We’re obsessed with fantasy. The explosion of interest surrounding Pokémon Go is yet another example of our desire to escape the real world — of real people and real problems — and enter into a make-believe world, or at least an augmented one. In less than a day, Pokémon Go shot to the top of the app stores, and in less than a week it is now the biggest mobile game to date.
But before we poke fun at Pokémon fanatics too quickly, consider that it’s only one way our obsession with fantasy and entertainment manifests itself today. On-demand streaming, live television, video-sharing websites, and social media are platforms growing majorities binge on as ways of escape.
Our ability to access entertainment and escape from reality has swiftly and effortlessly encroached on every aspect of our lives. Impatiently waiting at a traffic stop? Grab your smartphone. Is your wife annoying you? Login to Netflix. Is the subject in class dry or irrelevant? Check your Twitter timeline. Bored? Instead of meditating and praying, we go searching for Pokémon.
Although these devices and platforms aren’t inherently evil or sinful, they become dangerous when we develop habits of defaulting to them primarily or alone, allowing them to become our means of escape from the complexities and inconveniences of life into the more easily controlled world of fantasy.
Evangelical Drug of Choice?
While many evangelicals are quick to condemn alcohol and drug abuse, our drug of choice has become entertainment and fantasy. It softly distracts and weakens Christians daily.
Using entertainment as a primary means of escape is like “chasing the dragon” — a slang phrase, which refers to the continuous pursuit of an ultimate high previously obtained at the initial use of drugs.
For example, a drug user tries heroin for the first time and has an amazing experience. But when he returns to the drug, he can’t get that same experience. Instead, the experience gets weaker, so the user takes more and stronger heroin to reach that same feeling. As he “chases the dragon,” the user’s body decays inside and out. This decay usually manifests itself in extreme itching, unwanted weight loss, slurred speech, kidney or liver disease, and more.
Addiction to entertainment is similar. The health effects are not as noticeable as heroin, but the spiritual effects are costly. Many have unrestrained affection for entertainment devices. They may seem to harmlessly distract us from the guilt of sin, friction in relationships, or anxiety about work. They become what daily prayer and Bible reading should be — a sanctuary for the rest and comfort of our souls.
We’ve failed to recognize that our never-ending pursuit to escape through games and fantasy is a direct enemy of our joy. And our addiction will subtly cause contempt towards God and reticence in our duty to ultimately delight in him.
Broad or Narrow Path
Jesus reveals that when we gravitate towards anything as our primary means of comfort, we’re moving further and further away from our Creator (Matthew 6:24). Jesus exposes an insightful reality: Love of anything other than God will cause hatred towards God. But the hatred is subtle.
If we devote inordinate amounts of time, money, and affection to anything, including entertainment, we will despise whatever draws us away. We’ve all faced the choice between spending time with God or spending time with entertainment. At the crux of these decisions, the all-satisfying gift of Jesus is pit against a temporal escape. Whichever road is chosen increases hatred for the path denied.
When we mindlessly default to the broad path towards temporal escapes, seeds of contempt are planted for Christ. Likewise, when we choose the narrow road to Jesus, seeds of hatred are planted for all of our sin. We recognize that earthly sources of comfort can be beautiful gifts when used as God intended them. But when they’re not, they are cruel masters, seeking to devour our true joy and lead us away from Christ, our source of lasting comfort.
Because of our sinful hearts, earthly comforts overpromise but under-perform. They’re unable to satisfy what we truly long for. We want real rest. We want true comfort. But they can only offer a temporary fix. As soon as we wake up from hours of searching for Pokémon or searching our SnapChat, our problems remain, still waiting to be confronted. And we’re faced with the truth that all we’ve done is put off the inevitable.
Jesus Doesn’t Overpromise
Jesus invites all who labor and are burdened to come to him, promising to provide rest for our weary souls (Matthew 11:28–30). This promise is not empty. In the gospel, he fulfills his promise by taking up our burden on the cross for our rest and joy in him.
As we walk through life, we will be tempted to continue to embrace mere earthly means of escapes and ignore our bondage. We will sometimes fail — falling into addiction and neglect spiritual nourishment. But you don’t have to live in bondage, no matter how many times you fall.
By his Spirit, God supplies us with the power to say yes to him and no to sin. In communion with Jesus, we experience lasting joy that this world promises but never provides.
Jesus doesn’t overpromise, but he does over-perform. Words cannot express the joy he offers his own.