I couldn’t track him down for permission to use his real name, so I’ll call him Dan. Dan is a superb Christian pianist, and one day, as he played the final chord of a worship service postlude, I strolled up to the piano and said, “Sounds good!”
He grinned and played the chord again. “Hear that? That’s the devil’s chord.”
“What’re you talking about?”
“The major seventh,” he chuckled. “I had a music teacher tell me it’s evil.”
“I guess it’s because it’s been used in a lot of jazzy dance music,” he said.
By the way, if you want to hear a major seventh chord and have a piano keyboard nearby, play C, E, G, and B at the same time. Or you can go to Wikipedia, type “major seventh chord,” and click a link to hear it. And further down in that article, you’ll read how, sure enough, that chord has been used in jazz since the 1920s.
That is probably why Dan’s Christian music teacher was spooked. Maybe he thought too many major seventh chords would stir up all sorts of scandalous Roaring Twenties emotions within impressionable youth and suck them down to perdition.
Some Christians have been similarly worried about the standard deck of 52 playing cards. After all, they’re used for gambling, and addicted players have emptied their life savings and impoverished their families while hoping for an ever-elusive streak of good luck. But such Christians have no problem playing Rook, which was specifically created for Christians and other folks sensitive to the symbolism of the 52. Rook cards have colors rather than diamonds, spades, hearts, and clubs but work fine for most regular card games.
Movies and drama have been similarly taboo because of sinful associations. So have pool and other games played in the back rooms of taverns. In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill alarms an Iowa town (and enhances his nefarious schemes) by singing about “trouble with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for pool.”
But what about Music Man itself? It’s a movie, and before that, it was a Broadway musical. Is it bad or good? And what about rock music? I’m betraying my era here, but the Beatles swept through America when I was a teenager, and a lot of Christian parents warned their kids about this satanic music. To most people today, their earlier songs sound mellow and innocent.
is this a problem?
Should entertainment and amusement really matter to Christians? Absolutely, they should! The Bible famously insists, “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” (Philippians 4:8). The Bible also reminds us to guard our minds because “the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Jesus urged us to watch where our eyes wander. He said, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matthew 5:28, 29). The gouging-out-your-eye part is figurative, of course. Nobody in the book of Acts ever did this. But everybody got the point of how serious Jesus was about lusting with your eyes. And lusting with your eyes is what movies help us do—not to mention porn magazines and videos and strip clubs.
And there are other lusts as well. Read through the Bible’s dire laundry list of last-day evils: “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1–4).
Seen any action movies lately? Played any action video games? A favorite theme is revenge. If you harm my family or my friends, I’m coming for you. Most kinds of novels and movies regularly involve adultery and fornication. Horror films feature brutality. All of this is tasty “meat” to people who are becoming “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
So what’s the solution? Is there anything we can do to defend ourselves and our families from these influences?
Thoughtful Christians long ago discovered that banning and prohibiting entertainments and amusements simply drive a curious youngster underground. There’s got to be a better way. I believe there is. Here are some thoughts.
tour the two Edens
The Bible talks about two Edens: one at the beginning of Earth’s history and the other at the end. They’re like bookends to the earth saga, and between them are crammed many damaged volumes—the years of sin and sorrow our choices have created. And these volumes contain our sin-tainted efforts to amuse ourselves.
God created the first Eden, and He will finally re-create “a new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). Everything in the new Eden will be as flawless as the first. In Genesis 1, God Himself called what He created “good” and “very good.” This means that both Edens have been perfectly designed for our greatest joy.
Do these Edens have entertainment and amusement? Of course. The God who gave us a sense of humor gives us wholesome things to laugh at. I love watching funny baby and funny animal YouTube videos. When my wife, Shelley, and I walk a trail near our home, we often meet a dog who promptly lies down when he sees us. His owner says that he does this because he knows people will want to stop and pet him.
We love to watch bees at work among flowers, red squirrels watching us solemnly while they eat nuts, hummingbirds darting to a favorite perch, or two deer grazing in a forest. Adam and Eve must have chortled with glee over the antics of kittens and puppies and monkeys and flamingos. The edginess of stand-up comics and sitcoms doesn’t even come close to providing this kind of happiness.
And according to the last couple of chapters of Revelation, the second Eden will have pretty much the same joys as the first Eden—the tree of life with 12 kinds of fruit, a crystal river, an eternal, sinless culture filled with incredible opportunities for fulfillment.
But we’re not there yet. How can we curate the best possible entertainment and amusement right here while we’re waiting? Here are some ideas:
Glance into Eden for a moment. Watch Adam and Eve. The baby calf who’s been sucking on Eve’s fingers has frisked away across the meadow to its mom. The parrot, who has learned a couple of human words from Adam but has adorably garbled them, has flapped to a nearby stream for a drink of water. Even though an angel choir stopped by last week to let the human pair listen to them rehearse, they’ve gone away to other duties. And since there’s no “replay” button, Adam and Eve must be content to treasure the memories of their melodies until the next live concert.
No binge-watching or binge-listening in Eden, right? Just an ever-changing reality, with a balanced yet unpredictable series of amusements, which are far more satisfying than mere recordings.
Jonathan Haidt, a New York University professor, is a mild-mannered, fatherly man. But he is an implacable enemy of social media. According to him, social media platforms “are not connecting us. They’re bringing us into the coliseum so we can fight and broadcast and preen and dance around so that the people in the audience have something to look at. It’s a sick game.”1 (Learn more about Haidt on his website at https://jonathanhaidt.com/socialmedia/.)
Sure, the internet has saved our necks, especially during the pandemic. I’ve been so grateful to gather with other people on Zoom, Google Meet, and other platforms. But Adam and Eve were forced—or shall we say privileged—to live locally. They weren’t able, and didn’t need, to know what was happening beyond their eyesight and out of earshot. That’s how eternity-bound people live.
no paranoia, please
No, as Dan discovered, the major seventh chord isn’t demonic. It’s just a chord. The fact that it was connected with jazz for a while doesn’t make it permanently evil. It’s been used in many other styles of music, even classical pieces (pull up Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies on YouTube, for example). Decks of 52 cards aren’t inherently evil, though many people have used them that way. Movies, DVDs, and streaming services aren’t bad by themselves, though many contain evil.
Rock music isn’t all evil. I learned this in 1992 on a two-week visit to Russia. My hotel room had a tabletop TV with push buttons below the screen. You pushed a button; you got a new channel. I don’t speak Russian, so none of the channels gave me any entertainment—except the music channel. Remember MTV? This channel seemed to be a British version of that rock music channel, and since the songs were in English, I settled down to watch.
What I saw fascinated me. Some of the songs were evil, such as the one where four men gyrated as they sang explicit sexual lyrics. But in another song, a thoughtful soloist sang his hopes that humanity would take greater care of trees and the rest of the natural world. Another song was humorous but otherwise harmless, as far as I could tell.
However, there’s one more important thing to remember about how Christians should choose their entertainment and amusement. This is key.
Do you often feel a bit awkward around people who don’t believe in God? That’s perfectly natural. Embrace this strangeness. Jesus did and warned His disciples, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19).
Not a pleasant thought, right? But it started in Genesis 3 when Lucifer—speaking ventriloquially through a snake—started driving a wedge between Eve and the Everlasting. Any person in the Bible we name our kids after, from Adam to Abel, Noah to Abraham, Samuel to Joshua, Daniel to Mary, and beyond, was an “outsider.” So we need to get used to that and treasure it.
And we need to remember it as we choose our entertainment.
Maylan Schurch is a pastor in Washington State and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.