‘Escapist’ activities


  • Question 147, from Justin, United Kingdom

    What is the biblical perspective on escapist activities, such as watching TV, going to the movies or attending theatre? Is there any point to them? If they aren’t directly glorifying God, why should we spend time and money on them?

    ‘Leisure time’, as something enjoyed by everyone not just the wealthy is a fairly recent phenomenon. In Biblical times, when the majority of the population lived at a ‘subsistence level’ as farmers, herdsmen, fishermen and so on, ‘leisure’ wasn’t really a problem. In fact, it has been said that the idea of a Sabbath day of rest was unique in antiquity in relieving people of the necessity and expectation of working every day.

    The importance of ‘Rest’ and the urgency of ‘Time’
    There are two competing Biblical themes relating to how a believer should regard leisure. One is the notion of ‘rest’, as typified in the concept of ‘Sabbath’, which combines rest from labour with worshipping God. The other is the awareness that ‘time’ is a non-renewable resource, which should be used carefully. The ‘Parable of the Talents’ (Matthew chapter 25, verses 14-30) for example, cautions a person against wasting what they are given in an unproductive way. The Jewish ‘Wisdom’ tradition, particularly the book of Proverbs, places a high value on productivity and condemns laziness and idleness.

    What seems to be needed is a balance between rest that is needed and using time productively. Rest that enables a person to recharge and take time out to concentrate on what really matters, i.e. worshipping God, is considered valuable by Biblical writers – and is proscribed in the Law of Moses as the ‘fourth commandment’. But there are also warnings that devoting too much time to leisure can mean we never achieve our potential. Nobody knows exactly how much time they have, and so it is important to use that time wisely.

    Leisure activities
    In terms of how to spend leisure time, particularly in reference to TV, films and the like, there are some relevant Biblical passages which can be applied.

    For example, Philippians chapter 4, verses 8-9 contains the following injunction: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This has a reverse implication that Christians should not be thinking about (or watching) things that are ignoble, wrong, impure, unlovely, shameful and so on…

    The apostle Paul also encourages Christians to be mindful that the choices they make in life may cause difficulties for other Christians. Referring to a debate over whether it was acceptable to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he writes: “For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8, verses 10-13) The last verse could be rephrased as: “if what I watch causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never watch TV again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

    Christians are, in Paul’s view, free from the demands of the Law, but this then means that each individual believer has to take responsibility for what they do. He sums this up by saying: ““Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10, verse 23)

    In conclusion, the Biblical tradition places a high value on rest. But what people choose to do in order to ‘rest’ is important. Human beings have a limited amount of time available to them, and even ‘rest’ time is perhaps best used through doing something ‘beneficial’ and ‘constructive’ if possible.

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  • 1 comment

    1. Lucy Jun 25

      Thank you. This is the first sound theology I have read today.
      I was reading comments on the song “Midnight Cry”. It seems so many want to escape this earth! Why not stay and try to make it better? If someone sent their beloved son to teach us, why would they want us to leave and quit trying?

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