Today’s question is about quarantine habits. We’ve all had a lot of time at home this year. And this is a searching question from a young woman who wants to know what her quarantine entertainment habits reveal about the state of her own soul. Here’s her email: “Hello, Pastor John. It has taken this period of total pandemic lockdown for me to realize that I don’t read the Bible and pray when I’m stressed out. I had never noticed that all I do is eat, sleep, and watch movies in my most stressful times. This is exactly what I did in the first two weeks of quarantine. I thought it would change. But after months, I still have found little time to commune with God. It’s both scary, sad, and I’m really unhappy and tired. My question is this: If I went so long without communion with God, in this season of anxiousness, does this mean I don’t really love or trust God to begin with?”
I’m going to break that into two questions. I think the least we can say is that your experience in the last two months has shown that you do not love and trust God the way you should. And my question is, Why would I say that? Why is there a correlation between eating and sleeping and movie watching, and saying you haven’t trusted and loved God the way you should? That’s my first question: Why would I even go there? And the other question is, How would we go about discerning whether you don’t really love and trust God at all and are not a Christian, not born again? How would we do that? So, let’s take these one at a time because both are, you can see, really important — heaven-and-hell important.
What Movies Cannot Do
So, first question: Why would I say that a young woman who devotes her discretionary time, especially stressful times, to eating and sleeping and watching movies rather than, say, to solid reading, meditating, praying over God’s word and over the rich food of good books that mature and insightful people have written over the centuries, as well as other wholesome tasks — why would I say that such a person does not love and trust God the way she should?
“It’s not a burden to be told that you should indulge in what you love.”
And the answer is this: because loving God means that God holds a place of value in our heart that makes us want to know him better, and enjoy him more, and be near him in friendship and fellowship. Movies are not well designed to do that. In fact, most of them are well designed to hinder that and to undermine the very thing that the love of God implies — namely, a passion to know him, a passion to enjoy him and be close to him. Movies do not have that effect.
Therefore, defaulting to movies day after day is at least a sign that love for God is weak, and probably growing weaker.
Freedom to Obey
John said in 1 John 5:3–4:
This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.
What this passage does is bring together the two things that this woman is asking about: love for God and trusting God; love and faith.
First, John says love for God delights so much in pleasing God and being close to God that obedience to his commandments is not burdensome. And then he attributes that sense of burden-lifted enjoyment of God to the fact that we have overcome the world. In other words, worldliness is not the dominant, controlling force in our lives anymore; it has been broken, overcome. And then he explains that this is the victory that overcomes the world — namely, our faith. So, in John’s way of thinking, faith is the kind of reality that receives God. Faith receives God, receives all that God is for us in Christ, receives him as such a precious deliverance and help and treasure, that the world loses its power to be the most attractive thing in our lives.
So, love for God and faith in God are, in John’s mind, overlapping or interlocking realities. Each one is part of the other, and the double effect of both love and faith together is
- the power of the world to be our controlling treasure is broken, overcome, and
- obedience has ceased to be burdensome.
It’s not a burden to be told that you must be done with what you hate to do. It’s not a burden to be told that you should indulge in what you love. That’s not a burden; that’s freedom.
So, when this young woman indulges in the excitement of movies with more pleasure than she gets from the riches of God’s word, John would say there is a defect here in love for God and in faith in God. That’s my answer to the first question: Why would we suggest a defect of faith and love if she’s just spending all her time eating, sleeping, and watching movies?
Move Forward with Faith
Now, here’s the more important question, the one she actually posed, I think. It seems to me that she is saying, “I went so long without communion with God in this season of anxiousness. Does it mean that I never really loved and trusted God to begin with?” And here’s the way I’m rephrasing that: How would we go about discerning whether you don’t really love and trust God at all? How would we decide if you’re not truly a Christian, not born again?
“Turn to the Lord of mercy, Jesus Christ, and turn to the future, and walk with him boldly, joyfully into that future.”
Here’s my answer, and it’s relatively simple: I would not spend much time analyzing the failures of the past two months or even a more distant memory of conversion and whether it was real or not. I think that kind of introspection and past-experience analysis, by and large, does not produce the hoped-for outcome — namely, assurance of salvation and peace of mind. Our hearts are simply too deceptive. Our memories and our powers of assessment about the past experiences are too limited to see what we need to see.
So, my answer is this: repent now with great seriousness about the failures of the past, name the sins and problems that you see, tell the Lord how you feel about that, renounce unbelief and lovelessness and disobedience and worldliness, and then make a decisive turn away from the past toward the future — the future of the next five minutes and five months and five years and five decades and five centuries, toward that future. And believe him; trust him and love him henceforth.
Now, I’m taking my cue with that answer from 2 Peter 1:10–11:
Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities [so, he’s talking about what to do right now and henceforth into the future] you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In other words, the confirmation that we are truly called and truly elect, truly the children of God, truly Christian, happens — the confirmation happens — by stepping into the future with faith and obedience. Assurance of salvation does not primarily come from the analysis of the past, but from the God-given earnestness of present and future faith and obedience.
So, my word to our young friend is this: turn away from the failures of the past two months, turn away from speculations about whether your love and faith were ever real, turn to the Lord of mercy, Jesus Christ, and turn to the future, and walk with him boldly, joyfully into that future, with trusting him and with loving him.
Worldview Without God
Well said. There’s an important little footnote, I think, to put on this episode — something I have learned from you, Pastor John. I really find it helpful when we talk about entertainment. You alluded to it at the beginning of this episode. The problem with entertainment is not necessarily that our movies and our TV shows are inherently sinful or celebrate sin or show no consequences for sin. All of that is a problem, a big problem. But the most pervasive problem with entertainment is that it presents a worldview in which God is obsolete, or he’s presented as irrelevant to our lives.
Yeah. Or to say it with more precision: he’s not presented at all. It’s an absolute void. I used to say, back when people read newspapers, that you opened the Star Tribune and you go page, page, page, page, page. Here’s a whole section on business, here’s a section on leisure, here’s a section on travel, here’s a section on sports — a whole section on sports — zero sections on God, not one paragraph on God. I mean, the most important reality in the universe gets zero attention in the newspaper. The same would be true of most movies. Or like you said, Tony, if he does get presented, he’s presented in a way that does not inflame our love for him, but questions his reality and his use.
Yeah, that’s good; that’s good. As John Newton said, the top headline on every newspaper every day should be “The Lord Reigns!”