Initially, I was slightly shocked as the subject matter was not what I am typically used to in my recreational reading. I'm not sure why, though, as I have watched numerous movies over the years involving similar issues and cannot remember the last time I was truly shocked or appalled (8MM perhaps?). This was a reminder to me that a different medium handling a familiar theme can produce such a profoundly novel effect. This is why the exact same emotion can be evoked through different means, but rarely is as powerful as the first time experienced in any given form. (Why else is U2 so popular? It's because their fans act as if Bono is singing about things they have never considered before.)
Anyway, this realization could have led my thoughts in a number of different directions, but on this particular occasion I was compelled to assess the profitability of engaging my mind on matters in stark contrast to the Biblical values that I hold dear -- a spirital cost-benefit analysis, if you will. Should I be reading stories (or watching movies, etc.) involving behavior so drastically divergent from what I hope to emulate? The Apostle Paul's words to the Philippians come to mind:
Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virture and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.As I considered this verse (Philippians 4:8) in light of the question that had been raised in my mind, my thoughts went down three distinct paths, which I will attempt to communicate in three separate posts to this blog. In this Part 1, I will lay the groundwork by opining how I believe this verse is to be applied. I will then follow-up with Parts 2 and 3.
I am of the opinion that the verse quoted above does not prohibit mindless reading, TV and movie viewing and the like. Paul's whole purpose in writing to the Philippians was to help them find (and be reminded of the) joy and happiness in the Lord in the midst of difficult circumstances. The verses that immediately precede verse 8 in chapter 4 are Paul exhorting the Philippians to rejoice and not be anxious, while relying on God and His peace to protect them from anxiety. Verses 8 and 9 culiminate these concepts with practical ways of finding peace and joy when things seem to be falling apart.
I remember as a young child I would occasionally have nightmares in the middle of the night which would wake me up and then keep me awake with fearful thoughts. I would usually wake my parents and ask them to pray for me. They would oblige and then they would encourage me to think about happy things to get my mind off of the fears that were tormenting me. "Think about going to Six Flags. Think about being at the beach." While these aren't necessarily things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous and of good report, the process is similar to what I believe Paul is encouraging the Philippians to do.
Invariably, we all find ourselves at times discouraged as the failures and disappointments accumulate over the course of a lifetime. It is a natural response to be filled with doubt during times of grief and suffering as we focus on the pain and frantically search for the quickest remedy. Paul's words are calming and corrective: "remember what you know to be true, remember what you know is right, beautiful and inspiring...think about these things."
So I don't believe that this verse is saying you should only be thinking about things that fit the list (true, noble, just, pure, etc.). Instead, I see this particular passage as an appropriate response to negative thoughts and feelings which can keep us from experiencing joy, one of the very things that a follower of Jesus should have access to, even in the midst of difficult times.
Now wait a minute Brett! You completely side-stepped the original question which was whether or not you should be reading filthy books and watching rated-R movies!
Yeah, I guess I did. That's because that question led me to the verse referenced above and as I meditated on that verse, I was distracted by other thoughts which I felt were worth sharing. I'm just getting started. Bear with me.