Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Defining Escapism Biblically

I was out for coffee with my friend and co-worker Joel this past summer, and we were talking about what God had been up to in our lives.  I was having a particularly rough couple of months, where I felt pretty discouraged about most of life.  My walk with the Lord felt distant, finances were tight, I felt fairly useless at ministry, and on many occasions felt like I was a terrible husband.  I did anything I could to ease the pain, so I'd sink into many different ways to escape the pain.  TV, movies, sports, food, daydreaming, writing fan fiction, video gaming, work, financial planning, and more.  I didn't need a conversation with Joel to understand that I was trying to escape the pain I was feeling by using things, particularly entertainment, that weren't good enough. 

Escapism is a fairly new term (at least that I have experienced) in the realm of Christianity, but it's quickly picking up steam.  Essentially, it's what I just described: actions motivated to medicate the pain of life.  It's a 'way out' of the curse of life, whether it's personal sin, people who have sinned against you, or just awful circumstances.  And, as technology and media advance, there are millions of ways to medicate.  Instead of having to go out and buy a movie for 15 dollars, you can substitute it for free streaming of youtube.  It may not be sophisticated stuff, but you can certainly get loads of laughs in a short amount of time!   However, it doesn't work in the long haul.  I'm convinced that escapism is like a gateway drug, it gets us away from depending on the Lord and puts the ball in our court to be satisfied.  And all we find are cheap two-minute youtube videos, cheap imitations of sex, and cheap virtual representations of our lives. 

Now, notice that the problem is NOT the activities.  Aside from a couple of the items listed (for instance, I just implied pornography, which certainly is sin), most of these things aren't inherently sinful.  Youtube is not inherently sin, nor are movies, TV, sports, video games, fan fiction, video games, etc.  For the most part, these things in of themselves aren't the problem! It's the motivation behind it.  In fact, they can be used to glorify God!  "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."  (I Corinthians 10:31)

So, if those things aren't necessarily sin on their own, what was wrong?  What's so bad about escaping pain anyway?  Well, that brings us back to the conversation with Joel.  As we sat at Starbucks, he asked me the question, "How can you define this biblically?"  It was a great question, and quite honestly I drew a blank.  I had been using the term escapism all this time, and the only time I could actually think about how escaping was used in the scriptures, my mind went directly to David escaping from his enemies in I Samuel, and that was clearly not a problem in God's sight.  However, as we continued to think about scriptures, we realized the root of the problem.  "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."  (Romans 1:18-23)

To put it in our context, it means this:
- We escape the truth of our sin, life's brokenness, and our deep need for a savior by suppressing the truth that we actually need Jesus to redeem us and make us new.  (v. 18)
- We suppress the truth despite the fact that we know it fully, because God made it very clear to us since the creation of the world (vs. 19-20)
- We actively choose to not honor God or give thanks to Him in the midst of our circumstances (v. 21)
- We easily settle for far less (vs. 22-23)

To wrap up what this means for us, essentially it means that we actively sin against God when we run to other things to 'medicate' our emotional pain.  As we choose that self-medication, we actively curse God, despite the fact that we may say or think nothing of the like. I'm convicted even as I type this, because I know that I have chosen to suppress the truth even today, by daydreaming, thinking I'm awesome and that I can be a hero to others, instead of remembering that I am one of the many that needed to be rescued by Jesus, and that without Him I am nothing but a wretched sinner. 

How does the Gospel Apply? Well, if you're reading this and you realize that you're in the same boat, don't be upset that you struggle with it.  Instead, thank God, because you see your need for Him, rather than suppressing the truth!  The fact that you can even consider Jesus in this means that God is working in your life to bring about restoration! It also means that we are called to give up all escapes!  This doesn't mean we need to give up movie watching, TV, etc.  But it does mean we need to constantly check our hearts and their motivations.  An example of this is me checking my heart as I write this blog.  Early on in the process of this, I've noticed how much I want attention from people, and the more likes on facebook I get for the blog, the more excited I am because in my heart of hearts it makes me think I'm more awesome than I thought I was before!  I often believe that if I get a lot of hits and people following the blog, it means that I'm awesome.  But that's clearly not the case.  I'm not great, but Jesus is the Greatest.  This goes for anything else that we use.  Most things can be used to bring God glory, or used as an attempt to suppress the truth.  What's your motivation?  Is it Christ?  Or are you escaping?