TV: TRIVIAL VEGGING
Written by Doug Ponder on January 13, 2017
The Boob Tube
In the early days of its life, TV was known as the “boob tube.” This had nothing to do with what television showed (nudity was unthinkable territory in those days) and everything to do with what television did. Too much TV turned you into a boob of the old-school variety: a fool, a dunce, an idiot, an imbecile.
“All things in moderation,” we demur, as we get on with our immoderate amounts of viewing. Even in the age of the Internet, the typical American still watches an average of 5 hours of TV per day—which is really hard to do Monday through Friday, so we must be making up for it on the weekends.
That works out to an average of 35 hours of TV per week—almost a full time job. And this doesn’t include how many hours we spend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. That’s a lot of entertainment!
Addicted to Amusement
Most of us already know about how much TV we watch. We don’t have a knowledge problem; we have an addiction problem. And it may be worse than we realize.
Hanging out with friends and there’s a lull in the conversation? How quickly we grab our phones…
Is that pile of assignments staring bleakly at you? Where’s that remote…
Is your professor uninteresting? Just log onto Facebook…
Are you bored and have “nothing to do”? I heard there’s a new show on Netflix this month…
When entertainment becomes your means of escape from virtually any inconvenience in life, it has moved from harmless amusement to harmful addiction. It is our “drug of choice” when we want to drown our guilt over sin, tune out the “still small voice” of God, forget the friction in our relationships, or escape (for a moment) from the anxiety of work.
To be sure, entertainment as a category is not the problem. The capacity for pleasure is part of the wonder of God’s world and the need for leisure is part of the way God has made us. To speak plainly, the TV isn’t the issue—we are. Our theological view of TV is fine; our viewing habits are anything but.
One Slave’s Story
The never-ending “need” for entertainment is a form of self-enslavement. I’m speaking from experience. In college I played more than 60 hours of video games per week, in addition to watching TV shows and movies with friends. I nearly failed out of school one semester. I gained more than 50 pounds. I lost contact with several friends.
And I was deeply, deeply unhappy.
I was restless in spite of all my leisurely activities. The difficulties of life I tried to dodge were still waiting for me when the screen turned off. I only felt momentary relief while I was engaged in these entertaining distractions—but I knew nothing of the joy that lasts through sorrow and pain.
Entertainment had over-promised and under-delivered. It beckoned me with its offers of “fun” and relaxation, but it never gave me rest or joy or peace.
Freedom from TV: Trivial Vegging
In truth, I think that entertainment can only be pursued rightly by those who already have joy and peace because they know the Source of joy and peace himself. He breaks the enslaving power of our addiction to entertainment with several key ingredients. (Note: They are “ingredients” and not “steps” because, like a cake, they all need to be present for the finished product to turn out alright.)
The first ingredient is admitting you have a problem. You’ll never seek help if you don’t think you need it. TV, videogames, social media—these truly are all fine in moderation. But are you really using them in moderation? If not, confession is first ingredient for freedom.
The second ingredient is remembering that God is the ultimate source of gratification. “At his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). He is not trying to kill your joy; he is trying to fulfill it (John 15:11). So when this God calls us to trust him, obey him, and die daily to ourselves, he is not ruining our lives—he is saving them.
The third ingredient is taking time to immerse yourselves in the Scriptures even when you don’t feel like it. How else can you learn to trust God, obey God, or live for God if you do not know who he is, what he has done for you in Christ, or how he asks you to live in return?
The fourth ingredient is belonging to a church that preaches the gospel and shows how it’s the key to change. For Jesus is Lord, and his saving rule extends over every aspect of our lives. There is no stone left unturned, no practice left untouched. The gospel changes everything.
The final ingredient is to think more often about your death. As pastor John Piper often says, “You have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.” Remembering all that shouldn’t cut out TV entirely, but it should absolutely cut back our trivial vegging! Remembering the brevity of life and the gravity of eternity has a way of setting us free from the tyranny of the moment by pointing us to the reality of the future. For no one will say on their deathbed, “I wish that I’d watched a little more Netflix.”
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.