Beware of Basking in the Bloodbath

I turned 17 just in time watch a slew of modern ultra-violent vengance films in the theater. Between Quinton Tarantino’s Kill Bill, gritty graphic novel remakes (think 300 and Sin City) and Matrix wannabes, a new stylized bloodbath hit the box office every month. At the time I wasn’t a Christian, and like most teenage boys I reveled in the violence.

Several years later, after I became a Christian, I consciously made the choice to stop watching ultra-violent films. Not because it’s outright sinful to do so, but because I couldn’t watch them without tempting myself to sin by breaking the sixth commandment in my heart: you shall not commit murder.

For Jesus, the ten commandments weren’t merely about outward acts, they were about our inward heart. He said,  “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28). Lust breaks the seventh commandment against adultery. Likewise, hatred breaks the sixth commandment against murder (Matt. 5:21-22). God doesn’t delight in those who begrudgingly obey his laws outwardly; he wants men and women who delight in goodness and hate evil. David wrote, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being” (Ps. 51:6). God delights when our hearts align with his.

Watching stylized ultra-violent films caused my heart to delight in what God hates: revenge and murder. The blood, gore and senseless violence didn’t appall me. Instead, the surreal sprays of blood and stylized martial arts made it all exciting, harmless, and even cool. Can we imagine God watching a depiction of violence that way? When Cain committed the first murder against his brother Abel, the Bible says that even creation itself was appalled. God says, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen 4:10). When we watch murder on screen do we even feel a twinge of pain?

It wasn’t good for my heart to risk such temptation, so I took a 6 year hiatus. Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that no one can watch films like Inglorious Basterds or Saw or Django Unchained. In fact, this last weekend I viewed Django Unchained. It surprised me to discover that the blood and violence no longer engendered fascination or awe. Instead I found myself cringing throughout most the film. It wasn’t a pleasant experience (but I felt relieved that violence could shock me once again).

I’m not sure whether I will watch another Tarantino film again. But I am sure that my experience during Django Unchained was the right one. While we are called to celebrate justice, we are also called to weep over evil and death. To revel in the murders other human beings, even a wicked slave owner’s household, is to cheapen the life of someone made in the image of God.

This whole story is illustrative of a broader point: it’s exceedingly dangerous to our souls enjoy viewing evil, and films may often tempt us to do so. Solomon describes crooked men, “Who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil”(Prov. 2:14).

What tempts each of us may be different. If you struggle with lust, you may choose to avoid films with nudity. If you struggle with idolizing romance, you may need to avoid romantic comedies. If you struggle with cynicism, you may avoid dark films. If you struggle with course joking, you might want consider forgoing the next Hangover movie. If you have an unhealthy fascination with the demonic world, horror movies may be dangerous for you. Keep in mind that what’s dangerous for you is probably different from what’s dangerous for your neighbor.

Most of us (my self included) love film, but we should fight to love it carefully and thoughtfully. If you aren’t currently exerting self control by restraining you moviegoing experience (i.e. saying “no” to a movie when you want to say “yes”) you may be putting your heart at danger. At the very least wisdom demands we question ourselves. Have you?

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