Summary: The first step in the turn towards God is to be troubled by "the way things are;" in effect, to mourn over sin.
How many of you watched the debut of the new reality show, Temptation Island, this week? I didn’t. It had somehow slipped under my radar screen, and I hadn’t even heard about it until Thursday morning at Bible study. For those of you fortunate enough not to have heard about it, I’m going to burst your bubble. It’s a little like Survivor... you know, dump a bunch of people on a desert island and see who makes it to the end. But this one has a twist. The idea is that there is a core group of 4 couples, marooned with another 20 or so extremely attractive singles. And the object of the game is for the singles to try and break up the original 4 couples.
I was so appalled and revolted I could hardly speak. We wound up praying, praying for the people watching the show, praying for the participants in this travesty, praying for the people who thought this up, praying for wisdom for ourselves to know how to bring God’s truth and grace to bear.
The next night some of TV’s talking heads were commenting about the show; all agreed that it was vulgar and tasteless, but most didn’t see any real moral issue. Or if they did they didn’t bring it up, it being unsophisticated or something to admit to moral sensibilities in this day and age. I think it was Chris Matthews, a Catholic, who said, “After all, who’s it going to hurt? So a husband and wife watch the show and get interested and retire early, where’s the harm in that?” As if the only criterion of entertainment was whether or not the viewers are going to go and do likewise. Another of the panel, I forget which one, did acknowledge that
there was something reprehensible about setting people up to be hurt - for
someone else’s enjoyment. And Matthews tried to start a conversation about schadenfreude - isn’t that a great word? It means taking pleasure in another person’s failure. But it didn’t get very far.
Most of us have, unfortunately, gotten inured to foul language, violence and vulgarity in our entertainment. We may not like it, but it’s part of our world and we’ve learned to tune it out and concentrate on the story. But this - this takes us to a whole new depth of degradation. Watching people deliberately attempt to destroy a relationship - for money and fame - is as different from a staged kiss as a John Wayne movie is from a snuff film.
What do you do when offered this kind of spectacle? Do you watch? Do you shrug and change the channel? Or do you mourn?
Mourning is what happens when your eyes are opened, your heart is opened, to something so manifestly wrong with your world that you can neither bear it, ignore it, or affect it.
Mourning is the first step on the journey back to God.
I recently listened to a very interesting conversation about the popularity of horror movies in modern society. The author being interviewed suggested that it was the secular world’s attempt to deal with the reality of evil in the world without admitting that there really is such a thing as evil. It’s an attempt to have an intense feeling without real pain. And that makes sense to me. I don’t like horror movies because I don’t think fear is fun. As a child abuse survivor, I’ve spent too much of my life with fear.
When it’s not fiction, it’s not fun.
The explosion of sex and violence in our entertainment comes, I think, from much the same place - from the desire to experience life intensely but without real risk - and yet it is the risk of being hurt that gives meaning both to courage and to commitment.
In somewhat the same way, most people want the joy that the gospel promises - but they don’t want to pay the price. That desire for a short cut to eternity is at the root of much of what is wrong with today’s mainline churches, and why most are having so much trouble reaching the world.
The Christian as mourner isn’t very much seen nowadays. There are several reasons for this. It’s partly a reaction against a kind of 19th c. false puritanism that wasn’t natural, didn’t come from within, and almost gave the impression that to be religious was to be miserable. There was a violent reaction against this unattractive picture, and in some places things have gone to the other extreme, with the idea that if Christians are to attract non- Christians we must always appear upbeat and cheerful.
Another reason that a mournful Christian has become almost an oxymoron is that a lot of Christians, on being told that joy is one of the fruits of the spirit, try to paint it on the outside for fear of being branded unspiritual.