Fifty Shades Darker hits cinemas this weekend—and many Christian women find such films very appealing.
I imagine I’ve just divided the readership of this blog. Statements like that usually do.
Some will be shocked. How can you even begin to say that many Christians like this stuff? That’s ridiculous! After all, we’ve been warned that “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5 v 3). In a similar vein, the Bible encourages us with the words, “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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 v 8). The Fifty Shades phenomenon—and other erotic films—are unlikely to help us think that way!
But others reading this will be quietly nodding their heads—conscious that they (or their children, or their friends) are entranced by what the story of Mr. Grey and Ana has to offer.
The struggle is real
I have the privilege of mentoring and counseling many Christians who struggle in this area. Many believers (many women believers included) who know the daily tension that exists between their desire to honor Christ with their minds and bodies—and the relentless temptations to fantasize about sex outside marriage with an individual who can weave together pleasure and pain. It’s not something that gets discussed over coffee after the average church service but the thoughts are there… and it’s those thoughts that lead many Christians to buy the books, watch the films, relive the images quietly at home in ways that arouse and then carry burdens of guilt that drag them down day after day.
The reasons behind the tension can be complex.
Our past experiences may plan a part. If we’ve known the horrors of childhood sexual abuse, we may know the way in which fear, pain and arousal can so easily intertwine. If we’ve been rejected, we may know the desire to control others so history can’t repeat itself.
Our present experiences can influence too. Singleness can be great—it’s a gift from the God who adores us and knows it’s just what we need at this moment in time to help us become more like Christ—but it can be sexually frustrating. Lack of spouse doesn’t automatically mean lack of physical drive and if, as believers, we choose not to express those urges with another human being, it’s easy to “find release” through participating in a film. Marriage can be great too—but not all marriages are happy ones. Sometimes they are abusive—sometimes they are loveless—sometimes they are sexless … how easy it is to fantasize about what things could be like if only we were with someone else…
When we want something more than God, the temptation to sacrifice our call to live as children of God draws close.
Our hearts are the biggest factor though. As the Reformer John Calvin reminded us, they are an idol-making factory. The place where we time and again decide that we want a certain experience, a certain kind of relationship, a certain kind of security, a certain kind of pleasure—and want those things more than we want God. It’s when we give in to those idols that we see films like Fifty Shades Darker as alluring rather than unappealing. Whenever we want something more than we want God, the temptation to sacrifice our call to live as children of God draws close.
Hope for those battling temptation…
So, if we find ourselves intrigued, tantalized, excited by the thought of watching Ana’s exploits on screen, it will be worth asking ourselves what idols are at play in our lives. What are we wanting so much we’re willing to push God’s word away in order to get it? Of course, it’s worth asking ourselves what unresolved pain is helping that temptation along the way too – words of comfort are often needed as much as words of rebuke.
It’s worth going on to reflect more on the wonder of grace. Isn’t Ephesians 2 great? “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (v 4-5).
And worth reflecting on the reality of change too: God is working in us by his Spirit. God is going to complete his work (Philippians 1 v 6).
… and a challenge for those who aren’t
But it’s not just those of us who struggle with temptation that can use the arrival of this film to reflect some more. Those of us who tend to look down on those who struggle in this area can helpfully pause too. Do we really think that we have grounds for complacency? Is our sin really any less heinous to God? Is it possible that our pride in this area is preventing people who are struggling from coming to us for help? Is our unhelpfully-articulated disgust at films like this creating a culture of secrecy in our churches?
God is working in us by his Spirit. God is going to complete his work (Philippians 1 v 6).
Maybe there’s pain in our past or present fuelling that pride? Maybe there’s an idol of self-righteousness lurking within? Maybe we too need to go back to Ephesians 2 for a reminder of just how much grace is our only hope.
So, this week, as conversations about Fifty Shades Darker abound, take time to reflect. Ask what your reaction to the release of this film says about your heart… and take the answer, whatever that might be, to foot of the cross.