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“Horrors of a Hardened Heart”

Oct.21, 2012 Eph.4:17-24 (various)


In their cosy apartment, Dan and Fran have just finished supper. Dan gets an inspiration. “Hey, wanna go see a movie? We’ve haven’t been to an actual theatre for quite a while.” “That sounds like a nice idea, honey – I like the smell of hot popcorn and your arm around me. Smell of the popcorn, that is! What’s on this week?” “I’ll check the website. Let’s see – biggest thing at the box office right now is Paranormal Activity 4; wonder what that’s about. Says it grossed $29M in its first weekend! Must be pretty popular.” “I don’t know if I like the sounds of that – did you hear anything about numbers 1 2 or 3?” “Hmm, it’s listed as a ‘horror’ genre... Probably something to do with Halloween coming up.There’s another ‘horror’ one hear in the Top Ten, Sinister - grossed $32M in just 2 weekends! Wonder what everybody likes about them?” “What if you checked them out on pluggedin.com Honey?”
    “Let’s see...The first one seems to be about a teenage girl and this strange 6-year-old boy from across the street who has an imaginary friend and draws occult symbols on her little brother. There’s a coven of witches, a murderous demon, and a possessed woman who’s out to kill.
    “Or there’s the other one, Sinister. In it a writer discovers home movie tapes of families being murdered in grisly fashion. Here’s a quote: ‘A young girl approaches her bound family members with a large ax in her hand before the scene cuts to a hallway covered in blood spray and gore splatter. We then see the girl, with bloody hands and face, drawing a picture of people who have been chopped into chunks.’”
    “Yuk! That gives me the creeps. I wonder why so many people PAY to go see such things. Sure not very romantic. Isn’t there something more classic on?”
    “I’ll have another look, Sweetie. Say, here’s a one-night special - double feature of both Frankenstein and Dracula from 1931. Should be more our style – and look, it’s just a PG rating!”

    What’s a Christian to do when it comes to horror movies? If “everybody else” is going to see them, does that mean we should, too? Are they all right in small doses – as long as you don’t lose too many nights’ sleep thereafter, and don’t jump 2 feet in the air every time something in your house goes “bump”?
    And, what are these movies doing to our culture? Focus on the Family writer Subby Sztersky comments on the aforementioned ‘classic’ double-feature, “artistic styles change from generation to generation, as do the sensibilities of the movie-going public. What was once shocking is now considered tame. Films once seen as nuanced and truly frightening are now viewed as quaintly theatrical and melodramatic...For today’s kids, Lugosi’s Dracula may not be that much scarier than The Count on Sesame Street. And yet, there’s sadly something more at play here than merely shifting aesthetic standards. There’s also a callousing of the moral senses on a societal scale, a hardening of the cultural heart. Classic movie monsters are unlikely to shock or frighten anyone these days. Consequently, contemporary horror movies ratchet up the terror with tales of serial killers and demon possession, liberally swathed in CGI blood and gore. And for many moviegoers, even that’s becoming something of a vicarious thrill, sort of like the rush of riding a really scary rollercoaster.”
    What’s the Bible have to say about horror movies? Directly - nothing, as they weren’t even invented back then. But INDIRECTLY God’s Word suggests much about how such things could impact our heart, our core, the “home of the personal life.”


Any personal decision we make is not just private, but made in full view of the Lord God our Creator, Redeemer, and ultimate Judge. The Bible is clear that the infinite, eternal God knows and is very much concerned about our heart, what’s going on inside us at the deepest levels. Prov 17(3) the Lord tests the heart; 1Chron 29(17) God tests the heart and is pleased with integrity. Ps 7(9) God searches the minds and hearts; Jer 17(10),  “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” 1Sam 16(7), the Lord looks at the heart; Prov 21(2) the Lord weighs the heart; Jer 20(12),  “O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind...” 1Kings 8(39),  “You alone know the hearts of all men...” So in the New Testament Paul can write to the Thessalonians (1Thess 2.4),  “We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.”
    So the Bible takes what happens in this most intimate part of our being with utmost seriousness. What takes root in our heart ultimately affects our whole existence and our eternal destiny. Prov 4.23,  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  NRSV: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” NASB: “Watch over your heart with all diligence...”


So, when the Lord searches or tests or examines or probes our heart, what’s He see? What’s He looking for? One aspect that keeps coming up repeatedly in Scripture is PURITY of heart. Un-pollutedness if you will, being singularly and totally for Him, clean, unadulterated, unmuddied. Jesus put it very simply and perhaps most memorably in the Beatitudes:  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt 5:8) Perhaps by way of elaboration, later in Mt 15(18-20) He spoke about how much that’s forbidden in the Ten Commandments has its origin in an unclean heart:  “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’...” (How do our modern movies rate even against that short checklist?)
    The Psalmist prayed (51:10), “Create in me a pure heart...” Ps 73(1)  “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” James (4:8) urged, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Paul reminded Timothy (1Tim 1:5),  “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” His prayer for the Thessalonians (1Thess 3:13) was,  “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” Purity, blamelessness, holiness at our core – ever remembering the imminent return of our Saviour and righteous Judge.
    Poet John Keble wrote: “Still to the lowly soul / He doth Himself impart / And for His cradle and His throne / Chooseth the pure in heart.”


Alas, that’s not where we start. Since the disastrous choice of Adam and Eve we have been born inclined to make sinful choices; our heart’s desires have been impure from the get-go. By pursuing and worshiping what’s NOT God, we reject Him, despise Him instead of honouring and glorifying Him. Thus sinning, our heart develops a sort of callous or hardening, like the skin hardens into a callous on your fingertips (especially if you play guitar!) or soles of your feet when exposed to constant wear.
    The apostle Paul writes very bluntly of this in our main Scripture passage today, Ephesians 4:17-19:  “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, [hear the repetition for emphasis there] that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility [vainness, emptiness] of their thinking.They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of [Gk: dia - on account of] the ignorance that is in them due to [Gk: dia - on account of] the hardening of their hearts.Having lost all sensitivity, [being past feeling, callous, insensible to pain, apathetic] they have given themselves over to sensuality [unbridled lust] so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more [NRSV greedy to practice every kind of impurity].”
    Conjunctions are important; I emphasize the “dias” there because they help determine the flow of things, cause-and-effect. Follow Paul’s train of thought: hardness of heart results in ignorance which results in separation from the life of God, darkened understanding, loss of sensitivity, then consigning oneself or giving oneself over to sensuality / stimulus / unbridled desires and lust, which compels them to increasing degrees of impurity, insatiable lust for more. “This life’s all there is, so I want the biggest thrill possible ‘cuz you ‘only go around once’!” And lo and behold, Hollywood comes to our rescue, inviting us to step into their environmentally-controlled black box while they serve up a sight and sound extravaganza that will thrill our senses - a virtual roller-coaster that surges to sexual stimulus and plunges to the depths of fear and terror. Then at the end we stumble out of the theatre back into the real world exclaiming, “My! Wasn’t that something!” Meanwhile, our heart’s been gobbling up all sorts of impurity that leaves it even more hardened to things that ought to catch our notice and arouse our caring and compassion. Our idols become this plane’s “stars” rather than the famous ones of heaven.
    God’s intention for people though is not to have hardened hearts but circumcised hearts - with that callous cut away. Moses said back in Deut 30(6),  “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that [notice the conjunction again] you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Cutting away the callous makes heightened relationship possible. Paul wrote in Rom 2(29) that circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit. God prophesied through Ezekiel using a little different terminology:  “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Eze 11:19) Stoniness, hardness of heart.
    What made Jesus most upset in His ministry? In Mark 3(5) we find,  “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man...” Stubborn (literally hard) hearts made Jesus angry, deeply distressed. The term for “hardening” is late medical term used by some little-known feller named Hippocrates for callous hardening. God gets upset when our hearts are stubborn, hardened, resisting Him; we need His “circumcision”, taking that away in spiritual surgery.
    This circumcising away the hard callous involves dramatic inward change. It’s not something we can do on our own, we need God’s help. A sinner who was wondering whether to receive Christ or not said, “Oh, how many things I would have to give up! So many things I do now I would no longer be able to do.” “Don’t be afraid,” an experienced Christian told him. “Even now aren’t there things you can’t do? For instance, can you eat dirt?” “No, of course not,” was the reply. “I don’t even want to eat dirt.” His friend said, “This is exactly what will happen when Christ begins His life in you; the sin that you now desire you will not want at all.”


Once the inner heart-change takes place, it does issue in different behaviour. When we’re deriving deepest satisfaction from loving God (which is the most intimate and fulfilling relationship our heart was custom-fashioned for), the passing deceptive and dangerous thrills of this world will lose their enchantment, and we’ll start to see how fleeting they are and how devastating their long-term consequences. We’d rather have the LIGHT inside us God intended rather than darkness.
    Sinful desires cut us off from that life- and light-giving relationship: Ps 66(18),  “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened...” Prov 11(20)  “The LORD detests men of perverse heart but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” That separation from God results in empty thinking and darkening of our inner being. Rom 1(21)  “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
    Jesus makes another option possible: cleansed heart directing our eyes to what brightens us on the inside rather than darkens. In the Sermon on the Mount He declared,  “The eye is the lamp of the body.If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Mt 6:22f)
    What we choose to watch – what we take in through our ‘eye-gate’ – affects what our spiritual condition will be on the inside. Are you being selective? Are you choosing to give your time and attention and recall to what edifies, inspires, illuminates your life – or to things that reflect the enemy whose aim is to “steal, kill, and destroy” (Jn 10:10)? Jesus came that you might have life abundant, life “to the full”. In Luke’s version of the eye-gate passage, Jesus concludes,  “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.” (Lu 11:35f)
    Paul’s admonition in Php 4:8 is a good test for whatever we may happen to be watching / reading / browsing / thinking about:  “Finally, brothers, 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.” (Php 4:8) Let that be your ‘filter’ as you do your homework BEFORE going to the theatre, weeding out the undesirables you really DON’T want to let invade your consciousness.


What we watch does affect us. It can harden our hearts OR it can motivate us to love better, stand taller against injustice, fight more fervently on behalf of the downcast. We have enough decades behind us now in the movie trade that we can see how culture’s standards have shifted in less than a century.
    Dr.Ted Baehr is one very media-savvy Christian who works at movieguide.com. In an interview he noted, “We need
to go back to the moral basics and re-inculcate sense and sensibility in our children and our society.We need to move away from this flood of tasteless neo-paganism.The parents, the schools and the churches must confront this collapse of our culture, but they are not dealing with it...Parents need to assume responsibility.After all, the evidence of where our media was taking us is seen in the Columbine killings.There is a collapse of culture, taste and morals. That doesn’t mean we need a return to neo-Victorianism...I would appeal to parents to take serious interest in what their children are seeing and to understand that their only hope is returning to the moral virtues set forth in God’s word written, the Bible. In spite of the fact that the mass media of entertainment shuns responsibility and rails anger against morality and decency, true wisdom is understanding the nature of God and the truth of His commandments.” (http://www.jashow.org/Articles/_PDFArchives/media-wise/MW2W1099.pdf)
    What we see does affect us, sometimes permanently and devastatingly. Dr.Baer recalls a jury in England that convicted three British teenagers of torturing a 15-year-old to death. The boys acted out a torture scene from the violent thriller RESERVOIR DOGS, where an evil criminal "has fun" biting off his victim’s ear while beating him. In the incident, the boys cut off their victim’s ear before beating, stamping, punching, kicking, and stabbing him to death. David Alton, a prominent British campaigner against screen violence, urged that the rules on selling or renting violent movies to children ought to be overhauled, adding: “These boys should never have seen this film in the first place.” (http://www.jashow.org/Articles/media-wise/MW0801W1.htm)
    I close with an apt challenge from the website GotQuestions.org; in an article, Should a Christian watch scary movies/horror movies?, they argued: “If something would offend Jesus Christ, it should offend His children in whom His Holy Spirit resides...How can it be possible to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5) when we are at a horror movie laden with murder and mayhem and, essentially, being entertained by the very sins that Jesus Christ died for?” (http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-horror-movies.html)
Let’s pray.