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We will answer for what we watch

Of Squid Game and high places

Visitors at the Olympic park in Seoul, South Korea, look at a model of a doll featured in Netflix's series "Squid Game." Associated Press/Photo by Lee Jin-man

We will answer for what we watch

“And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days. ... Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away.” (2 Kings 12:3-4)

It is possible for God’s people to get many things right, while still getting one very important thing wrong. Several times during the years of the divided monarchy, we read of basically good kings who basically did what was right—kings like Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Amaziah, Azariah, and Jotham. Each one walked in the ways of God. And yet, all of them failed to address one critical area of disobedience. “The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places” (2 Kings 15:35). These local shrines were used for making sacrifices, burning incense, holding feasts, and celebrating festivals. They were pagan places devoted to the worship of pagan gods. The high places were too normal and too popular for God’s people to remove them.

Which brings me to Squid Game, the South Korean television series about 456 indebted and down-on-their-luck players who receive a mysterious invitation to participate in a survival game, with hopes of winning 45.6 billion won (more than $38 million). Although the contests involve children’s games (of which squid game is one), the premise of the show is anything but kid-friendly. Every game ends in death (often extremely graphic and violent), with each death adding another 100 million won to the grand prize. Since its worldwide release on Sept. 17, Squid Game has been watched in more than 142 million households, becoming Netflix’s most watched series to date.

Isn’t this just another Hunger Games? Not exactly. According to IMDB Parent’s Guide for Squid Game, here’s what you can expect from the show. In Episode 4 a man and woman have sex in a bathroom and female nudity is shown. In another episode an older man removes his bath robe and requests a younger man to satisfy him. In the same episode there are many nude women with paintings on their body. And that’s to say nothing of several uses of swear words.

There is a world of difference between sin described honestly on a page, never with the intent to stimulate or amuse, and sin depicted on the screen with multi-million dollar budgets, real nudity, and realistic gore.

The sex and swearing are bad, but according to the Parent’s Guide the level is only “moderate.” It’s the violence that rates “severe.”

  • “Organs are removed from some dead bodies. Shots showing eyeballs, a heart and other organs are clearly visible, though only for a few seconds.”

  • “There is very intense violence, gore and bloodshed throughout the series. People are shot in the head, stabbed and killed.”

  • “A man gets his hand crushed in an open piece of machinery. He screams in pain and blood is seen coming out of his hand stump. Very graphic.”

Does the presence of sensuality, swearing, and violence make a piece of entertainment out of bounds for the Christian? That question can be complicated. But when a show has graphic nudity and graphic violence (all the time), we ought to ask the question of our hearts: why do we find this entertaining in the first place?

Some Christians will be quick to point out that the Bible is full of sex and violence. And indeed it is. But there is a world of difference between sin described honestly on a page, never with the intent to stimulate or amuse, and sin depicted on the screen with multi-million dollar budgets, real nudity, and realistic gore. Can we freely watch something like Squid Game and honestly give thanks to God (1 Corinthians 10:30)? Does anything with an MA rating on Netflix help us think about what is pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phiippians 4:8)?

Recently I preached on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, which includes Paul’s command, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Who talks like this anymore? “Be separate from them.” “Touch no unclean thing.” “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.” That’s not the message we want to hear from the church. But it is almost certainly the message virtually all of us need to hear. It is hard to imagine many of us are too careful with the sex, nudity, and graphic violence we put before our eyes.

It’s easy to look at Christians from an earlier age and see what they got monumentally wrong (e.g., racism, slavery, cultural prejudice), even when they strangely got many other things right. We are right to criticize our spiritual ancestors for the sins that seem so obvious to us. But let us beware that they would be equally baffled by our sins. I dare say you could not find an orthodox Christian writer or pastor before the 20th century (or maybe prior to 1965) who would countenance a fraction of what we consider “moderate” entertainment today. If they were too rigid at times, certainly we are far too relaxed—to the impoverishment of our churches and of our souls.

We have grown accustomed to what should shock us. We no longer see the sin in what we see. Are today’s pagan high places to be found on a screen?

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church (PCA) in Matthews, N.C., and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). Prior to the summer of 2017, he pastored at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich. Kevin holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and received his Ph.D. in early modern history at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books, including The Biggest Story, The Hole in Our Holiness, Crazy Busy, and Just Do Something. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have nine children.

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