This is one of a two-part series I’m doing to introduce my viewpoint on two key aspects of life for any geek, our personal walk with Christ, and our consumption of various media (movies, TV shows, books, video games, etc). This is the one about consuming media; for the one on our personal walk with Christ, check out “Litter Boxes” later this month.
The title and theme for this article come from one of my favorite pieces of pop-culture, a short interlude aptly called “Interlude 1” by Alt-J. The full quote from the song is, “like all good fruits, the balance of life is in the ripe and ruin.” Like the rest of the short song, the meaning of the lyric is a little obscure. Put simply, it’s talking about moderation, and not just in the sense too much of a good thing makes it go bad. Think of consuming media as “ripening it.” At first the fruit is okay but not that great, and it slowly gets sweeter and sweeter, until it’s too sweet and the fruit is ruined.
But before I comment on the theme too extensively, I want to address what I think is the core of the issue – the thing I think might drive someone to read this entire article beyond just finding out what the title meant. And that is the sense of shame that so often accompanies our enjoyment, or “consumption,” of media.
If you are anything like me, and maybe even if you aren’t, you tend to feel guilty about spending time watching TV or playing video games. I’m not talking about the knowledge I’m procrastinating or the reality I have other things I need to get done. I’m not even talking about the times where there is some legitimate reason why I should be doing something else. I’m talking about the fact that, even when all my work is done, responsibilities are taken care of, my wife is doing something else or even willing to play or watch with me, and God is telling me He’s cool with it, I still have a voice in my head making me feel ashamed for choosing media.
A little voice that says you should be doing something productive or useful, and TV, video games, and other forms of media are just distractions. We’re told they “rot your brain,” are useless, frivolous, and in essence, bad. For a very long time in my life, I believed that voice. But I still choose media, and felt guilty for it. Then, when I got saved, I stopped choosing media, abandoning the “evil and frivolous” in favor of righteousness. Until something very important changed…
God told me something so straightforward, simple, and obviously true, that it changed my perspective on life forever, and I’ve never gone back. I was in the midst of turmoil, feeling tempted to play video games again, questioning whether they were okay or not; and God, in that still, small voice, told me: “I want you to be happy more than you want to be happy.” His desire for me to be happy is stronger than my own. He went on to talk to me about the purpose of life, reminding me when we get to heaven and striving has ceased, toil will also cease. In heaven there will be no “productive,” which means “productiveness” is not directly related to good, it’s just how good behaves in relation to a fallen world.
That conversation changed my perspective on media. I realized media is neither good nor evil, but rather has the potential to be either one, just like a tool, depending on how we use it. The dangers of using it wrong are very real, but so are the benefits of using it well. And it goes way beyond just a temporary feeling of happiness versus the risk of addiction.
Some media is vile, intentionally evil, and corrupting. Other media is wonderful, uplifting, and spirit-filled. But most is somewhere in the middle, entertaining, challenging, philosophical, humorous…etc. We need to be wise about what kinds of media we consume, but even if the media is healthy, we still need to be wise about partaking in it.
And this is where we get back to Ripe and Ruin, to the reality that too much of a good thing spoils it. At first we have a casual interest, which then grows, and soon enough we are hooked. And the more of our time we invest, the “sweeter” it gets. We don’t want to listen to half a song, we want the whole thing, maybe a few times, maybe on an endless loop with the bass booming while we steam up the bathroom dancing in the shower.
But then we get “danced out” and suddenly don’t even want to listen to that song again. We watch our favorite movie twice in the same week and suddenly we are “sick of it.” A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but two or three? Blech!
This isn’t just isolated to partaking in a game or movie. It can play a role before we even get to consume. How many times have you anticipated a game or movie release for months or years, only to be let down by the actual product? Or you like the product, but don’t spend nearly as much time consuming it as you did anticipating it. Researching, googling, following the developer on Facebook for each latest hint…too much investment and expectation, and the result will never satisfy.
None of these realities exist by chance. I believe God built them into our psyche, or the world itself somehow. Just the same as fruit, God designed our enjoyment of things with a limiting factor: Better and better up to the point of ripeness, but sour if taken further. As Proverbs 25:16 states, “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” He intentionally made it so the best way to enjoy the things of this world is in moderation.
Because God is both jealous and wise, he didn’t want gluttony and idolatry to be fulfilling. He wants us to seek his presence, and he knows only his presence can fulfill us. Media, even the best media, can’t replace God.
Make sense? I hope so. If you are like me and have had to deal with a feeling of shame for even touching media, I hope your heart can be put at ease. And now, if you care to join me, I will delve a little deeper into some of the classic aspects of media, what makes some good and some bad, and why. For I believe there are many aspects of our love of media that reflect how God designed us in his image, and just as many which are the result of our sinful lusts.
There are vain imaginations, but imagination and creativity itself is a reflection of God’s creative thought and power. We are captivated by the mysterious, complex, and foreign because we are created to be in relationship with God, who is the ultimate, the source, and the end, of all of those things. We love good stories because God loves stories. He created our story, and through Jesus, did the bulk of his teaching through parables (creative stories with a philosophical intent).
But we are not a pure reflection of God’s image. We are born into sin and have drawn away from God by our own selfish desires. Our interest is often twisted. Our imagination, and the stories we love, can easily be an expression of our selfishness. And most media is designed to tug on our interest, whether good or bad.
Luke 6:45 says, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” The condition of our heart, even more than the content of the media, will determine its impact on us.
Even so, we need to consider the media itself, which starts with being aware of its selling point. The specific kind of “hook” or appeal of any piece of media is one of the most important things to be aware of. And it’s not always obvious. The purpose, meaning, and intent of media is easily hidden, but every piece of entertainment has both a specific appeal and is designed to draw us into its own little world.
Games like WoW make a lot of money by getting gamers to invest in their world, and then asking people to pay to stay there and invest money in making that world nicer in some way. It’s the most dangerous, as well as the most appealing, thing about media – its ability to present us with a miniature alternate reality.
These realities can be as simple as a feeling or idea, or as complex as worlds unto themselves, with people, history, and adventures which can range anywhere from frivolous to pornographic. But every piece of media is creative, and it has a purpose in mind; even if it’s very simple or subtle.
Granted, some things don’t require much thought or are easily dismissed. We don’t really need to overthink it unless the spirit pricks us to do so. But other times, we need to do some serious thinking first. And the first step in that process is to be aware of purpose and intention.
I can’t give you a universal way to figure out the intention behind every piece of media. But I also don’t need to, because you don’t need one. After all, it’s not about the media – it’s about you. It’s about whether or not it’s healthy for you as an individual to consume something. And that decision is primarily between you and God. I’m not your Holy Spirit, and I can’t make the tough calls for you. I can just give you the basics from my perspective, the best way I can.
In my opinion, it comes down to two key questions: Why am I interested in this thing? And what will it cost me to consume it?
Sometimes the answer might be straightforward: I want to enjoy a good story, I want to think hard and solve a puzzle, etc. But other times, especially if there is an issue such as addiction at play, we might want to do some soul-searching to see exactly why it is we are so interested in something that’s “of this world.” The key is to be honest with ourselves, to find and consider our heart’s real motives. Why are we drawn to it, what do we want from it, and how does it make us feel? As long as our motives are healthy, we can move on.
No matter what type of media, it will cost you something. At the very least, it will cost some time and focus, which is what we could be spending on something like our friends and family, or devotional time. Even if something is completely healthy, if it starts to take us away from the healthy parts of our lives, we need to re-examine our priorities and make some changes.
Beyond that, it could easily cost us money, which we may or may not have in enough abundance to be able to afford it. And it might even be designed to reward us for sinking endless amounts of money into it, like cash-cow games such as Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and Pokemon Go (all of which I have played and spent money on…preaching to myself here).
But most importantly, it may cost us our vision, goals, and the purpose of our lives, distracting us from the source of life. And it may, very easily, become an addiction. All too easily, we can be totally drawn in by a game or TV series, and start spending an unhealthy amount of time and energy investing in it. We aren’t always aware when our interests turn sour.
As a side note, don’t judge a book by its cover. Sometimes things seem to be one way on the surface, but turn out to be something totally different after a while. Like a song with a disturbing hidden meaning we only find when we look it up, or a game that’s only free to play for the first few levels, such as Mario Run.
You could easily go through this whole process before consuming something only to find out it wasn’t what you originally thought. We have to be continually open and sensitive to God to redirect us, even if we are on a path he said it was okay to walk. We never know if we might have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, or have been deceived from the beginning.
So, you’re pretty sure a particular piece of secular media is healthy for you to consume. You know why you’re interested in it and that is also healthy. You also know what it will cost you and have decided it’s a cost you can afford to pay. And you’re still open to changing your decision later if things weren’t what they seemed… anything else?
Just one last thing – remember even if something is good, even if you have thought it through completely and God is fine with you partaking of it, too much will still ruin it.
Like all good things that are not God Himself, the most important thing that will ensure it stays good is moderation.