Your relationship with media will either help or hinder your decision to follow Jesus.
God in unlikely places
How God can use The Walking Dead for his own purposes.
Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. (Psalm 139:7-12)
It is most prudent to actively employ wisdom and discernment as I decide how to entertain myself.
It's a classic American tale. The apocalypse has begun, civilization has collapsed, and the dead are now walking among us with that age-old thirst for blood. AMC's The Walking Dead resurrected the horror genre and made comic book nerds of all the cool kids.
But with each gory kill, The Walking Dead may be deadening our sensitivity to violence. Most would agree that continued exposure to explicit violence will diminish one's normal emotional response to it over time. So if you watch Michonne slice through enough walkers' heads, you'll eventually stop flinching. Soon thereafter you may become more tolerant, hardly noticing on-screen kills at all.
In an age when people can access real-life beheadings on Youtube, sensitivity to pain and suffering (for the living, of course) is essential. While some desensitization is adaptive and helpful, we are meant to have hearts of flesh and not of stone. The world needs compassionate believers who are compelled to take action against cruelty--not bystanders who are unmoved by it. As such, it is important for believers to recognize that desensitization is a real phenomenon and make an effort to guard our hearts and minds.
But guarding our hearts does not always mean abstaining from graphic television or watching only Christian programming. Rather, Jesus followers should use discernment, or godly judgement, as we decide how to entertain ourselves. In fact, by paying close attention, we may even find the ways in which God can use a show as grim as The Walking Dead to show us his ways.
As gruesome as the series may be, The Walking Dead buries godly themes of redemption, charity, forgiveness and self-sacrifice into its storylines. This is where we find God at work. Each season, characters undergo dramatic personal transformations and must continuously determine to turn away from evil rather than join it. This is a refreshing distinction from primetime's current love of celebrating a protagonist's choice to do the wrong thing. The Walking Dead 's key players constantly grapple with major moral decisions like pacifism over war, community over self-preservation and integrity over survival. And amidst the darkness of the show, Good is in full operation. As the psalmist writes, even the darkness is not dark to Him, and the night is as bright as the day.
While the Church should and does endeavor to create entertainment that glorifies wholesome values, it has no exclusive rights to that calling. God can make use of the ghastliness of The Walking Dead just as easily as anything aired on the Hallmark channel. Discernment is about seeing both as potentially fertile (or barren) ground. In an interview with Relevant magazine, Kutter Callaway, author of Watching TV Religiously, encourages believers to evaluate television shows based on the worldview that is being presented overall. "God is active and present in the world whether or not the Church is there," he says about non-religious television viewing."I go in expecting to encounter something of God moving in the world."
God is active and present in the world, whether or not the Church is there.
Many have observed God moving in shows like The Walking Dead. As each episode unfolds, the audience realizes that the fight is not really against the biting monsters; rather it is against greater forces of evil, largely unseen. For some, the story is about being in the world, but refusing to succumb to its corrupt, cruel nature. To further the biblical view, it could be said that the show is about dying to one's self and focusing on a glory that is yet to come. In a pivotal moment in the series, leader Rick Grimes describes how their upside-down world parallels his grandfather's combat experience. Here he seems to acknowledge the Romans 6 axiom to count oneself dead to sin and alive in Christ:
He said he was dead the minute he stepped into enemy territory. Everyday he woke up, told himself, “Rest in peace. Now get up and go to war." And then after a few years of pretending he was dead, he made it out alive. And that’s the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do and then we get to live. But no matter what...I know we’ll be okay. Because this is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.
In an unexpected way, The Walking Dead illustrates what it is like to truly live out Jesus' prayer for us to be kept from evil, remaining in the world, but not of the world. And as we walk through the horrors of our realities, let us remember to guard against desensitization; but let us also be reminded that even a television show about the undead can offer clues about how we should live.
Has God ever used a secular film, TV program or book to speak to you?
In what other TV programs or films do you think God is unexpectedly showing up?
Who seems more astute in creating entertainment that glorifies godly values? Christians or non-Christians? Why do you think this is so?
Why do you suppose that so many secular writers and producers prefer the general theme of good winning over evil?
Desensitization takes several forms. It causes many to underestimate the frequency of curse words in a movie; it can also cause parents to recall highly sexual content as appropriate for children. How might desensitization on the societal level affect the way in which movies are rated (R, PG, PG-13, etc.?).
The third person effect describes one's willingness to believe that other people may be more influenced by media than one's own self. How can Christians combat the third person effect when discussing desensitization?
1. Review your recommended programs and movies on Netflix. Do any of your favorites offer a glimpse of God at work?
2. Which television shows consistently conclude with messages or themes that undermine your faith?