Before we begin this thought-journey, I must admit that my musings on this topic aren’t complete. I have given it substantial consideration and prayer, though, and I believe that the Lord is leading me to a conviction. That said, if you have biblical counsel to offer on this topic, I am open and ready to hear it.
In 2004, I remember a swirl of controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Having been a believer for only a year, I didn’t pay much attention to the voices shouting from any particular camp because I had yet to construct a biblical framework for such a discussion. What I knew for sure was that watching a human actor pretend to be the Son of God seemed uncomfortable. Could I have told you why? No. But the release of Son of God – and my similar (but stronger) reaction – has prompted me to consider what it is that draws me away from movies of this nature. And with so many Christian voices saying so many conflicting things about the film, it seemed prudent to draw a conclusion about my own participation in such a theatrical release.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
I realize that this is one in a specific list of commandments given to the nation of Israel, not to mankind, and certainly not to those united to Christ in the church age. Even so, all of God’s commandments, regardless of the audience, reveal something about God’s character and his expectations for all of his adopted children, and are thus worthy of our careful consideration. As a believer, as one unified with Christ, the Law of God is written on my heart (Ps. 40:8, Heb. 10:16). Therefore, my new God-given desire is to please Him by walking in obedience to His precepts. So when the LORD makes it clear that He abhors idolatry, I must tread very carefully. What constitutes an idol? What constitutes worship?
An idol is anything that draws our worship and affections away from God. To be clear, by ‘God’ I mean the God whose holy name and character we find in Scripture, not God as we want Him to be. The moment my eyes shift but one millimeter from the True God of the Bible, I am an idolater. And this is where I begin to struggle with movies like those mentioned above.
I remember the first time I saw a trailer for The Passion of the Christ. When my eyes looked upon the face of the actor playing Jesus, my heart leapt. Why? Because my Savior, whom I’ve never met in a physical way, suddenly had been put to flesh. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe,” said Thomas. Was my heart saying this same thing as ‘Jesus’ stood in front of my eyes, and suddenly faith seemed . . . easier?
That man wasn’t my Savior at all! He is a fallen sinner, just like me, yet my heart responded in the desire to worship him. In a split second, my idol-making heart produced a bright, shiny new one out of Jim Caviezel.
My concern goes far beyond the physical image when it comes to motion pictures. A still image is problematic enough, but the moment that image begins to move and speak, with facial expressions, voice inflections, gestures, and touches, we are necessarily adding to who God has revealed Himself to be and inciting our hearts to worship something other than God.
This is dangerous territory.
Is it possible for one to sit through a movie like The Passion or Son of God and not experience raging idolatry? Perhaps. But apparently I can’t, and I’m not willing to give the Accuser a foothold for the sake of entertainment.
Soli Deo gloria!