Think About These Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

When it comes to fiction, Christians are very fond of this verse.  It is often quoted as a warning against sinful content in books and movies.  Many of us have felt guilty over stories we’ve enjoyed because parts of them seemed to go against this text, even though there were many good things in the story otherwise.  Some of us have quoted this passage to others with loving concern, when we suspect their entertainment choices are less than godly.

I am concerned that this may be a skewed interpretation of what this verse means and how we should apply it.

First, let me be clear – the Bible is adamant that we should flee temptation to sin, and so I must be as well.  Our Lord even said that if our eye causes us to sin we should (metaphorically!) gouge it out rather than dally with temptation (Matthew 18:9).  It’s foolish to play with fire.  Everyone should discern carefully whether their entertainment choices are leading them toward sin or pointing them toward godliness.  So I’m not talking here about watching pornography, or crude, coarse comedy shows, or other things that are clearly detrimental to our walk with the Lord and our witness for His name.  I’m talking here about those things in the middle, that might not be completely “clean” or may portray great darkness, but also have “redeeming qualities”, as they say.  What do we do with those stories?  Do we avoid them because it might make us think of untrue, dishonorable, impure, or un-praiseworthy things?

Many of us are uncomfortable with fictional sin because – well, sin is wrong, and doesn’t reading about wrong things equal thinking about them?

Yes, it does…but might I suggest a different interpretation of the command?

See no evil?

Look for the True

There are many Scripture texts that teach us to avoid sin and temptation, but personally I don’t believe this is one of them.  It never says we should keep matters of sin and ugliness from ever entering our thoughts, as some suggest (and let’s not deceive ourselves – there are plenty of hideous things in our minds and hearts already, and putting big walls around our minds won’t keep the sin out).

It doesn’t say, “If there is anything unlovely, if there is anything condemnable, if there is anything unworthy of any praise, stop yourself from ever thinking about these things!”

Instead, what I see here is a glorious command to look for the true.

In every story you encounter, look for what is true.  Find the things that are honorable.  Search out what is just.  Examine the things that are pure and lovely so you might imitate them.  Discern what is commendable and keep an eye out for the excellent.  If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things!  Put aside the unlovely and meditate on the beautiful things that remind you of God and His grace and goodness.  In the enjoyment of any story, set your mind on things above.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

Beauty and small pictures of Christ’s love can be found everywhere, and all truth is God’s truth, even in stories written by ungodly or mistaken authors.  That means anything true, lovely, and praiseworthy is from Him, through Him, and to His glory – and we can rejoice in it as such because we are new Creations in Him.

Am I suggesting we surround ourselves with filth so we can use a magnifying glass to look for flecks of gold in the mud?  As Paul might say – by no means!

What I am suggesting is that we shouldn’t judge a story on whether it depicts sin or not.  (If there are humans in it, there is bound to be sin.  Either that or the author is a lousy portrayer of human nature and reality.)

Rather, we should judge our fiction by asking, “Did this story leave me ‘think[ing] about these things’?”

And we writers, who joke about “killing our darlings”, raising the stakes, taking our characters through the worst of troubles, finding the things they would never do and figuring out a situation where they would do it – we are often the “masters of darkness” when it comes to the lives of our fictional people.  It’s important for us to depict the reality of sin.  It’s not just a bad idea, it is rebellion against the Maker and Avenger of all things, and the wages of sin is death.  So we must show real sin, because sin is real and demands a blood sacrifice.  And we must show real darkness, because the true world holds darkness because it of that sin.  But where are we pointing our readers?  We should always point them toward the light, not leave them staring bleakly into the blackness.

Different Perspectives = Different Takeaways

The interesting thing is, our reactions to a story are heavily influenced by our own perspective on life, often as much or more than the actual content of the tale or the intentions of the author.

As an example, take Frozen.  I have seen Christians decry that film, claiming it is full of secret gay propaganda.  They busily scare up “evidence”, quotes, lyrics, or scenes that might be trying to promote homosexuality.  Of course it’s all theoretical, since Disney hasn’t made any claim of such intentions.  On the other hand, I have seen many Christian reviewers praising Frozen, calling it one of the most Christian movies of the year, full of themes of Christlike love and self-sacrifice!  They watched the movie and glorified God, because they saw His grace reflected through the characters’ story.

Which side in that controversy has their minds more focused on what is true, honorable, praiseworthy?…and which side has its mind in the gutter?

In the nebulous area of stories and symbolism, beauty is often in the mind of the beholder.  Filmmakers may create their stories in evil, perhaps, but God can still mean it for good.  All truth is His, no matter how much the atheist or lawless man might try to claim it for their own or use it against Him.

Look to the Source of All Joy

Why should we look for what is true, honorable, and all the rest?  And how do we know it when we see it?  Those are topics for a whole series of posts, but I think the easiest answer is this – look at Jesus Christ.  There is no one more true, more honorable, more just, pure, or lovely, or more worthy of commendation, excellence, and praise.

The more I meditate on Christ, the more I will see glimpses and reminders of His beauty in the stories I read, hear, and watch.  And the more often I am reminded of His beauty in unexpected places, the more often I will meditate on Jesus day in and day out.  There is nothing more precious to set our minds upon than Him!

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I’d love to hear your applications of this text!  What is the last story you enjoyed that made you “think about these things”?  For me it’s Captain America: Winter Soldier.

 

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19 Comments

  1. netraptor001

     /  May 16, 2014

    I wish they’d pick you up as a writer at SpecFaith. Your articles are so good! It also makes me feel a lot better about reading fantasy YA and enjoying shows like Grimm. It’s not the icky freak of the week that keeps me coming back–it’s the wonderful characters, their relationships, in short, all the GOOD things.

    Reply
  2. A couple thoughts:

    The Bible portrays sin – and extreme, graphic sin – many times. However, it always puts God on the throne and shows consequences for such sin. It glorifies God. I don’t think that books that have sin in them make them wrong – it makes them realistic! However, how is the sin portrayed? Are characters considered heroes for sinning? Does doing nasty things leave no one with emotional scars or spiritual consequences? Can people kill, maim, lie, cheat, and destroy without feeling the real repercussions that come from such things? And is the book geared for children who want to emulate the main character – such as having premarital sex – and don’t understand that the consequences are full of pain and not amazing like Hollywood portrays?

    Also, since the verse starts with “Finally,” it’s important to look at the passage’s context. Here are the previous verses: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (vs. 4-7)

    Paul had been talking about the Lord coming back again, and how it’s hard to be joyful and not worried in troubled times while we wait for Him. By adding, “Finally, think on these things,” it seems like Paul is more likely giving them a recipe to conquer fear and be happy, not to avoid sin. I think that thinking on lovely, joyful, pure things will help us rejoice and not be anxious in troubled times. Reading the whole verse in context, I can almost hear Paul, like a parent sitting on a child’s bed at bedtime, comforting them against the boogeyman. “Morning is coming soon. Don’t cry and be upset. I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t be scared. Think about good, pure, lovely things and you’ll get to sleep peacefully in no time.” You’re right – I don’t think it’s talking about what to “avoid in the world” at all! Thanks for nudging me to re-look at the verse! 😀

    Reply
    • Great thoughts, RJ! Thanks for bringing out some of those things. I love your thoughts on the passage in context – it’s definitely a “game plan” for having hope and joy! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Hey this was so well balanced I’m going to have to post it on FB and hope some of my more sheltered friends will check it out, LOL. I also have a guest post that I’m putting up this week on my blog and I’m going to add a blurb about this post because it just ‘happens’ to tie in quite nicely!

    Reply
  4. I love this! In fact I want to scream it from the roof tops! YES YES YES! We can’t have stories without sin. Even the Bible has some very graphic and evil and dark places. We also don’t need to go into huge detail, but we do need to show the consequences of sin. Some of my favorite books are the ones which got very dark only to explode with light and life at the end. 🙂 Thank you again for this!

    Reply
  5. This is a lovely article. XD I completely agree wholeheartedly. I love too, that you had a Weeping Angel in this, because Doctor Who is another good example of seeing the good in worldly shows. So much about that show is about working for the greater good, fighting evil, and self sacrifice despite the sin in it.

    I think though, I was the most shocked by the Frozen comment. People seriously think there’s a gay agenda in Frozen? o_0 What?! They’re sisters!

    Sometimes people just want to see everything in the world as horrible. It really is a shame.

    Reply
    • Hi, R. A. Meenan! Thanks for stopping by – I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

      On Frozen – I don’t think anyone is suggesting there’s innuendo between the sisters! Ick! They are only saying that the whole “Let it Go” thing is a metaphor for a gay person “coming out”. 😛 (And I didn’t mention it in the post, but they’ve also accused the movie of trying to normalize bestiality because the main guy has a reindeer pal…which is so absurd.)

      Reply
  6. I always note that if our application of this verse would also prevent us from reading certain passages of Scripture if we held it to the same standard, then we must be doing it wrong! Good article ;]

    Reply
    • I agree, Tony. Thanks! 🙂 Yes, if “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), including the awful descriptions of sin, we cannot say that reading about sin is inherently wrong. Even the Bible talks about sin – albeit wisely and judiciously, and not gratuitously or in an approving light. I think Christian authors should strive to do the same. 🙂

      Reply
  7. This is a tangent, but I would be curious to know your take on Harry Potter. I have thought through that one so many times and I have landed on both sides of that issue at different points in my life. lol

    Reply
    • Hi, lifewithyou1222! Thanks for stopping by!

      I actually have a two-part series about Harry Potter in the archives of this blog. 🙂 Here they are:

      Part 1: http://simmeringmind.com/harry-hater-to-potterhead-my-journey-part-i/
      Part 2: http://simmeringmind.com/harry-hater-to-potterhead-a-christian-readers-journey-part-ii/

      Boiled down, my stance on Harry Potter is that it’s not all that different from reading Lewis or Tolkien, except that a few of the magical elements are a *bit* closer to real-life occultism, so I personally wouldn’t give it to young children to read; I’d wait until they were older. I read them for the first time as an adult, and gobbled them up. 🙂 There are many true, pure, and lovely things in them! But as with any book, there are less savory elements too, and I’d want my children to be able to discern more cautiously before reading the HP series to them.

      Ha, I just looked over those posts again when I fetched the links, and I have to clarify that when I say we Christians don’t believe witches of the past were only killed out of ignorant prejudice – I don’t mean their killers were in the right, only that there is a true, pagan kind of witchcraft in the real world that God condemns, and witches aren’t just nice, misunderstood folks. I hope that makes more sense than what I originally wrote there. 🙂

      Blessings!
      Bethany

      Reply
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