Welcome back to the podcast. We talked about entertainment on Friday, about how much entertainment is too much entertainment. Today we push the conversation forward. What if entertainment has become an addiction? How do we get unstuck? Here’s the email.
“Hello, Pastor John, my name is Cesar, and I’m writing from Peru. In the last three weeks, I have been disturbed by the following situation: I cannot break my addiction to entertainment. I am convinced that the short-lived emotions of entertainment do not compare to the pleasures found in a deep life of communion with God. But I can play a video game for three hours, and feel my emptiness and dissatisfaction, but the next day my desire for more entertainment is renewed, and this has turned into a horrible, vicious circle. I am very stressed with this situation. I want to grow spiritually. I do not want to waste my life in trifles.”
As I prayed for Cesar and about what I might say to him, what seemed good to do is to take three of his statements and show how they’re not accurate. Give me space and give me time, because I know at first this is going to sound a little blunt. But one of them points a way forward.
You Can Stop
First, he says, “I cannot break my addiction to entertainment.” No, Cesar, that’s not true.
“You can stop playing these games three hours a day. You can stop wasting your time.”
You can stop playing these games three hours a day. You can stop wasting your time. By labeling this habit an addiction, you might be giving yourself a partial pass. Whatever you think addiction means, it’s probably not what you think it is. When you waste three hours of your precious life playing a video game over and over, this is not something you can’t stop doing.
Let me illustrate. If a man walked up to you while you were playing a video game and lit a blowtorch, and said, “If you don’t stop playing this video game, I will burn your eyeballs out with this blowtorch,” you’d stop — done. Of course you would. It’s ludicrous to say you can’t stop. You can stop.
Let’s put it positively. If a man walked up to you with a million dollars in cash and convinced you that it was his to give to whomever he pleased, and he offered it to you, all of it, if you would just stop playing that game, it’s just ludicrous to say you wouldn’t stop. You’d stop; of course you would stop.
You’re not in bondage to that game. You can stop. You can walk away from it. I promise you. With a blowtorch in your face or a million dollars in your pocket, it would be easy. It would be easy to walk away. The fear of pain or the pleasure of money would have instantly replaced your desires for that game. That’s my first qualification of something you said.
Second, Cesar, you say, “I am convinced that the short-lived emotions of entertainment do not compare to the pleasure that there is in a deep life of communion with God.” No, Cesar, you’re not convinced of this. You say you are, but these are just words.
Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). The essential thing he meant was that people say many things, feel many things, think many things, but a decisive test is fruit. “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16). So three hours on a video game day after day, wasting your precious life, is not a fruit of being convinced that communion with Jesus is better. It’s not.
Third, you say, “I can play a video game for three hours, then I feel my emptiness and dissatisfaction, but the next day my desire for more entertainment is renewed.” Well actually Cesar, the word renewed is an understatement.
“Tearing out your eye surely has an application to your devices.”
It’s not renewed; it’s re-enthroned. It takes its place as the king of your will. It means that you then take your seat passively at its feet, and you do its bidding like a slave. That’s the way Paul describes it in Romans 6:12. He said, “Let not sin therefore reign [that is, be king] in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” You obey it like a slave.
Now you may ask, and I suppose other people are asking, “Why are you being so hard on Cesar? He wrote in for help for goodness’ sake. Don’t beat him up.”
I’m not beating up Cesar. I’m showing him that he is being beaten up by these two-bit pleasures called video games. Two-bit, no-count, low-grade, wasteful video games are beating him up, deceiving him, making him a lackey and a slave.
I’m trying to give voice to Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:28. Let me just paraphrase. You’ll recognize the words. “I say to you that everyone that is suckered in by the fluttering eyelashes of a video game commits adultery with the game in his heart. If your right eye causes you for a video game to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to be glued to a video game, cut it off and put a blowtorch to it. For it is better that you lose one of your members than your body be thrown into hell.”
That’s the way Jesus talks about blowtorches to the face.
Cesar, when you say (here’s the phrase I like), “I am very stressed with this situation. I want to grow spiritually. I do not want to waste my life in trifles,” I believe you. I believe you. There is a real battle going on in your soul, as in all of our souls. I rejoice that you feel stressed by this situation. That is a very good sign.
“People say many things, feel many things, think many things, but a decisive test is fruit.”
Here’s my counsel. Tear out your eye, and cut off your hand. That is, get rid of all the apps that suck you in and make a slave of you. Just tear them right off your phone. Tear them right off. I mean, tearing out your eye surely has an application to your devices. Say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:23, “My body is not my own. I’ve been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus. I will not be enslaved to anyone else. He is my master.”
Then turn away from the games and receive the million-dollar gift from Jesus. No, no, no, no — that was an understatement. Billions, billions, and billions of dollars worth of reward. Better than anything else.