A Hell of a Tone of Voice (Some thoughts on how we talk about what happens after we die)

A while back, I was asked to participate in a panel answering questions about heaven and hell. The group had spent a couple weeks in a series looking at what Scripture says about what happens after we die. They were asking questions about heaven and the various ways people have understood “hell”: is hell eternal conscious torment? Is it annihilation—a case where we are, and then simply are not any more? Is there a case to be made for Christian Universalism – where after a time of suffering, all souls are restored to God? What about Martin Luther’s idea that death was sleep? Was CS Lewis onto something when the faithful Taarkan (a Muslim-figure) is allowed into Aslan’s eternal Kingdom in The Last Battle (whereas Susan Pevensie, who wore lipstick, was not?And why would a good God allow for a place like hell, anyway?

I had several other teaching commitments that week and so declined the invitation, but even if I hadn’t been busy I possibly would have said no, anyway. My sieve-like memory knows that I studied this stuff  before, but the content is mostly gone. It’s been a long time since I read up on the various theories of eternal punishment, and I would have had to brush the dust off some of my theology books and do some serious reading.

But the invitation itself got me thinking: what have I believed about this? And, are there reasons to revisit this topic now? I certainly grew up believing that hell was a place of eternal conscious torment, but some of the Bible scholars and teachers I have learned from don’t agree. And certainly, given how upsetting and offensive the idea of eternal conscious torment is (It’s the ultimate version of “my way or the highway”, isn’t it? Even for people who never got a chance to hear about God’s way…), I resonate with the desire to understand this in a way which reflect God’s goodness and mercy and compassion , which annihilation and christian universalism both seem to allow for.

I was a little surprised to find myself thinking: it doesn’t matter what conclusion I come to on this.  Not really. God-fearing people have come to different conclusions on what the passages referring to Hades and Gehenna and punishment mean, and I don’t know that I can sort it out with a new, independent rigorous study of my own. But what matters more to me is this: the tone of voice we discuss this in. Because even if I’m not sure what Jesus meant by the all the hell talk, I’m sure of this one thing: whatever he meant by it, he considered it VERY important to avoid, and a VERY good reason for people to trust in him instead. It’s better to suffer egregious bodily harm in this life (lose an eye! or a hand!) than to have two eyes and two hands and go to hell. Whatever hell means (and Jesus would know), he warns people to go to ANY LENGTH to avoid it. He went to hell himself to keep us from there. Whatever hell means, he assures us it’s not somewhere we want to be. Weeping and gnashing of teeth sound awful, even if they’re hyperbolic.

So even if it is true that we are annihilated, or we suffer a while and then are reconciled to God (and maybe this is the case, I don’t know), Jesus doesn’t seem to think that those options should be something which, when explained, we should feel we are comfortable with. If anything, one of the ways we might know we’ve come to the right conclusions about hell is that we respond the way Jesus says we should respond: with urgency. with grief. with seriousness.

I remember Dave, one of my campus pastors, teaching a few of us students twenty years ago about how to prepare and teach a small group bible study. We were discussing the passage in 1 Thessalonians about the Lord’s coming, and someone in our group got a little “firestone and brimstone-ish” in his conclusions. Dave commented that even if everything my friend was saying was true, he’d missed an important thing in the passage: 1 Thessalonians was written to comfort believers, not to threaten them. And so, whatever we made of the content of the passage, the tone of our conclusions on the paragraph should be wrapped in the comfort of the letter’s context.

I’ve carried those words with me since: we need to pay attention to the tone of voice of the speaker. I still don’t know what exactly happens after we die: how our spirits and bodies might be separated or joined again at resurrection, how conscious we’ll be, what the first and 2nd resurrections might look like, or what hell is like. But I’m sure about Jesus’ tone of voice on which I want for me, and which one I definitely don’t want for me or anyone else. And that is sobering as hell.


Photo credit: free stock photos from Pexels.com

When Church Feels Like Ballet Class (some thoughts on Posture, Strength, Flexibility, and Attitudes)


Someone asked me recently when last I was “wowed” by church. I didn’t know what to say, but it made me wonder about the question: should I expect to be “wowed” by church? If not, what should church feel like?

I’ve been wrestling with this for days, and the closest answer I can think of is to say I want church to feel like a ballet class. It’s been a long time since I was in ballet class but this is what I remember from the years I spent in pink tights: there was something profoundly good about group dance classes. I could work on stretching and routines at home, and I could have a hundred dance parties with friends… but ballet class was non-negotiable. We all stood in a row at the barre, and worked through the warm-ups, positions, and attitudes of the discipline together. We would stand tall, and the teacher would remind us to breathe, to look up, and we would move our bodies through first, second, third, fourth, and fifth positions; seeking beauty and strength in every exercise.

The studio had mirrors so we could check our alignment, and work on moving in concert with our class members. The teacher would walk up and down the length of the barre, sometimes moving closer as my feet were extended in point to make a micro correction to the position of my hip, or my ankle. I was always trying as best I could to be in the right position, but the teacher could see little adjustments that needed to be made and it was always surprising to me how a little nudge, a little turn of the foot or angle of the neck could suddenly lengthen an arabesque, or make me feel a stretch in a way that I hadn’t before and which I just knew was right.

I cried as I tried to describe this to my husband as my hope for church. I don’t expect church to be a Master Class with Misty Copeland every week. And I’m not a beginner: I can just imagine how overwhelming, foreign, and downright awkward an adult ballet class must be to someone who hasn’t done it before. But church at its best feels to me like a ballet class: where we gather in community to do things we could have done alone at home, but there’s something so good about stretching and strengthening our souls in a group setting. Singing and sitting under teaching feels to me like a series of barre exercises under an insightful instructor: my spiritual walk mirrored by the practice of those around me; and the words of the songs and preacher are seldom BRAND NEW BIBILICAL REVELATIONS!!!! with brand new coreography…. but they are like the micro-corrections of attitude and posture in life by the Holy Spirit. See how I thought I was extending myself in the right direction? No, the instructor nudges, adjust a little that way. Adjust a little this way. Breathe and make this adjustment. And see? Feel that stretch? I know it is right.

On a good Sunday, I leave church spiritually limber: my body and soul attuned to the rhythms and attitudes of grace. My deepest core has been strengthened, I am more flexible than when I came in, and I am grateful.

The Surprising Thing about Strength in Weakness

I’ve been thinking a lot about weakness lately. Weakness, failure, and the terrible gap between how we hope things will turn out and how they actually do.  Motherhood and ministry—while both brimming with blessing—have also been relentless teachers that keep pointing out my weakness…

… how I can do all the research and try all the methods, and still not know how to get my kids to sleep/eat/potty train/make good choices.

… how having a kid of my own has made me realize how uncompassionate and judgmental I’ve often been towards others.

… how getting less of anything (sleep/opportunity/the nice things) reveals my jealous, score-keeping nature.

… how close I’ve come to shaking my baby at times. Didn’t know I could be that angry, or that dangerous.

… how, no matter how well I teach and explain the Bible (or try to), I can’t effect real change in people’s lives, which is really just a small subset of the bigger issue:

… how, no matter how hard I try, or how nicely I phrase things, I can’t control people’s choices or situational outcomes. Not my family’s, not my friend’s, not my church’s.

I have no power over these things. At the very most, I can hope to influence them. But the relationship between my input and life’s output is not causal. It’s correlated… at best.

Again and again, I come up HARD against the limits of my ability, knowledge, and character. And that’s just the weakness part… then there’s also the failure layer: where I try hard, and I get it wrong. Or I didn’t try hard enough. Both my wholehearted fully engaged efforts and my half-baked, lazy efforts often disappoint and frustrate.

I was talking with some friends about failure recently: situations in which we’d been overwhelmed and overloaded, and had honestly done our very best in the situation, and still… it wasn’t enough, and we received criticism (or “feedback”, if you’re in a professional setting). And I don’t know about you, but getting negative reactions or zero results when I’ve done my best just makes me want to crawl up under a rock and quit. I want to get into bed, pick at the scabs on my wounded heart, and sing “nobody loves me, I’m just going to go eat worms.” Just me? Worms, anyone? Weakness and failure feel so crushingly yucky.

But what then, we asked, about the verses in Scripture that promise that in our weakness, God is strong? Why did the apostle Paul “boast in his weakness”? And what do I make of those who say (as I have at times!) that we felt at the end of ourselves, and we prayed, and we felt a surge of energy or a help that came from beyond ourselves: such that we could only attribute it to God? If we’re feeling weak, and we ask God to be strong in that situation… will it FEEL any different?

I think sometimes, the answer is yes. Sometimes, I have asked God for wisdom or help or peace that passes understanding or the ability to not-shake-the-baby or bite-my-husbands-head-off, and I know he has provided strength-in-the-moment that I have felt at a soulful and cellular level.

But, friends, sometimes, I haven’t. Sometimes I’ve felt weak and asked God for help and I HAVE STILL FELT SO CRIPPLINGLY WEAK. Sometimes my weakness still feels like weakness to me and quite obviously looks like weakness to most everybody else. So I’ve been reflecting on that. Where did I get the idea that God’s promise of “strength in weakness” would mean that he would mask our weakness? or overcome it? Why did I have the idea that I would know God was being “strong” in my “weakness” only because I didn’t feel weak anymore?

I’ve been going back to Scripture with that question, and am realizing that God’s promise of his gracious strength and presence in our weakness doesn’t mean our lives won’t often look and feel like pitiful failure. Despite God’s help and empowering Holy Spirit, Paul still experienced being hard-pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. He was disbelieved, disrespected, kicked out, spat on, and near killed. AND YET he trusted that despite all the external evidence to the contrary, inwardly God was up to good, hopeful work.

Paul took his cue from Jesus, who is the primary model and mentor of faith such as this. When Jesus went to his death on the cross: everything looked and felt like complete weakness and failure. He was at the mercy of the criminal justice system: condemned and mocked, beaten up and nailed to a piece of wood to demonstrate his shame to the world. His entire ministry of investing in 12 people for three years appeared to have been for nothing: they scattered like buckshot, denying him at the first opportunity. He had no reputation, a crowd cheering for his death, no assets, no title, and – in a very real way – he even got the silent treatment from God. The final words from his lips tell us what he felt was weakness: he felt forsaken.

And YET. In that moment of ultimate weakness, God was doing something wonderful. The sins of all mankind were being dealt with, and God’s new creation being birthed. The paradox and mystery of the cross is that the strongest work God EVER did for mankind was in and through the weakest moment for him in the flesh.

Reflecting on this is giving me hope, in a season where I feel so acutely aware of my limitations. One seminary professor described the human condition this way: we are fallen, fallible, finite and foolish. In other words, we are hot messes, and we know it. But being painfully aware of the limitations and liabilities of me being me in my oh-so-human condition does not mean that God is unable or unwilling to work.

Strength in weakness doesn’t always feel strong. Sometimes weakness still looks and feels pitifully, painfully weak.

But the same God who raised Jesus from his weakest place is powerfully at work in us, says Ephesians 1:20. It’s true that he’s at work when we’re feeling energized by Him, with that joyful energy of feeling gifted and called and excited to partner with him in the world. But this is just to say: he’s no less at work when we’re in a heap on the floor, wishing we could eat worms. My weakness is not an obstacle to him, it’s an opportunity.

This is part of the Christian hope: believing that the God who began a good work in me will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). He is faithful, and he will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Help: How do I stop liking someone?

Dear Bronwyn,

How do you stop liking a man? I’m in college and I met a guy who has fantastic personality and character, and I find incredibly attractive. BUT, he doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus – which is a deal breaker for dating (which I’d like to be with the intent of marriage).

We went on three dates before I discovered he was missing the most important thing, and I can’t continue a romantic relationship with him. I’ve been praying for these feelings to be taken away for weeks – and despite the fact that I am literally surrendering our relationship EVERY morning, I can’t stop thinking about him or liking him.

What do I do? Signed,


Dear TMF,

I have very bad news for you: I don’t know of a single way to just get rid of a crush we wish we weren’t feeling. In my early twenties I liked a guy for well over a year and WISHED and prayed I didn’t wouldn’t feel the way I did… but I couldn’t make it go away no matter how hard I tried.

So what would I say to you that might be of comfort or help?

Maybe this thing first: relationships can bring a WHIRL of passions and thoughts that can feel overwhelming. That we can feel that spark and depth is part of what makes life exciting and wonderful: it’s a sign that we’re alive and we care and that we are responding to people and the world. Having big feelings doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong, even if those feelings are unwelcome. You’re alive and the feeling/wanting/desiring/loving part of you WORKS. I think part of the work of adulthood is learning how to attend to our feelings: to notice them, listen to them, learn from them. What do those feelings tell us about who we are and what we want in life?  How do they reveal how God has made us? How do they reveal our gifts and talents, or our vices?

We are children of a culture which really values THINKING but hasn’t paid a huge amount of attention to the messages that our emotions or our bodies give us about the world. And so, I just want to put a little oar into the water against the relentless thought-driven cultural currents we live in and say: there’s an invitation to attend to your feelings here. Note what you like about this guy. What is it about the conversation that made you feel good? What parts of YOU did you like in your relationship? What was exciting? What was scary? There are things to learn and grow in from this experience.

Attending to feelings is not the same as being a CAPTIVE to your feelings (the “go with your heart” message has its dangers, too), and it is not the same as ignoring or mastering your feelings. Growing in maturity brings a confidence that you will be able to handle, and indeed make good use of, your feelings.

Your feelings of attraction aren’t wrong, per se. They’re feelings. Feelings are facts. We can name them, listen to what they’re telling us, and then try to care for ourselves as well as possible in light of them. But feelings are (frustratingly! awfully!) disobedient. Not once ever have I managed to make myself not feel scared by saying “don’t be scared!” or not feel angry by saying “don’t be angry”. Learning to figure out why I’m scared or angry (or crushing) in a situation helps me develop some compassion on myself, and sometimes even – a game plan for coping.

Which brings me to my second thought—and maybe this is something that a trusted friend or mentor or a parent can help you talk through—which is to encourage you to figure out how you can best care for yourself while you are experiencing these feelings. You won’t always feel this way (“this, too, shall pass” could be something you write on a sticky note for yourself!), but while you do feel this way, what would help you to manage? Would it help to have less contact with him? Maybe not be friends on social media? Or maybe it would help to just see if you could cross paths in large group settings? (sometimes it isn’t helpful to quit seeing someone cold turkey because then we gild them in our imaginations) Would it help to journal through all the feelings? Would it help to figure out what times of the day or in what situations the thoughts and feelings are most difficult to cope with, and then think about how you can acknowledge the feelings (maybe a quick written prayer?) and then have a game plan for what you will do next (a craft project? A walk? calling a friend to talk about the netflix show you’re binge watching?)

Time will pass and these feelings will change – but I don’t think that just waiting for time to pass is what does the trick. Learning a little more about yourself from the experience, paying attention to the messages your heart is giving you about who you are and what makes you tick, and learning how to care for your whole self in this season is the work you get to do during this time. And it’s work that will serve you well the rest of your years.

Wish I could give you a cup of tea as you read this.

Grace and peace to you,



Got a question you’d love to ask? You can ask me anything – drop me a note here.



I love you, friend, but I don’t want your essential oils (or leggings, or mascara…)

If you’ve been around church women for any length of time, chances are you’ve been invited to some kind of product party: a “no pressure, just-a-bunch-of-girls get together” with food and a presentation of jewelry, essential oils, makeup, leggings, cleaning products, accessories, nutritional supplements, skin care miracles, or (fill in the blank) on display.

Or, you’ve been invited to an online shopping party to buy books or mascara that will Change your Life.

Or, (and this might be my least favorite), you’ve been added to some FB group you did not ask to join and now have live videos appearing in your feed of someone applying their makeup.

Church life, it seems, is a hotspot for business. Multi level marketing (the I-sell-to-you, you-sell-to-your-friends, your-friends-sell-to-their friends model) is a 34 billion dollar a year industry, according to Christianity Today’s feature article on the topic… and a vast proportion of those sales are by and to women, and church ladies are at the forefront of the salesforce. There’s a reason your facebook feed is filled with church contacts selling stuff.

I used to think it was just me who got an icky feeling every time I got one of these party invites. I don’t like shopping at the best of times (I can feel my soul leaching out of me with every step I take deeper into the mall), but I’ve been wrestling for months on what it is about this particular type of shopping that makes me so antsy, and more and more I’m realizing it’s not just me… and getting closer to articulating what it is that bugs me.

So let me start out by acknowledging the good things about this trend. Targeted primarily at women who cannot engage in the workforce full time (because they’re caring for kids or parents) and women who need additional income because they’re in lower-paying jobs (I know multiple teachers and medical assistants who are keep ‘consulting’ businesses on the side for this reason) – these businesses do something wonderful: they acknowledge the talent and leadership potential of women, and give them opportunities to use their gifts in a significant way. The trainers invest time in developing women’s gifts, and they encourage them and build community among their participants.

Let me say from the get-go that I FULLY believe in acknowledging, developing, and encouraging women as able and ready world-changers. The world has come a long way in the last fifty years, but office space and church life still remain places where women sometimes aren’t fully welcomed as adding significant value. These companies SEE the incredible power and potential of women in the pews in a way we could learn from.

I also want to acknowledge that for a handful of women, these stay-at-home businesses have provided significant income opportunities, allowing women to help put their kids through college, or pay off student debt. That’s a wonderful thing. They work hard. I’m thrilled for them. And yet, I know a much bigger number of women who landed up investing more than they earned, and for whom the hours invested and nights away from home hosting parties have yielded very little. So, there’s that.

So why do I feel icky about it? Is it that I loathe the free market so much that I can’t bear to see people sell stuff? Nope, that’s not it. Is it that I am jealous of others’ success? Nope, that’s not it either (I wrestled long and hard about this.) I think, when all is said and done, the unease I feel about this phenomenon is for two main reasons:

First, it muddies the waters of friendship. True friends are one of my chief life lines as I cope with the stresses of this life stage (I wrote about it for Christianity Today this month here, if you’re curious.) Knowing that there are people whose care for me is genuine makes the world of difference, and it feels yucky to doubt overtures of friendship from other Christian women: am I a friend to them? Or just a potential customer they’re being friendly to? When someone who’s never been active on social media all of a sudden becomes highly active, liking all my posts, and posting highly hashtagged pictures of herself “living the dream” after years of never posting a thing…. I smell a rat. If the first time you message me after ten years is to “connect” and ask me about what’s up in my life and oh-just-breezy-sharing that one of the things you’ve been up to is starting this or that business… it doesn’t feel like friendship to me. 

And I hate feeling like a bad Debbie-Downer-Doubting-Thomas mashup about friendship. I think one of the most precious resources we have is our friendships, and I cannot shake the feeling that these billion dollar industries are muscling their way into sacred spaces they have no right being in. Especially when the language of the company is such that purchasing their product is seen as “supporting your friend’s business”. I don’t want a price tag imposed by some third party on how well I support my friend. I don’t want the first time I’m invited to your house to be for a sales/pampering/shopping party… that doesn’t feel like friendship, either. I love and believe in girl’s time, but I don’t want to be on my guard when someone invites me to spend time with them: will I have to resist a sales pitch? do I have to rehearse my awkward excuse? How many polite refusals can a friendship endure?

I feel some real grief for women wanting to build a business in these models: they are gifted and talented and I know they are trying to make an honest living in a way that supports their family… but the relational cost to have to look at a significant part of emotional support base all as potential clients has to be something that weighs heavily on them. It is no small wonder that I see friends engaged in these businesses bonding more and more closely with other women in the same business: new communities beyond the church where no-one has a before/after comparison on how their friendships are now.

My second big concern is this: these companies make us spend our invitations on a product instead of on Jesus. The model for sales is actually eerily evangelistic: consider the way we are encouraged to share our faith..

Be such a great friend, and live such a good and flourishing life among people that they will be drawn to you. Pictures of radiant smiles, testimonies of how your life is different, celebration of community and change all help show this.

Invite others to share in the joy of what you’ve found.

But do so with gentleness and grace.

And if anyone asks you for a reason for your hope, do so with gladness. 

Invite others to join the “family”, and hope that their joy will be contagious, too.

But what’s the source of the joy? My feeling is you can’t say “It’s Jesus. Oh, and also my amazing product,” in the same breath.

The evangelism model above works for the gospel… and remarkably well also for Tupperware, Young Living, Pampered Chef, 31 Bits, Doterra, Arbonne, LulaRoe, YouNique, NorWex, Beach Body, Premier Jewelry, Rodan+Fields, Urborne Books, and fill in the blank. Perhaps I also need to add here that the quality of the products that are being sold is often really great (such cute leggings! and necklaces! And your skin really does glow!) But the question remains: what do people associate with you, when they imagine you completing the sentence, “__________ has made all the difference in my life.”

Often we only get one chance to invite people into our lives, and one chance to share the story of what’s made the difference. My deep concern is that person-to-person sales leverage relationships for the wrong purpose: it uses our opportunities to build relationship in service of a product and not the Person.

I don’t ever want to be a person who has their overtures of friendship met with suspicion. No-one wants to be friends with the person who “just wants to evangelize them”. Whether for God, or their product. I think I have a way to go (we have a way to go, really) in learning how to develop and believe in women. I believe women can lead. I believe there are ways of developing and supporting income-generating projects. But I don’t believe the model we have on offer from companies that make their billions by exploiting my friendship-list is a healthy one. I know a handful of women who manage to walk this line of friendship and business remarkably well (and I should say, most of these are involved in justice-motivated ventures to support entrepreneurial women in developing countries)… but these women are exceptional in more way than one.

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to buy your product. But I really, really do want to be your friend.




The Lord is my Shepherd, it’s going to be okay (A Psalm for weary women)

Remember playing hide-n-seek as a kid, and after a countdown the seeker would shout “Ready or not, here I come!”? Lately I’ve been feeling like I want to hide away somewhere, too, but my calendar is shouting “Ready or not, here I come!” at me. It’s a crazy season, and sometimes I feel a rising sense of panic about all there is to do.
In the midst of this, I sensed an invitation to lay down my COO-Of-The-House mantle, and spend some time reflecting on being a sheep. The sheep in Psalm 23, particularly.My talented artist friend Corrie (who illustrated my poetry series and the trafficking awareness posts) knows the stress of a family calendar and the invitation of the good shepherd, too, and so together we want to share a virtual cup of tea and an invitation to God’s rest to you.
Psalm 23 for the Weary Woman
The LORD is my shepherd, he will take care of me.
He has me sit down, drink tea, and breathe a while,
     He restores my soul.
He helps and guides me in making decisions, because he cares about how his daughter is faring in this world.
Even though I stare down the shadowed valley of an overloaded calendar, 
     I will not freak out,
     for you are with me;
Knowing you’ll guide and guard me in this mayhem comforts me.
You provide ways for me to be nourished and flourished, even in the midst of life’s demands
You have chosen and called me your own;
       you’ve promised an abundant life, rich with your presence.
I know it’s going to be okay,
       because your goodness and kindness will be with me every single day in this life and this home,
       and for all the days in the next life in your home, too. 

Is it okay to watch Game of Thrones? (some thoughts on freedom, fear, and viewer discretion)


“Dear Bronwyn,


Is it okay to watch Game of Thrones? I have Christian friends who want to get together and watch it, and other Christian friends who think it’s the Show Satan Made. Any thoughts?



HBgO or HBnO?”


Dear HBOer,

I don’t know if it’s okay for you to watch Game of Thrones (or any other show, for that matter). I’ve only watched the first episode, and I know it’s not for me. Here are some of my thoughts in trying to figure that out, though.

We like binary answers: black or white. Yes or no. Wrong or right. And for sure, there are things that are absolutely black or white: it is ALWAYS wrong to murder. it is ALWAYS wrong to steal (and that includes pirating movies, BTW).

But the Bible also has all sorts of things where the answer is neither black nor white. Rather, the situation calls for discernment. Take this frustrating pair of verses from Proverbs, for example:

When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are.” (Proverbs 26:4)

followed by,

When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation.” (Proverbs 26:5)


And then there are the passages in the new Testament that talk about how for some, eating a certain diet and neglecting certain religious days is sinful, while for others it is fine (Colossians 2:16, Romans 14). So in other words: sometimes the answer to whether something is right or wrong is IT DEPENDS.

It depends on the context. It depends on your community. It depends on who you are and where you are at in life.

We are coming out of a generation in Christianity that has been bounded up with lots of rules, well intentioned (I think) to try and keep us from sin. Rules about clothing, dating, dancing, modesty, music etc have abounded in church culture, and I do believe for the most part this has in an effort to pursue holiness. But often it’s gone the way of LEGALISM.

In response, I’ve seen so much about Christian freedom: critique of purity culture and some very fundamentalist ways of doing church/discipline etc. But often it’s gone the way of LICENSE.

I think neither legalism nor license help us navigate the complexity of living well in our world. We need DISCERNMENT for the vast area between the “I don’t watch any TV at all!” and the “I can watch ANYTHING AT ALL!” extremes. I don’t know that we talk about (or teach) discernment enough.

Discernment has to mean more than a “do what works for you” policy. I think we do need to have better, wiser conversation on helping one another gauge these things. In between legalism and license, we need WISDOM. “Everything is permissible,” said Paul, “but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6). So the question is: how do you figure out what is beneficial?

One of the hallmarks of growing in maturity is learning to pay attention to your own sweet self. Listening to your body, being aware of your emotions and thought patterns etc are all part of our journey in discipleship. We are not good at this. We need to be better at this. Rest (and with it, reflection and self-examination) are important parts in us helping live meaningful, intentional lives. We need to pause and take stock on how things are affecting us, what we’re learning, how we’re growing or being shaped by the choices we make… in order to make better and wiser choices.

It is simply NOT TRUE that what we can watch/listen/engage in whatever and remain neutral and unaffected. We absolutely ARE shaped by the stories we expose ourself to. In books, TV, movies, pictures and real life – each story we expose to leaves its mark in our formation. The stories in our lives shape the way we approach the world: they sculpt our vision of the “good life”, they spark our imagination, they make us want certain things and hate other things… and if we are not paying attention to what is being sparked, nurtured, or drowned in our desires, we can land up in serious trouble. Like Rom Coms with the underlying message that it’s the “proposal moment” (or the dramatic chase to the airport departure chase) that brings the moment of clarity that you’ve met “the one”. Or like porn giving us really messed up scripts for what to expect in sexual intimacy.


I think it’s a healthy practice to talk through our show choices with friends or family and think through questions about what the underlying messages and values of a show are, and how they are affecting you. Naming the issues is a big first step in being aware of the impression they might have. A deeper level of conversation needs to happen in then considering what impact those messages are having on you: how do you feel after watching the show? Turned on? Angry? Riled up? Triggered? Numb? Disappointed and disillusioned with your own life?


Here is how this has worked out with me in considering a couple of shows:

  • We started watching New Girl and stopped a couple seasons in – the room mate drama and sex were getting too much for me. I have a high view of sex and I was just getting tired of how often (and how poorly) it was addressed in the show. Sex shouldn’t be the butt end of most of a show’s jokes, and I don’t want to curate a jaded view of sex.
  • We watched 24. I couldn’t cope after season 2, but my husband was okay watching through the end. I think the show really showed how ALL of us are corruptible, but I just so desperately needed someone honest and reliable (a redeemer!) in that storyline. Also, I was continually frustrated that no-one ever seemed to need to use the bathroom or eat.
  • The Good Place has received critical acclaim, but I chose not to watch (and wrote about it) … matters of eternity are close to my heart.
  • I loved season 1 of Crazy Ex Girlfriend: so clever and funny. But when I realized she wasn’t just kooky, but that there were actual mental health issues at stake, somehow it just wasn’t funny to me anymore. I think I’ve just met too many people really hurting from mental health issues to engage that way anymore. I know, I’m a real party pooper. But I’m trying to care for people with these issues and a show which makes fun of them (and where no-one knows the problem is a problem) was a problem for me.
  • I watched all the Friends seasons, and felt aware of (and distant enough from) the very different relationship values in them. My husband, on the other hand, was perpetually frustrated by how the friends lie to each other (or conceal things from one another) as the center point of every episode’s drama. I hadn’t noticed it before, but he’s right. They really do hide things from each other. He didn’t watch.
  • We watched Parenthood. I thought it was excellent. He thought the family arguments had too many people talking at the same time (and shouting at each other) – it stressed him out. He was paying attention.
  • He watched Lost. I can’t. I know my imagination cannot handle the paranormal or big suspense stuff. It makes me anxious and weepy…
  • I didn’t watch (or read) 50 Shades of Gray. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary did watch it and she was fine. Her post makes exactly this point: you need to know what you can handle. And ask questions about what’s drawing you into the story again and again.
  • I watched Outlander, which has plenty of sex. I don’t think this would have been helpful for me to watch in my early 20s (age matters), or maybe if I was single (“don’t awake love before it desires”, is Song of Songs’ advice to young women). But as a now older, married person – it was okay. except for the violence parts, which I absolutely cannot handle. I skipped those parts in the book and the movie.

Which brings me to your question: what about Game of Thrones?

It depends. From the brief part I saw, and from the bulk of what I’ve heard, this is a show with PLENTY of graphic (and unhealthy) sex, and PLENTY of violence. I think we are, in general, overexposed to those things, and thus in danger of being numb to the power of those stories’ shaping power. So there’s a caveat, and there’s a LOT of wisdom in erring on the side of caution in these things. One of the big dangers in movie and TV watching is that you can’t unsee things. So if it’s likely that you will see things you might wish you hadn’t (if you don’t want them turning up in your dreams or your fantasies), then maybe rather not.

But that doesn’t make for an automatic no. My questions for your consideration are: what impact is that show having on you? How do you feel afterwards? What does it make you want more of in life? If you think of God being present in the room with you as you watch, how does that change your awareness regarding the content of what you’re watching? What if you were watching with your parents?


As disclosed above, I’ve watched some TV that for others, is dangerous or damaging. I think in general GoT has a very high risk of being dangerous and damaging in how it kindles our imaginations. But that’s for you, the Holy Spirit, and wise counselors to wade through. I find the “it may be permissible, but is it beneficial?” grid to be really helpful for me to think this stuff through. I hope it is for you, too.





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