57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

2 Sam 22:4-6  “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

Recently: In the last seven studies we have been considering aspects of the culture we find in the West at this time in history, aspects that threaten our very spiritual lives if we allow them to overwhelm us, and I likened this to being drowned by these things. Now to draw these threads together to better enable us to see the big picture, let’s consider the analogy of the sea as a description of the culture that we live in. We said near the beginning that ‘drowning’ is the negative outcome of being out at sea, but alternatives are that we swim, we sail, or we surf. In other words the sea has the capability of killing us by drowning but it also has the capability of being used for enjoyment, business or travel, all legitimate pastimes or experiences. The analogy of the sea is also useful when we consider it is often tumultuous, there is constant movement and change and it can be threatening. (Jude used a similar analogy – Jude v.13)

What this says is that a godless culture is always bad and harmful, tumultuous and changing, but ‘culture’ in itself is neutral and so all of these things can be positive if they are godly, i.e. we enjoy them within the confines of God’s guidance and direction and we avoid excesses. These things we have been considering are not bad in themselves, but they are bad when we use or experience them in a godless fashion. When that happens they change from things provided by God for our blessing, into things that have the potential to destroy us. Let’s examine each of them again briefly to see these things.

The Possibilities of Materialism: Now the truth is that God has provided everything material and spiritual for our blessing. When we speak of materialism we tend to mean a life that excludes the spiritual and excludes God. All material things, we say again, are potentially things for blessing. Used in excess, most things become harmful. The ‘world’ is materialistic (godless) but we as Christians should always hold a balance that accepts, is aware of, and operates in, a spiritual dimension as well as a material dimension. Our spiritual lives are threatened when we forget or fail to operate within that balance and almost invariably it will be the spiritual side that will suffer. Having said that, there have been those who reject the material dimension and speak of it negatively, forgetting it is God’s provision for us to be used wisely and thankfully (Jas 1:17, 1 Tim 4:3,4). However our greater threat is likely to be we get caught up in materialistic living and that is a life where we forget the spiritual dimension that we are called to experience, live in and serve in. The call is therefore not to let enjoyment of the material world become the all-important thing in life but maintain a balance whereby we operate in, experience and enjoy both realms.

The Danger of Unreality: Being creative, which includes writing books, making films and so much more, is part of being made in the image of the Creator, but fiction is always fiction and we must never forget that. Even more we must always remember that the human author, film-maker etc. is a human being who may or may not be conveying an incomplete picture of what life is about. ‘Romanticism’ tends to view life unrealistically through rose-tinted glasses while ‘realism’ tends to point out only the harsh realities of life. Often a book or film will express one of the other but rarely both together, and therefore we should always remember what the author or film-producer is aiming to do and, in our minds, refocus in the light of the truth about God, and us as sinners with the possibility of redemption, i.e. remember what is and what is not ‘real’.   The danger is always that if we are regular readers or regular watchers of TV, videos and films (and computer gamers, for that matter) we can get swept up in what we have seen/experienced and lose contact with reality, how life really is. The temptation that the enemy puts before us, is to believe the lie that I can live in that unreal ‘reality’ and forget that actually there are always consequences to be born with such things in the real world.

Holding Knowledge Lightly: Knowledge in itself is neutral. The problem with ‘knowledge’ is that sometimes what we think is real or true is not, it is merely an opinion or a hypothesis that may yet change. Knowledge becomes dangerous when we allow untrue knowledge (rather like ‘fake news’) to determine our outlook on life, our perception of what is or is not real and true. It is also dangerous when we allow knowledge to boost our egos or more specifically our pride. Pride always means a loss of perspective, making us think we are greater, more powerful, cleverer, than we are. Pride also questions whether we need God.

There is a saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” which the Internet suggests means, “a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence, leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.” The wise person knows that the more you do know the more you should realise how little you know, and thus will maintain an outlook of humility. Failing the understand these things means we can become overwhelmed and even intimidated by big people, big theories and big figures. At such times a healthy dose of reading the scriptures and remembering that God is THE big person who is all-knowing and all-wise, is a wise approach. He alone should be our ultimate source of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) Never let go that perspective.

The Life of Social Media: The use of social media and social networking, we observed, has many benefits to our lives today AND many curses. In the light of the many fears that are being raised by a variety of professionals, we would be wise to take note of not only the warnings of abuses and harms that can ensue but also the very real fear of addiction to usage. There is also the concept of the loss of reality that can arise, in both security and knowledge terms that we noted can distort the reality about ourselves and the world around us. Really an extension of the previous paragraph.

A Confusing & Uncertain World:  In both the USA & the UK and indeed many other ‘Western’ countries, Christians are now clearly in the minority and since our nations have largely rejected God we have lost a moral base and no longer believe in absolutes – values or principles which are regarded as universally valid – and so relativism rules which says that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute, i.e. right or wrong depends on every unique situation and will be different for every situation. At least that is what is said except the moment someone harms ‘me or my family’ and which point we scream, “that’s not right, where are the police, justice needs to be done, someone needs to pay for this!”

So we live with the ‘law of exceptions’ that says, “well, yes, generally it is wrong for someone to steal but perhaps there are exceptions, such as when someone is on the point of starvation,” or “well, yes, it is wrong to kill another person, but perhaps there are exceptions such as when a SWAT team have to take out a terrorist carrying a bomb.”  Ever since Hiroshima we have accepted that killing a large number of people is an unpleasant fact of life to save a much larger number of people from an ongoing war. Perhaps as Christians we might say that we recognise that in a fallen world sometimes an evil is necessary to prevent a greater evil – but it is still evil. But these are ethical dilemmas, necessary evils from living in this fallen world, but that is very different from the blatant misrepresenting of truth, telling outright lies etc. that have become almost a fact of life in recent years across the global communication and media networks.

Coping with ‘the sea’: Surfing or sailing on the sea of modern culture is appreciating the wonder and goodness of so many aspects of this world. Culture is sometimes defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” i.e. the way societies think and then act. For us as Christians things like self-awareness, understanding, knowledge, wisdom and discernment must be major tools in our armoury as we seek to cope with the things these last studies have been dealing with.

Helps? Realizing that

  • we don’t have to comply with the pressures of peers and advertisers to get the latest piece of hi-tec,
  • rejecting the false and unreal perspectives that are often put before us,
  • rejecting the intimidating atheistic voices that seek to challenge with their skewed and incomplete ‘facts’, hypotheses and opinions,
  • taking control of thoughts about myself and others from Christ’s perspective and not that of my Facebook friends, and
  • refusing to be swayed by those who shout loudest in the noisy media market place of political, theological or simply ideological ideas.

Understanding & Living in Christ: Remaining above the surface of the water (culture) is what happens when we take hold of such truths as, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). The threefold thrust of that is that:

  • we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ,
  • in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and
  • where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us.

In the light of all this, we might do well to finish this study with Paul’s prayer: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)  Amen!

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52. Drowning in Unreality

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 52. Drowning in Unreality

Ex 20:22,23    Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me

Unreal gods: A problem that constantly seemed to face Israel was that of idol worship, which was forbidden by the Lord – yet all the surrounding nations worshipped idols. So why did God forbid it and why is it relevant here? The answer to both questions is that worshiping idols is worshipping something that is unreal. The truth is that ‘gods’ don’t exist, the gods of Athens or Rome that we learn about in history are figments of human imagination, made in the image of fallen human beings. The gods of the nations surrounding Israel were expressions of superstition, unreal, make-believe. Don’t worship what is unreal is the message from heaven.

Facing Unreality: So what does our heading today mean, this ‘drowning in unreality’? It means there is a way of thinking today that is quite unreal and its very presence undermines the way Christians think and opens them up, if not to giving way to temptation, certainly to tolerating a lifestyle and failing to speak into the folly of the ways of the world. So what is the unreality that I am speaking about? It is that portrayed in films, TV ‘soaps’ and videos. There is also the unreality of ‘computer games’. I have mentioned temptation and toleration as two outworkings of this unreality (and I will go on to explain more in a moment) but within that there are two things to be observed. First, the behaviour is unreal and second, the very culture that we are looking at challenges biblical norms.

Considering ‘Soaps’ & ‘Sitcoms’: I hope you are familiar with the terms. Soaps are defined on the internet as follows, “A soap opera is an ongoing drama serial on television or radio, featuring the lives of many characters and their emotional relationships.”  A Sitcom is simply a ‘situation comedy’ based on a fixed group of characters.  The reason they are so pernicious is that they appear every week on TV. The ‘sitcom’ genre usually has a very much lighter feel to them and although infidelity is dealt with, it is in much more light-hearted way. Perhaps that makes it more acceptable.

Two Case Studies: Historically there have been two leading influential series, clearly aimed at the younger generation. The first was ‘Friends’ which ran from September 1994 to May 2004 (10 series) and the group being followed were described as, “not above sticking their noses into one another’s businesses and swapping romantic partners, which always leads to the kind of hilarity average people will never experience – especially during breakups.” That softening comment does nothing to undermine the culture that is conveyed which I will define in a moment. The second is the Big Bang Theory’, running from September 2007 and currently to series 11 in 2018.

The Culture: There are certain characteristics that are common to both of these long-running series: a) they are very funny, b) sex has a high profile and is portrayed as normal among young people, c) sex is distinct from committed relationship and indeed both series show the horror that is experienced when one member of a couple uses the words, ‘I love you’, being seen as words of commitment for which neither of them are clearly ready, d) both series had an almost cult following, especially among the younger generations. Neither series deals with inconveniences such as STD’s, unwanted pregnancies, abortions etc. Sex is problem free.

The deceptions: I would suggest (at the risk of being called a kill-joy by the younger generation) the following follies of this culture:

i) Sex is reduced to a simple pleasure with no unpalatable outworkings (see my last comment above; these ‘inconveniences’ do in fact have a substantial negative impact on modern society).

ii) As sex is separated from love and a committed lasting relationship, such a relationship has clearly become a difficult thing to acquire and the fruit of this is clearly observed in the trials and tribulations of the younger generations, many of whom now despair of the possibility of any lasting, loving, long-term relationship, especially with the ease of divorce in modern western societies being as it is.

iii) Sex is portrayed as easy, and always enjoyable and instantly on demand, and having no negative impact on the relationship, whereas surveys indicate a) many women confess that very often sexual experience is not pleasurable but they have to do it because that is what is done, and it wins affection from the male (both untruths), and b) the realities of tiredness, monthly periods (often suppressed by the pill), feeling unwell etc. etc. mean that one or other partner, in reality,  aren’t feeling like it.

iv) Sex is designed (by God and many psychologists would agree) to be just one strand of a growing relationship, friendship, growing trust and sense of security being others. Putting sex before the others (or even using it as a one-night stand) means that the likelihood of a long-term relationship developing is reduced, as is the possibility of creating a family.

v) Despite all the talk of ‘prevention’, a surprising number of (therefore) unwanted pregnancies take place, creating either the single parent syndrome (with its negatives), or a forced ‘marriage’, or a cohabiting partnership which, by its very nature, has an unstable foundation and often results in the man leaving and we are back to the single-parent syndrome again. There is also the matter of abortions often taken as the norm in this culture.

And in Church? We are often very good at accepting single mothers into the church community but in so-doing we are loath to make negative corrective comments and so our own young people see this as normal for society. It should not be; there are too many negative sides to this for both the mother and certainly the fatherless children. What I observe is an almost casual attitude to these things growing in the church. If we allow this to continue we will be helping the world in undermining the value and benefits of a committed life-long relationship, and of the family unit being a foundation for a safe and secure environment in which children can be raised. Society is very slow to link the growing number of child behavioral problems with family breakdown. If we were honest about these things, our communities would be transformed. We need to talk these things in depth within our church communities, recognizing the unreality ethos we are battling against and carefully revealing the good of God’s design.

Standards generally:   So far, we have talked about the ethos to be countered, and the very folly of the lifestyle, in respect of sex and modern relationships, but I think we should be honestly aware of the impact of various other things coming out of Hollywood. In the US, (not the UK) I have observed many times an inconsistency in believers’ attitudes to certain films. Because C.S.Lewis appears to have such a following in the US, Narnia films and then the Lord of the Rings films and subsequently the Hobbit films are perfectly acceptable. Harry Potter films, by comparison, are abhorred, because ‘witchcraft is bad’. Yes, real witchcraft is, and the manufacturing industry that capitalizes on it, also is, I believe, but no more the industry that exalts in Halloween which certainly has a dark or even ‘black’ background.  But actually, all of these films exalt good over bad and ‘good’ triumphs. (If you want to be really discerning, you will note the difference between the first two HP books and the last ones). And do you watch ‘vampire’ films or TV???? We need to think about this.

But then I found an acceptance in the evangelical community of ‘The Passion’ the worst example of the most extreme, shock-violence possible. Don’t say it happened; so did many other atrocities that you and I (I hope) would abhor if they were on screen. My other horror, on both sides of the water, is of the acceptance of the first of the Hunger Games films  shown to young teenagers. It’s about teenagers murdering other teenagers for public spectacle! I think Paul’s “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” (Phil 4:8) would be an overstatement taken out of context if we try to apply it to modern watching, but there is a truth there to be pondered.

An Approach? These days I would never recommend any watching (My own may be wider than some of you, but I would never recommend it). As a young Christian I was wary, having been brought up in my twenties in a strict evangelical mould, of even watching Crocodile Dundee, and I know there are some Christians who never watch any films. Well that is an extreme, but I would prefer it to the ‘watch anything’ extreme. Paul’s advice about not putting stumbling blocks before others (Rom 14:13, 1 Cor 8:9) is worth considering. The balance is, how can I remain aware of the standards being pushed by the world?  A question to be asked is, “If I watch this particular film/TV series, does it fill my mind, give me nightmares, or diminish my steadfast resolve to hold to God’s laws?” i.e. does it undermine my standards?  Accepting the ethos, whether it is to do with sex or the taking of life, is the danger that I believe is undermining the standards of many Christians. Even more, because there is this ‘clash of cultures’, the ‘modern outlook’ of tolerance, I am certain, undermines both the clarity and certainty of the biblical culture, if I may put it like that, in the minds of many. If in doubt, don’t watch.

Personal Guidelines: My own personal guidelines for watching today (while seeking to be an informed commentator) are:

  • Avoid explicit sex on screen which causes images to be retained and thus causes further difficulties of personal management.
  • Avoid constant use of the ‘f’ word or similar for the same reason.
  • Where relationships involve infidelity, remember the folly and the reality, and where there is violence (either don’t watch it or) remember this is manufactured in a studio and unreal. But don’t let it anesthetize you to the horror.
  • If in doubt, don’t watch; there is plenty else to do in life!

Finally, does this aspect of life, diminish the reality of ‘ongoing redemption’ we have been considering? If yes, it’s time for a change.