It’s been several years, but I remember a youth minister informing to me that he and his wife weren’t going to watch anything other than PG-13 movies. He said that way he could tell young people not to watch R-rated movies and be consistent. I told him I appreciated his concern for both himself and our young people. Our daughter was in the youth group and it meant a lot to me that he was so conscientious.
I then mentioned that I had seen some PG-13 movies that were trashy—there really wasn’t anything redeeming about them. They were gratuitous and exploitive. I also said that there were some R-rated movies (I think The Passion of the Christ was popular then), that although they contained mature content—they had overarching messages which were powerful and important. It was much like the Bible. If you had to give it an overall rating I don’t see how you could avoid giving it an R—there are numerous occurrences of sexuality, violence, and other adult content. But everything in the Scripture is instructive and purposeful, never gratuitous. It seemed that the challenge was to not to base your judgment on content alone but also on the overarching message the content is used to promote. This is an instance when the end can justify the means.
The young man said that all of this seemed like a lot of trouble—wasn’t it easier to just go by the rating system? Lots of people do this of course, but in the end, they’re just letting someone else do their thinking for them. They’re accepting someone else’s label. Texts like Philippians 4:8ff encourage us to construct our own filter according to the principles of Scripture rather than borrow someone else’s and yes, it is more difficult to apply a principle than follow a rule.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law lived in a PG-13 bubble. They thought the holiness of God meant that God couldn’t associate with anything unholy. And since God couldn’t, neither should they. So they existed in their little bubble and made sure it didn’t come into contact with anything that could contaminate it or even worse, burst it. Protecting the bubble became one of their major occupations. When Jesus and His disciples attended a party where there were tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:27ff), they were unable to reconcile this with their concept of God. How could Jesus associate with such people—much less be friends with them (7:34)?
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were perfectly willing to let anyone inside their bubble—as long as they met their standards. “Clean up your act and we’ll let you inside our bubble. Otherwise, we can’t have anything to do with you.” Jesus saw it much differently. He viewed Himself as a physician whose job it was to take care of all who were sick. He was the original doctor without borders. In contrast to His contemporaries, He befriended people and out of that relationship called people to repentance.
In a world full of tables, salt does little good if it can only be found at a few. In a world of darkness, light helps little if it shines in just one spot and makes no effort to penetrate into the cracks and crevices. Disciples are called to be a redemptive presence in the world—not by wearing a Hazmat suit around people, but loving them wherever they are.