Stressed by all the approaching due dates of his college classes, Johnny comes home wanting only to escape into his video-game adventures for a while. Molly’s mind swirls from all the drama of her high school relationships and yearns again to lose herself in a fantasy novel. Mother, her mind filled with chores, errands, and concerns about the children, cannot wait to take a break and scroll through the newsfeed on her phone or tablet. Dad, troubled by problems at work and controversy at church, just wants to drown out his thoughts with something on the HD big screen and surround-sound system. Each of them tries hard to block out the matters of the day and the incidents of the week.
As our society multiplies its forms of sensory stimulating entertainment, our minds are drawn almost uncontrollably to a different world—one that is artificially designed to distract us. It is a realm of diversion. It is a domain where we can escape deep and serious thinking and engage in the pleasure of amusement.
The word “amuse” means just that. “Muse” means to meditate or think deeply, and the “a” in “amuse” means “not.” Amusement is non-thinking—that is, not thinking about what is significant.
Escape from reality into this sphere of amusement takes place in a wide variety of ways, but video games immediately come to mind. With phones, tablets, PC’s, consoles, and other devices, there is a euphoric element of control. Young and old—male and female—fill up their lives with gaming. Using their fingers, they control their contrived characters in sporting events, wild adventures, and many other fantastical challenges. No doubt, there is skill involved; there is critical thinking and hand-eye coordination. But it all takes place in a fake world.
By musing upon today’s amusement, one can easily recognize the diverse ways we attempt to zone out of real life. Many truly lose themselves in any new world created by high-definition audio and visual technology. Our minds love to be carried along by the special effects on the screen, big or small. Although we often deny it, we become vicarious participants of a different realm. Caught up in a sporting event, we envision ourselves performing that last great play. Watching a scene of sin, we take on the thoughts and feelings to “have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32). Celebrating with the hero of a show, we experience the thrill of their victory. Sucked into a fascinating theory of conspiracy, we fill our minds with suspicions and what might be true. Scrolling through social media feeds, we lose ourselves in the lives of others (or in the lives that they claim to live). How often do we plug into a drastically different domain just to drown out the sights and sounds of our own?
Although the technological mode of escape is most prevailing, some still find the doorway to this world of amusement through the reading of fictional books. Within these books and lengthy series of books, one is able to fly through fairy or sci-fi kingdoms, enjoying the exhilarating disengagement from reality. After all, riding on dragons and battling wicked wizards are much more interesting activities than chores and the mundane matters of a weekday, right? Although less stimulating to the senses than digital technology, novels are also amusing means of escape from the real world.
So is such amusement sinful of itself? Some may say so; others may disdain it as foolish frivolity. Yet Scripture does not speak of entertainment as evil of itself. While there are numerous kinds of amusements that are inherently evil, diversions as reprieve from the difficult realities of life are not necessarily sin. God gives us times of leisure. His gifts to us on this earth include playing games (yes, I grudgingly admit, even video games), watching something entertaining on a screen, and reading fictional stories. Applicable are Paul’s words: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (I Tim. 4:4).
In measure, our minds may engage upon the imaginary. In measure, we may receive this pleasure. And yet how challenging it is to practice self-control. Amused by the titillations of a digital get-away, too many minds become obsessed with fantasy rather than reality. Devices seem to be controlling rather than being controlled. Minds, either bored with the ordinary or pained by the trials of real life, crave more and more the numbing stimulations of mental images from a fake world. But God has called us to live in this world, not an imaginary one. “Whatsoever things are true,” He says, “…think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). He has given us “the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16), not to fill with the trivial but to dwell on the spiritual. Engaged with reality, the mind is supposed to be “understanding the times” (I Cor. 12:32), “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:18).
Frequent escapes to amusement hinders the mind from pondering the realities of this life and of the life to come. It may feel stimulated, but the mind does not mature spiritually. It is not exercised unto godliness. It does not acquire the discipline of meditation upon God’s Word day and night. It does not learn the lessons it is supposed to learn from the difficult experiences of life. Careful thought on the doctrines of God’s Word and its applications to daily life are neglected, and honest self-examination rarely happens.
Although there are many explanations for spiritual immaturity in the church today, young people and their parents need to consider seriously whether too much amusement is the problem. Are we amusing ourselves to death?1 Are grown men lacking in maturity because they have been too busy thinking about their games? Is the next generation unable to partake in meaningful conversation and real-life relationships because their minds are engaged with fake people in a fantasy world? Is there an increase in selfish manipulation and control because that’s what man-made worlds are made of? Is the mind desensitized to (and even mesmerized by) violence, illicit sex, and black magic within these amusing realms? How much virtual reality is the next generation actually believing to be reality?
While these questions should and must be considered, the most critical question is this: What should we turn to for true escape as we deal with the difficult realities of life? The escape of amusement is not the answer. True freedom from the cares of this world comes by turning to the reality of Jesus Christ in faith. Meditating on Him, the psalmist confesses, “Thy lovingkindness is better than life” (Ps. 63:3). We find rest in His promises “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (II Cor. 4:18a). Though less stimulating to our senses and more difficult for our flesh to realize, our Savior alone provides true and lasting pleasure. As the mind meditates upon Him in His Word, there is true escape. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Is. 26:3).
1 A phrase borrowed from a book by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.