oppression (Acts 1:6). And Jesus did bring freedom, freedom from bondage to sin and the domain of darkness (Ephesians 2), freedom from eternal condemnation (Romans 8), and freedom from the fear of death itself knowing that believers now have an abiding hope in their own promised resurrection. But before Jesus died he told his disciples something fascinating: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:7-8) Apparently, as amazing as it would be for Jesus to have resurrected and stayed on earth, it was actually better for his disciples then and it is better for us now that we have the Holy Spirit.

What are just a few of the benefits to the fact that the Holy Spirit has been sent and Jesus has departed? Here are five:

  1. Faith apart from seeing the resurrected Christ is still possible, and is better. When Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself, Jesus told him “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) So Jesus’ departure provides the opportunity for unique blessing for all who believe in him apart from sight.

  2. Every born-again believer in Christ personally receives the Holy Spirit, and when they do, the Holy Spirit remains with them both personally and forever. (John 14:15-17)

  3. Believers (empowered by the Holy Spirit) will do greater works than the works Jesus had done, because Jesus had returned to the Father. (John 14:12-14) It is interesting that Jesus gives his return to the Father as the basis or reason for why his disciples would be able to do more than the works he had done in his earthly ministry.

  4. The ministry of reconciliation is entrusted to us, who are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We aren’t just bystanders, we have a God given role in the way God draws people to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

  5. Although Jesus is God the Son, he did not act bodily out of his omnipresence during his earthly ministry. That is a complicated way of saying that when Jesus was bodily in Jerusalem he was not bodily elsewhere, even if as God the Son he was. Jesus is uniquely fully man and fully God, and as fully man he ministered predominantly wherever he was geographically (though he could choose to have done otherwise). The Holy Spirit, by contrast, is currently indwelling believers across the globe and is working powerfully in them and through them all. Believers in Peru have no less access to the Holy Spirit than those in Costa Rica, because the Spirit is equally accessible no matter the location.

Now that we have celebrated the fact that Jesus is no longer dead but has resurrected, let us also celebrate that he has returned to the right hand of the Father in Heaven and has sent the Holy Spirit. And Jesus will bodily come back once more, and at that time the story of redemption closes. So until that day, let us keep in step with the Spirit and pray that the Spirit would open hearts to hear and be redeemed by the great news of the gospel.