It isn’t uncommon, especially if the subject is horror stories by Christians, for someone in a discussion to quote the following verse to conclude why Christians should avoid writing and reading anything that might focus on evil, death, or gore.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Phil 4:8)
Presented out of context, it would appear to be a Biblical command to avoid thinking about the formerly mentioned concepts. The following are five reasons why the use of this verse to denounce the darker elements of fiction is a misapplication of its contextual meaning.
1. This verse is a general principle, not a command.
In the context Paul is applying this verse, he is exhorting his listeners on how they should conduct themselves. It is obvious this is a general principle and not a command for the simple reason if we followed it as an absolute command to not think on its opposites, none of us would pay our bills, disciple our children, or take out the trash.
2. The converse of the verse is not necessarily true.
Notice Paul does not say, “Don’t think on these things: death, evil, ugly stuff, violence . . .“ He is rightly suggesting that we should think of these virtuous things. He is not saying we shouldn’t ever think on anything else. To do so is putting words in his mouth he didn’t say.
3. The Bible itself would violate this “commandment.”
The Bible has a healthy dose of focusing on evil and sin. People are brutally killed. Evil kings reign over God’s chosen people for years. Even the central focus of the Gospel involves deceit, scourgings, mockery, and violent deaths—not only Jesus Christ’s on the cross, but even depicting the death of Judas as him falling into a field and his bowels falling out. (Acts 1:18)
To apply this verse consistently to fiction, as some do, would require throwing away the Bible as well.
4. As an absolute “commandment,” it would prevent Christians from ministering and addressing the many evil circumstances most all experience in this life.
Indeed, if this was a commandment to not think about evil, it would result in ignoring the vast suffering caused by sin so we could retreat into our idealistic bubble . . . hey, wait a minute, a lot of Christians do do that!
Okay, just note it prevents us from fulfilling Jesus’ commands to love one another as He has loved us. We become the priest, the Pharisee, and the scribe who pass by the bleeding Samaritan on the side of the road.
5. You can’t know the good without knowing the bad.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is called that for a reason. The two go together. A focus on one highlights the other. That is why Stephen King, in his book Danse Macabre, said of horror:
Horror movies do not love death, as some have suggested; they love life. They do not celebrate deformity, but by dwelling on deformity they sing of health and energy. By showing us the miseries of the damned they help us rediscover the smaller joys of our own lives. They are the barber’s leeches of the psyche, drawing not bad blood but anxiety . . . for a little while anyway.
The deeper the darkness, the more brightly the light shines.
Balance is the issue.
Certainly it would be bad for anyone to only focus on the bad and evil without thinking about the good and the virtues. Likewise, without focusing and thinking about evil regularly, we become like Adam and Eve, who having taken God’s bountiful goodness for granted, coveted what they didn’t have. Because they couldn’t appreciate the evil, they couldn’t appreciate the good. Not until they lost it.
I’m not advocating that we gorge ourselves on evil, gore, and horror. I’m not suggesting that any one person is wrong if they’ve decided to avoid certain fictional horrors. I am suggesting Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:8 is about balance, not an either/or scenario, and that people who refuse to stare evil in the face also tend to not think about the good as often.
Ironically, making this verse out to be a commandment to not think about the horrors of evil end up leading those same people to violate the true intent of the verse: to spend time thinking on those good things of God.
The next time someone whips that verse out to prove Christians shouldn’t partake or write such material, point them here. Maybe they’ll buy a clue.
Okay, choir, did I miss any key points?