Question:

What does Scripture teach about playing video games, especially video games that have violent, adult, and other content that is sinful? For example, how should a Christian handle playing a video game such as Grand Theft Auto where the games glorifies obscenities and murder among many other sinful activities? Or what about a military type video game where violence is glorified in a war context? Is it wrong according to God's will and Word if we play these video games?

Answer:

Let me clarify and state that whether we are talking about a video game with profanity, sexual situations, sinful role playing or a movie that contains the same, or television show, or music, or a book, the answer remains the same.

Jesus taught, "The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light" (Luke 11:34-36). In other words, where you look, what you focus upon, influences what you do. A person who looks at pornography has less resistance to committing a sexual sin than a person who does not look at pornography. A person who hears profanity a lot will then to use profanity, especially when he isn't thinking carefully.

In the computer business, we had a phrase "garbage in, garbage out" to state that the quality of information you got out of a computer is only equal to what you put into it. The same is true of the human mind. If you fill your mind with garbage, it is bound to come out. That is why you see studies which note that people who watch a lot of violence tend to be more violent.

What we do starts first with what we think about. "And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man."" (Mark 7:20-23). Since you can't play a video game, watch a show, listen to music, or read a book without thinking about its content, it is clear that the content is going to influence the way you behave.

"Don't be deceived! "Evil companionships corrupt good morals"" (I Corinthians 15:33). Knowing the strength of the influence friends exert over our behavior, we must also be careful about the other things we hang out with in our lives. Therefore, when I select a book, I avoid books that contain profanity or which glorifies sex outside of marriage. I've just about given up watching television because the extreme prevalence of profanity, skimpy clothing, and one night stands -- and that doesn't consider the commercials being shown! The same standard should be applied to video games. If what is being depicted is sinful, then Christians shouldn't be playing them. Why should I put myself in a role of doing what I cannot morally do in real life?

I am still a bit confused on some matters such as playing or watching specific forms of entertainment. I'm sure you are very familiar with these excuses, but some people like to claim that they are unaffected by violent video games or movies. For example, there are some that play extremely violent games, yet they don't act out their violence. How would you respond biblically to these claims?

Also in relation to Mark 7, would simply thinking about such sinful content while playing a video game or watching a film be sinful? For example, what if a person is watching a film about gangs, and they show gangs committing murder and having sinful sexual relations. If the person simply saw the film and thought about those sinful things happening as they were shown on the screen, but never dwell on them to gratify themselves in any way or form, would that constitute sin? Or what if there was only one illicit sexual scene in one movie, but the rest was not focused on that, would that qualify as not appropriate for a Christian to involve himself in?

One more thing, I heard somewhere that the early Christians refused to involve themselves in Roman entertainment. Do you know anything about that?

Just because a person makes a claim, it doesn't necessarily follow that their claim in true. The problem when dealing with sin is realizing that it is deceptive. "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:13). A person can be fully convinced that they aren't being influenced, but they haven't been tested so how would they know? For example, I know Christians who don't use profanity in church and who claim to be able to go movies with profanity without being effected, yet I also know that when they get angry all sorts of profanity pours from their mouth. Somehow they have convinced themselves that they have no problem with profanity.

I've also have Christians recommend movies to me, we rented them and had to turn them off within minutes because there was too much profanity. When asked how I liked the movie, I mentioned that we didn't watch it because of the bad language. What saddens me is the typical response: "I didn't notice!" That is the problem. We get so numb to sin that we don't even see it when it is in front of us. "But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). These Christians are unable to see the difference anymore.

One of the problems with many movies is that evil is not always portrayed as evil. The hero jumps into bed with the heroine to show that they love each other, and this is supposed to be a good thing. I talk to so many young people who are now convinced that this is the way it is supposed to work. I just had a young man tell me last month that I didn't understand. Sexual talk (phone sex) is how people express their love these days. He refused to see that Satan was playing him for a fool.

There is an old cliche that if you say something often enough, people believe it. It certainly is true with most movies. "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron" (I Timothy 4:1-2). While they might not have gone so far in their sins, it is still a problem that they are becoming numb to the existence of sin.

Video games can take this a step further. You are no longer a passive watcher but an active participant. True, it is all imaginative, but think of what it is doing to your thoughts and your natural response to evil.

"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1).

Yet instead of seeking a separation from sinful ideas, we welcome them in because they are called "entertaining." One of the things my own family has done is to get a TV Guardian. It reads the closed caption on movies and TV shows. If it sees inappropriate language, it kills the sound and displays an edited closed caption statement on the screen. We also have a ClearPlay DVD player. It takes things further by using an editing script to remove bad language and inappropriate scenes from movies. We rarely watch any way, but these tools makes life much easier. Now we can see a movie without be subjected to things we object to as Christians.

"I have hated the assembly of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked. I will wash my hands in innocence; so I will go about Your altar, O LORD that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Your wondrous works" (Psalm 26:5-7).

Take note of the following passage where Peter urges Christians to gird up the loins of the mind.

"Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy"" (I Peter 1:13-16).

In the old days people wore robes, which made running hard. So when activity was needed they would pull up the back of their robes through their legs and tuck them through the front of their belts. The result looked something like long shorts. Then they were ready to work or run. Peter is telling Christians to get their minds ready to be holy. It is not just what you do but also preparing what you think. Flirting with the edges of inappropriate thoughts is not the way to get prepared for proper thought.

In regards to how early Christians thought about secular entertainment, here are some quotes. These aren't inspired writings, but it gives you some ideas what other Christians thought a long time ago.

Taitain, who wrote about 160 A.D., satirically said to pagans, "They utter ribaldry in pretentious tones, and they act out indecent movements. Your daughters and your sons watch them giving lessons in adultery on the stage. ... Admirable, too, are your lying poets, who beguile their listeners from the truth through their fictions! ... And the boxers meet in single combat, for no reason whatever. ... Are such exhibitions to your credit? He who is chief among you collects a legion of blood-stained murderers [i.e. gladiators], engaging to maintain them. ... And he who misses the murderous exhibition is grieved,for he was not doomed to be a spectator of wicked, impious, and abominable deeds!"

Theophilus, writing about 180 A.D., said, "Neither may we watch the other spectacles [i.e. stage plays], lest our eyes and ears be defiled by participating in the utterances that are sung there. For if one should speak of cannibalism, in these spectacles the children of Thyestes and Tereus are eaten. And as for adultery, both in the case of men and of gods, whom they celebrate in elegant language for honors and prizes, this is made the subject of their dramas."

Clement of Alexandria, writing about 195 A.D. said, "The Instructor will not, then, bring us to public spectacles. Not inappropriately, one might call the racecourse and the theater "the seat of plagues." ... Let spectacles, therefore, and plays that are full of indecent language and abundant gossip, be forbidden. For what base action is there that is not exhibited in the theaters?"

What would you say to somebody that brings up the excuse that even though video games may contain sinful content, that the world we walk through contains the same or similar content, so as to excuse themselves to be able to play the games? For example, when you are out in public, people use profanity and discuss sexual content a lot, especially on college campuses, and often times it's hard to avoid at least hearing people randomly talk about these things.

Also what do you have to say about the news we watch that contains similar themes and sometimes similar content?

You are discussing the difference between stumbling across sin and purposely seeking it out. It is true that we must live in a world that follows Satan's lead. "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world" (I Corinthians 5:9-10). We can't avoid the fact that we must deal with sinful people. However, we can draw a line about whether we make sinful people our close associates. "But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person" (I Corinthians 5:11).

If I were to accept people who are profane, drunken, using drugs, or sexually immoral as some of my closest friends, then I would have the same problem as playing video games that promote the same things. "Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits"" (I Corinthians 15:33).

While I haven't watched a television news cast in years, I would hope that when problems are reported they are reported as problems. That is very different from a game where a sin is glorified. When people treat sins as something good, that is a different problem. "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20).

What do you think about school and certain classes that make students watch movies or research things that contain sinful elements?

Also how would I talk about these same Scriptures and views about sinful video games and entertainment with other brothers and sisters in my church?

It comes back to purpose. Is it being discussed to justify evil or to understand that evil exists and must be dealt with? The Bible contains accounts of some fairly stomach churning events. They are not there simply to cause shock or to entertain. They warn us as to how evil men can become and the necessity to fight evil. Paul stated it well when he said, "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for building up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29).

As far as telling others, you would do the same as I have done for you. As the opportunity arises, point out the appropriate passage and ask questions that will get them to think about how the Scriptures apply to what they plan to do.

Sorry for getting back to you on this so late. I had a couple discussions with two ministers in my congregation about this issue. One of them mentioned how Romans 14 relates to all of this in that one person believes something about video games, while another is offended by those games or entertainment. But I do disagree with his assessment regarding this issue, though I'd like to hear what you say about using Romans 14 in regards to worldly entertainment.

Also, I have a bunch of video games and things that are not appropriate for me, as we've concluded in this discussion. I am wondering if it's wise if I were to sell the video games, movies, etc? Would selling these things that contain sinful elements be supporting other people falling into these sinful activities, or would it be ok? Do I need to destroy and trash these things I bought?

Romans 14 only applies to issues where you and I might disagree, but where either position leaves us being right in God's sight. For example, I might have a disagreement with someone whether it is right to show naked pictures of himself to his girlfriend. This is not an issue that Romans 14 addresses because sin is involved -- sensuality (I Thessalonians 4:3-5). The key to note is: "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4) and "For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8). The basic assumption is that the people in disagreement are faithful to God.

The illustration Paul used was the eating of meats sacrificed to idols. In those days idolatry was rampant and a favored form of worship was to butcher animals. Many idol temples to fund their operations would sell the meat that they had killed to local butchers who would then sell the meat in the marketplace. Some people did not want to support idolatry even indirectly, so they chose to avoid all meats since they could not be certain about its source. Others look at it as "meat is meat. I'm buying from this butcher. I don't care what his source for the meat was." Paul states the later has a more accurate view of what God teaches, but the person who choses to be a vegitarian is not sinning by avoiding meat. It is not a sin to not eat meat.

Notice that the person who has the narrower view might have a hard time accepting that the meat eaters are not sinning. But the point is that if someone has a solid scriptural reason for what they do, even if we don't fully agree with them, we should not judge them because we would then be judging God's law. "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:11-12).

I know a lot of people have a hard time grasping this distinction. One way to look at it is to ask yourself, "If I continue to associate with this person who holds a different belief, will it impact my values?" As an example, I know people who have different ideas regarding whether the Lord's Supper can be offered twice on Sunday or not, yet both sides have concluded that what the other group believes doesn't impact their worship of God. They are able to work and worship together in harmony as a result. Yet I will not worship in a place that uses instrumental music in the worship service because that does impact what I know to be proper worship before God.

I disagree that Romans 14 would apply to video games that contain profanity, sexual themes, or sinful role-playing. The Bible is clear that Christians are not to think about such things (Ephesians 5:3-5 is one example).

In regards to disposing of your games, you need to make up you own mind and do it with confidence that it is the right thing to do. "Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:22-23). However, for your consideration, some early Christains used to practice sorcery before they learned the truth. So what did they chose to do with the books on sorcery that they still owned? "Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed" (Acts 19:19-20). No one forced these Christians to burn their books. No one raided their homes. This was something they chose to do because they realized that these books were wrong, even though they had value. It was their strength of conviction that caused the gospel to spread through their region.