On Twitter today, agent Janet Grant (Books & Such) linked to a research study by the Barna Group concerning the viewing habits of Americans. I’d be interested in a similar study on reading habits, but I digress.
I’ve been thinking about entertainment for some time now—in large part because I write fiction, one of the entertainment pastimes. Some writers validate fiction as a worthwhile pursuit by identifying it as art. But is all fiction art? When does a story become art? Are the stories that aren’t art worthwhile? How can we determine what is art and what is worthwhile?
Interestingly, I think the road to the answers to these questions lies through an understanding of work.
Scripture tells us to do our work as for the Lord. Paul mentions this in his letter to the Ephesians, for example, when he says, “With good will, render service as to the Lord and not to men” (6:7). He says essentially the same thing to the Colossians. In this case, however, he elaborates a little:
Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (3:22-24)
Some people might argue that Paul was speaking specifically to “slaves” and therefore the passage doesn’t apply to us today. There are several problems with that view.
First, “slaves” in Judea during the first century weren’t as we understand “slaves” today. These were people who committed themselves to service in order to pay a debt. Mosaic Law mandated that those under such obligation would be freed every seven years, whether they’d paid their debt or not. Hence, it’s foreseeable that some of these slaves were skating, biding their time until the seven years were up, and consequently not doing a good job at all for those they worked for.
Second, Scripture tells us that all Scripture is given for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Consequently, a passage addressed to someone else can still contain truth we can apply. For example, I learned a great deal about teaching from Scriptural instruction to leaders and to parents. The passages in Nehemiah and in Proverbs were addressed to people other than teachers, but that doesn’t mean God didn’t intend for teachers to learn from them too.
Thirdly, the last line says, “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Since I as a believer do serve the Lord Christ, I have to think this passage actually is addressing me directly.
One way or another, then, this passage speaks to believers today, and we can conclude that we are to do our work for the Lord.
Earlier, though, Paul said he was praying for the Christians at Colossae, “that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:10).
The “in all respects” reminds me of another verse in chapter 3—“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (3:17, emphasis mine).
“In all respects” and “whatever you do” bring me to the issue of entertainment. Scripture seems quite clear about how we are to conduct ourselves in our work, but what about our leisure? Doesn’t our entertainment fall into the category of “whatever”?
I’ve written several posts on the subject at Speculative Faith (“Is Entertainment A Waste Of Time?” Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), but I haven’t been entirely satisfied with my position on the matter. I see in Scripture a clear statement that we are to work six days and rest one day.
I see in nature, with our physical need for rest, that we must sleep a third of our time. I also understand that in the same way our body needs exercise and food, our mind needs exercise and food. Hence, some “leisure” is simply a way of giving our minds what we need, and in a sedentary work environment, it may also be providing our body with the exercise it needs.
But where does “mindless” entertainment come into the picture? Over and over I hear, often based on a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien, that escape is a good and appropriate thing for us to do, that escaping through stories is a good thing. We are prisoners escaping from what has held us, Tolkien’s analogy goes, not soldiers deserting in the midst of a battle.
But how do we know we aren’t deserting?
The prison escape seems to me to take the freed man home or at least some place better. Mindless entertainment seems to do neither. Home is where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God—a transcendent place of wonders too amazing for Paul to write down when he was transported there in a vision. It puts us in God’s presence, creates satisfaction, gives us hope.
Does mindless entertainment accomplish any of these things? Does it take us to some place better? How could it if it is mindless? God didn’t make us mindless, and for us to live in a mindless way even for a few hours, seems to me to be a downgrade of circumstances, not an upgrade.
One last thought—what might be mindless for one person, may not be mindless for another. Take sports for example. I remember when I first learned that the linemen in football actually had a plan, that they were assigned differing blocking schemes based on the play that was called. Suddenly running backs plowing straight into a pile of hulking bodies didn’t see silly. The whole game took on greater purpose. Someone else can watch the same game I watch, however, and see nothing but men running around in a way that seems disorganized and unproductive. An entire game of this would seem mindless to such a person.
I have to think the reverse is also true—things others find challenging for whatever reason might indeed be mindless to me (like tinkering with the engine of a car! or watching golf! or NASCAR!! 😉 )
What I’m questioning, I guess, is entertainment that a person declares to be mindless, then engages in fully, for hours. How does that fit in with, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father”?
The bulk of this article is a re-post of “Work, Sure, But Entertainment?” first published here in November 2011.