Escaping the World Without Jesus

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Quick!—name twelve Marvel comic book movies. Name ten famous lines from the Star Wars franchise. Name seven characters in the Harry Potter series. Name the twelve tribes of Israel. Name the Ten Commandments. Name the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus.

Whether or not the comparison is perfect, hopefully you see the point of the exercise. Did you struggle less with the first three questions than the last three? If so, that's problematic.

A Subtle Counterfeit

As Christians, we look to Jesus as our hope to escape this fallen world. We eagerly await a home in which righteousness dwells, an unshakable kingdom wherein our true citizenship lies (cf. 2 Pet. 3:13, Heb. 12:28, Phil. 3:20). Whether Jesus comes to rapture us before the tribulation (cf. 1 Thess. 4:17), or we die and immediately enter into His presence (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8), we will be escaping from this world for something better. Yet, as with everything God does, Satan is ready to offer a counterfeit. In this case, the counterfeit is escapism.

Merriam-Webster defines escapism as follows: "habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine."[1] At its heart, escapism is about providing a way to "check out" from the harsh realities of this world in exchange for a place of enjoyment. And one thing is certain, there is no shortage of entertainment options designed to help people escape from this world. Nor is there a shortage of people willing to indulge.

Commenting on the cultural landscape from just a few years ago, John MacArthur identifies this as well:

Recent studies show that the average American watches more than five hours of television per day, which, spread over a 70-year lifespan, amounts to more than 14 years of viewing. Some of that may be instructive and diversionary, but such statistics force us to consider what Christ will say to those believers who have spent a fifth of their lives—or more—staring at the tube (cf. Romans 14:10-12). And that doesn’t even begin to factor in all the additional time that most people waste on the Internet.[2]

Fantasy and Science Fiction

There are many dangers in entertainment that are easily identifiable. For example, television shows and movies depicting sexual acts don't require any level of discernment in order to avoid. Any sensible Christian ought to understand that setting no "worthless thing before my eyes" (Psa. 101:3) and making "a covenant with my eyes" (Job 31:1) includes digital images of explicit activity. But there are also subtle threats. And perhaps, one of the greatest is the immersive nature of entertainment.

Whether it's spending countless hours in an online video game, or "binge-watching" movies all day, it's easy to get drawn into another world—especially when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. These genres, in particular, offer participants and viewers the ability to leave behind the current events of the day and enter into a world with more exciting characters, supernatural abilities, and undiscovered universes.

Of course, none of it is real. Nor does it provide long-term relief. Yet, the more expansive the fictitious world is, and the more impressive its storyline and characters are, the better it is at capturing the viewer's attention and consuming the viewer's thoughts for greater amounts of time. Ultimately, it represents an attempt to escape from this world—without Jesus. To be sure, the slide into escapism can happen casually. What begins as brief entertainment can easily become devoted fascination. That's part of the subtle danger. It doesn't take much concerted effort before your mind becomes absorbed with facts and figures about fictitious people and places. In the end, rather than setting your mind on things above (cf. Col. 3:2), you've put your mind in a mythical realm.

John MacArthur offers helpful comments in this regard:

You know, first of all, you could say that is silliness, foolishness. Fantasy is folly to me. Of all the things that could be learned in the world that are helpful, fantasy doesn't fit into that category. I am not even much of a devotee of people like C.S. Lewis and the "Chronicles of Narnia," and Tolkien and others that have some kind of Christian overturns. Just give me a good dose of reality. You can forget the fantasy. I really can't build my life on a fantasy. I have to build my life on reality. People have asked me through the years if I want to write novels. You know, why do I want to write fiction? Who needs fiction? I don't want to write fiction. I don't even like to marry fiction with fact, or reality with non-reality because I think that's confusing. So from that standpoint, just a common sense standpoint, it's silly, it's Superman at best.[3]

Of course, as an adult you may be capable of compartmentalizing fact from fiction so as to maintain a proper balance in life. But what about those young people who live in your home? Those children whose hearts would be more than happy to latch onto a fictitious world?

John MacArthur continues:

But I think for young children to be exposed to that kind of fantasy world, for young people to get lost in all of that, is really in a way to check out of reality. And the more and more people that check out of reality, the less and less likely we are to have an influence on their lives. And I don't think people need to get caught up in it. Whether it's Star Wars or any of that hocus pocus stuff that deals with fantasy, I don't think it's helpful to people. And I think particularly children don't need to think that there's some mystical spirits moving around in the world. Even if Harry Potter in the end is a good guy. I think there is spiritual reality in the world and they ought to know what the spiritual reality is, forget the fantasy.[4]

A Blessed Reality

So what's the solution? Write off every form of fiction as sinful? No, the solution to any potential threat is never legalism; the solution is the Gospel. As entertainment options increasingly vie for your child's affections, you certainly would do well to guard their hearts from being immersed in fanciful worlds that will draw their attention away from reality. But you must also give them the better alternative. Thus, it's up to you not only to be the watchman on the wall, but the expositor in the home.

When it comes to you as a Christian, in a sense you've already escaped; you are seated in the heavenly realm with the Savior (cf. Eph. 2:6). But if that's the case (which it is) that's all the more reason not to check out from this life—you have the good news of the Gospel that others need to hear so they can make it out alive too.

When it comes to your children, the allure of escapism is simply too great a temptation for many to handle. As you explain God's Word, you can protect them from the seductive nature of escapism by telling them about the glorious King whose kingdom is not of this world, the Savior who gave Himself to rescue sinners from this present evil age (cf. Gal. 1:4). Immerse them in the redemptive storyline of Scripture, where people, places, and events matter. Lead them through the Bible verse by verse so that their dissatisfaction with this life leads them to the cross, rather than to a fake universe. Don't let them escape a blessed reality in search of a digital counterfeit.


References:

[1] "Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary," Merriam-Webster, accessed December 08, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/escapism.

[2] John MacArthur, "Stewardship, Entertainment, and the Lordship of Christ," Grace To You, accessed December 9, 2017, https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B130506.

[3] John MacArthur, "Bible Questions and Answers, Part 51," Grace To You, accessed December 9, 2017, https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/70-23/bible-questions-and-answers-part-51

[4] Ibid.