Who are your friends? Whom do you regularly spend time with? Whether your friends and associates are real flesh and blood human beings, or figments of Hollywood’s imagination vicariously associated with through Netflix or Hulu (or any one of the multiple sources we now can do so through), we should be selective, because those we spend time with impact what we believe about life and who we become as people.
“Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34 NIV)
It is easy for us to justify bad company, especially if it’s only entertainment–everyone needs to relax after a hard day, after all–don’t they? Yet what we sometimes fail to realize is that whether our companions can interact with us or not, we are nonetheless impacted by them and their choices, most significantly by their sins. We wouldn’t steal a car, jump into bed with someone we’re not married to, or blow up a gas station just because we see a character in the media do so, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been impacted by what we’ve seen–especially if there is no depiction of a truthful negative consequence, which there rarely is. Whether we realize it or not, watching (and thereby vicariously participating in) wrong behavior in various programs, movies or literature does several things to us.
First of all, it desensitized us to what we’ve seen–it decreases the shock value. Yes, we may still recognize it as wrong, but we’ve seen it modeled at least once, and the more we see it done, the less it will seem strange–which brings us to our second point.
The more we see a particular sin depicted by others, real or fictional, the more “normal” it will seem. I like the word “normal,” yet it’s a word many people misuse. Normal is that which is the norm, and the norm can vary by individual population groups and subgroups. What is normal in a prison facility is not normal in a convent, for example. The norm is not any indication of what is right or good–it is just that which is most frequently practiced within a particular group of people. Because of that, we do not want to surround ourselves–whether in real life or vicariously through our entertainment choices–with those who make a habit of engaging in sinful living or thinking. It will gradually cause us to feel that something wrong is normal–not a justification for doing it ourselves, granted, but since–for whatever reason–we human beings seem to think that if it is normal it must be okay to do–do we really want to set ourselves up for thinking wrong is normal?!
Lastly, exposing ourselves to examples of wrong living can eventually wear down our own resolve in moments of decision. I’m not suggesting that we will immediately grab a gas can and burn down the nearest barn if we see this depicted in a program, but if we allow ourselves to habitually watch protagonists who routinely do genuinely evil things–to spend time with them and get to know them, so to speak–we may begin to sympathize with, and perhaps even identify with, some of the struggles they are going through, which is gradually placing us in a mindset that might–under the right set of circumstances–cause us to act in a less than righteous manner ourselves.
Not heading for that gas can yet? Not convinced that watching any amount of onscreen sinning might influence you in some way? Let’s up the ante and change it to some other sin, say lying, deviousness, outbursts of anger, or physical violence–even sexual sin. If you watch enough movies where people are, for example, committing lewd acts or falling onto each other with barely the slightest provocation (and honestly, it doesn’t matter how long you wait if you haven’t publicly demonstrated your commitment through marriage)–how long do you think it will take before your own way of looking at this is altered, perhaps imperceptibly, but enough that, in a moment of temptation, you might stumble? Hopefully you’ll have the sense to recognize your mistake in watching programs like that to begin with and not fall, but seriously–why make it harder to do what is right? Why ask for trouble?!
I recently ran across an article about a very young man–barely an adult–who decided to participate in an Ecuadorian activity of attempting to get away unscathed while trying to touch a bull in the ring. He had almost done it–had almost succeeded in touching the bull–when it got him. By his own confession, he didn’t know what hit him–it was that sudden! That’s what playing with sin is like, he said; I agree.
Much of my life has been characterized by a good amount of God’s grace, through which I have been able to walk away myself even though others were sinning. But as a young adult I wanted my independence and I wanted to make my own decisions. Rather than surround myself with people who loved the Lord and would have offered wise counsel even as I was pulling away from my parents, I immersed myself in various non-Christian books and magazines that purported to tell me how to live. Talk about foolish!
Scripture is full of examples, good and bad, to show us that learning the hard way–by making the mistakes yourself–isn’t the only way to learn. There is an easier and significantly less painful way that God opens up to those people who are receptive to hearing what He says–and that is by learning through others’ mistakes. So, when you hear about the experience of the would-be “bull-toucher,” believe him that you’d be gored before you realize what hit you. When you hear about others who have made mistakes by pulling away from godly influences and immersing themselves in what is wicked–even if it is culturally popular and all over Netflix or Hulu–realize that you can be gored by sin–you can find yourself knee-deep in it–before you’d know what hit you! So, who are your friends? Whom do you regularly spend time with? “Come back to your senses and stop sinning!” Remember, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20)
Help us to keep good company, so that we would not stumble. Amen.