The Name of God and the Movies
Even secular culture cannot help but make moral judgments. Sometimes Christians can affirm the world’s ethic and sometimes we must challenge it. Sometimes the culture gets it right and sometimes it is wrong.
One of the ways in which our society has failed drastically is in its assessment of the rightness or wrongness of taking God’s name in vain. This is clearly illustrated at the box office. Consider how many times God’s name is abused in the following popular movies.
Avengers: Infinity War – about ten times
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – sixteen times
Incredibles 2 – twice
We would all agree that taking God’s name in vain is a sin (Ex 20:7). But is it a sin to watch movies in which His name is misused? How should we think through this issue, and what should be the heart behind our decisions?
This is a conscience issue, so I cannot tell you what to do, nor may I judge you if you prayerfully adopt a standard other than my own. You answer to God, not me (Rom 14:10-13). However, we ought to educate our consciences, so to that end, I want to challenge you to grapple with the passages and principles that relate to this issue.
Here are eight reasons to reconsider watching movies in which God’s name is misused.
- Because you love and fear God and are zealous for His glory.
Our holiness must be rooted in relationship, not in rules, lest we fall into legalism (Mat 22:37-40; 1 Pet 1:14-21). Therefore, we must reverence God’s name primarily because we love and fear Him.
In the Bible, God’s name represents His character (Ex 33:19; John 17:6). Therefore, to be zealous for His name is to be zealous for His glory. God’s people know His name (Isa 52:6) and proclaim it by praising God publicly (Deut 32:3; Ps 57:9-10). They pray for His name to be hallowed (Mat 6:9) and long for the day in which every knee will bow to Jesus’ name (Philip 2:10). They lament that God’s name is blasphemed “continually every day” (Isa 52:5) and respond zealously when His name is attacked (1 Sam 17:26, 45-46).
In contrast, the wicked misuse God’s name because they don’t know Him, love Him, or respect Him (Ex 5:2; 2 Tim 2:2, 4).
The attitude that we should have toward God’s name is exemplified in many hymns. The irony is that we sing songs like “Blessed Be the Name,” “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” or “Jesus, Name Above All Names” and then watch programs that defile that very same name.
- Because the Old Testament illustrates the serious nature of blasphemy.
For instance, in Leviticus 24:10-23, a man who blasphemes God’s name while involved in a fight is taken into custody. Not wanting to be rash, the people ask God what to do. His answer? “Stone him. And the same goes for anyone else who blasphemes My name.” In Israel, blasphemy is to be considered a capital offense, and the congregation must enact this judgment.
Now, we are not Israel, nor are we under the law (Rom 6:14). That said, we must remember that the law has ongoing significance (Mat 5:17-20). Most importantly, it illustrates the character of God, including His moral demands (Lev 19:2). Therefore, the principles behind the law are applicable for all people in all places and at all times. Through the Spirit, you and I are enabled to live out God’s original plan for humanity as illustrated by the law (see Jer 31:31-34; Rom 10:4; Gal 5:22-23).
Leviticus 24:10-23 reveals that God does not take lightly the abuse of His name. As Christians, we are not necessarily surprised to learn that idolatry, murder, or even adultery was punishable by death under the law. We should think hard about the fact that blasphemy was to be treated the same way.
- Because when it comes to movies, you can no longer claim ignorance: a 3-minute web search will reveal exactly what is said in that movie.
You can find specific information about objectionable elements in each movie via IMBD’s parent guide or Focus on the Family’s pluggedin.com.
- Because you probably would not consider reciting that line for a play.
If it is a sin for the actor, is it not also a sin for the viewer?
- Because most of the time God’s name is misused in movies, the practice is not limited to villains, nor is it condemned.
Someone might argue, “But the Bible includes stories of people who cursed God’s name.” That is true. But those people are always depicted as villains; they either repent or are judged. If a movie were to communicate the same moral tone about blasphemy, that would be one thing. But rarely if ever is that the case. The clear message being sent by many movies is that it is normal and acceptable to blaspheme God.
- Because you don’t have to watch that movie. There are probably better uses for your time.
We have so many entertainment options available to us, and the pressure to watch the movies that everyone else is watching can be strong. However, we must remember that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth (Heb 11:13) and that we are called to redeem the time because the days are evil (Eph 5:16). Our lives are very short, and there is much to be accomplished and enjoyed (Eccl 9:7-10; John 9:4). You will not die if you never watch that movie. In fact, you will probably be better off and more useful to God.
- Because there are filtering services available.
If you conclude that it is sin to watch a particular movie, then you must not do so, whether or not there is filtering available (Rom 14:23). However, since filtering is available for many movies, you have even less excuse.
The two major movie filtering companies are VidAngel and ClearPlay. VidAngel costs $9.99 per month, and ClearPlay is $7.99 per month plus the cost of the equipment.
TV Guardian provides products that block foul language in cable television, closed-captioned DVDs and VHS cassettes, and some satellite boxes and over-the-air antennas. Prices vary depending on the product.
- Because we must not be conformed to this world. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to.
The more time we spend in the world, the more it rubs off on us. That is why we need the Bible. If we are going to avoid being pressed into the world’s mold, we must continually renew our minds with Scripture (Rom 12:2). Are your standards based on the culture or the Bible?
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis confronts the human tendency to justify sin because it is “normal.”
[M]any of us have had the experience of living in some local pocket of human society — some particular school, college, regiment or profession where the tone was bad. And inside that pocket certain actions were regarded as merely normal (“Everyone does it”) and certain others as impracticably virtuous and Quixotic. But when we emerged from that bad society we made the horrible discovery that in the outer world our “normal” was the kind of thing that no decent person ever dreamed of doing, and our “Quixotic” was taken for granted as the minimum standard of decency. What had seemed to us morbid and fantastic scruples so long as we were in the “pocket” now turned out to be the only moments of sanity we there enjoyed.
The word “quixotic” means “exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.” Most people would probably call refusing to watch movies that misuse God’s name “quixotic.” However, we must ask ourselves, when we get to heaven, what are the chances that the standards which seem normal today will be exposed as the kind of positions that no decent person would ever dream of defending? What are the chances that today’s “morbid and fantastic scruples” will be revealed as the minimum standard of decency?
May God’s name be regarded as holy.
 For instance, I would argue that generally speaking, we should affirm #MeToo but challenge LGBTQ.
 Statistics taken from www.pluggedin.com.
 What is surprising in this instance is not necessarily the number of times God’s name is taken in vain, but that more and more, His name is taken in vain in kids’ movies.
 In Exodus 20:7, “the name” is a reference to YHWH, the personal name of God (the same goes for Lev 20:11). However, most teachers and preachers have rightly taken the principle behind this command to mean that it is wrong to misuse other names for God as well.
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Quebec: Samizdat University Press, 2016), http://www.samizdat.qc.ca/cosmos/philo/PDFs/ProblemofPain_CSL.pdf, 36.