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First of all, Andy P, thanks for writing a post that is longer than any of mine. I’ve long been insecure about that, and now you’re the long-winded one (until I write this post, anyway). And secondly, thank you Marc for getting the conversation going; you’re speaking out your convictions, and that’s good. I have some thoughts on the whole thing.
Reliant faith in the indwelling Christ brings love in the heart, peace to the mind. As we learn to “stay ourselves upon the Lord” He begins to express Himself through us more and more. But we can easily confuse what God really wants (reliant faith) with the letter of the Law and get overly focused on sin – one of the main problems in the church today. We’re always studying on what sin is and how to avoid committing it rather than thinking on Who Christ is in me. We’re sin-conscious rather than Christ-reliant, fear-driven rather than Spirit-led.
How much cussing in a movie is ok? Is one F bomb acceptable? Can we trade an F bomb in for two S words and a D word? What if there is just one “Hell”? Or, if there is no cussing, is it permissible to see a guy get thrust through with a sword? Or an implied sexual encounter? Where exactly is the line between appropriate and inappropriate? Is that line the same for every believer?
Don’t take me wrongly; this isn’t a monologue about how we should enjoy hearing four-letter words in movies, a way to defend Hollywood and live in fleshly sensuality. Most of the time the cussing isn’t necessary – most of us can probably agree on that. And we should definitely live our convictions, speak them out, truthfully, with love – if we feel it’s wrong to watch movies with a lot of cussing, we can speak it out. If we believe something is wrong, then it is wrong for us. But not everyone has the same struggles; not everyone has the same sin-history, so each has a different “letter of the Law” perspective. That’s why some judge cussers and others judge drinkers; we often judge the very thing we struggle with, or used to struggle with, or have had family members struggle with. So we can’t expect other believers to share all our convictions. We’re all at different stages along the journey in Christ – a journey out of fear and judgment and into faith.
And of course, some will rightly bring up “Faith without works is dead.” Which is true; faith without an outer expression is not faith – it’s merely passive belief. But people take that James verse to mean “Don’t drink don’t cuss don’t smoke don’t chew ‘baccy and you’ll be a real Christian.” It actually means that if we step out in faith on God’s Word and character and really trust Him, there will be outer manifestation, in our behavior, of that inner reliance. But we don’t focus on the results – that produces a short-circuit where we’re trying to make ourselves conform. Our job is to keep faith-ing in the One who produces the results.
God wants to go beyond judgment, beyond fear into knowing He has completely erased our sin history in Christ – that we are now new creations, dead to sin, dead to Law, and alive to God, and that now, right now, He is the indwelling Power in us; “I will cause you to walk in My ways and keep My statutes.”
All that to say – some cuss-words in movies aren’t going to destroy or weaken the infinite power of Christ living in me. But if a person’s faith in that indwelling Power is weak, cussing in movies may help weaken his faith even more, because the bottom line is we may be trying to live by a point system rather than walking in the Spirit. “What exactly is sin, and how do I avoid doing it? What exactly are the boundaries for seeing sin in movies? Can I wear a skirt this short? Is it ok to drink a beer?”
I know a young believer who says nearly every cuss word in the book. He came out of a really bad and dark childhood and found Christ through some of us who loved him. He’s now a believer and still cusses a lot, though he doesn’t get as hot as he used to. Shall I judge his behavior or should I look at his heart? Shall I chide him for his cussing or encourage him for his growth and let God deal with the mouth?
Does God look at the heart of a new creation man or woman, or does He merely look at the outer behavior to make sure it conforms to the divine standard? If His new creation being doesn’t “look right” does God then write it off as a total loss, throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Or does He redeem it by seeing what it means, and through seeing the heart of it bringing it deeper into His idea of what it’s meant to be?
If God looks at the heart of His own art, His own creation, shouldn’t we look at the heart of art in general? Shouldn’t we look to see what a movie means? Shouldn’t we redeem art by finding the light that is there rather than the darkness that is present? If God doesn’t throw out the wheat along with the tares, why should we?
Now, this is coming from a Dad who doesn’t let his kids watch anything with cussing or sex or very much violence. I understand that encoding a child is encoding a child; their minds are so absorbent – little sponges – so I’m careful with them. And I’m careful with my own mind as well. I hate gratuitous violence, sex, and even cussing. Most of the time it just isn’t necessary.
But as a grownup human and grownup believer I’m looking for light – and so I sometimes find it even in dark places. It’s a matter of focus. I used to watch movies looking for anti-Christian bias, and I found plenty of it. But now I look for truth, beauty – I look for the good. And I find it much more than I supposed possible. And, of course, if a believer is watching R rated movies in order to be titillated by the darkness that’s another story (but still the same sin-consciousness problem).
Some people (especially many women) have an aversion to violence, and it’s right and good for them to refrain from seeing it. I don’t like watching people get their bodies slashed by swords either, but since I can handle the violence a little better than some I’d rather see it than throw out Braveheart (which contains violence, sex, and the F bomb) and miss the call to love, courage, faith, endurance, purpose, mission, meaning and sticking together when everything is falling apart.
Regarding cussing I’ve been through many phases as a believer – cussing and not thinking about it, cussing and struggling with stopping, and finally giving up on struggling and asking God to clean up my mouth. The third option works. When we utilize the third option (God doing the actual work, while we’re doing the trusting) we aren’t worried about being pulled back into it. If we didn’t use our own strength to clean up our mouth, we don’t need to to exert our human effort to keep it clean. Seeing a movie star cuss isn’t going to make me start saying F U D G E (for you Christmas Story fans out there) in front of my kids.
Just how powerful is the Spirit of Christ? Who is He, really? And where is He? Well, He’s God. He’s all-powerful. And He lives in me – that transcendent, world-creating God, the God who triumphed over sin, death, Hell, and the Devil. Can He clean up my life? Can He keep me from sin? Does He have the power? Does He have the love? Does He have the desire?
Or do I have to keep myself through avoidance, effort, hiding from the world? Am I supposed to be of the world (using human effort and a performance-based mentality) but not in it (hiding out from the world), or the other way round?
These are all rhetorical questions, really.
I think I won back the long-winded title.
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.