Over breakfast, the children were admitting that the film version of Charlotte’s Web makes them cry. It made me wonder if, as 21st century Christians, we have shed more tears at the death of Mufasa in the Lion King than we have at the fate of our neighbours without Christ.
I’m reading Jeremiah at the moment, and Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. He said: “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer 9:1). The Psalmist says: “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law”. The Lord Jesus Christ famously wept over the city of Jerusalem as he saw its future judgment (Luke 19:41-44).
I know we’re all made differently, with some of us having a more emotional make-up than others. I don’t think being able to turn on the pathos is automatically a mark of piety. But the more searching question is: what are we being sensitised to? Are we being sensitised to what Scripture is sensitive to? Do I weep at the things Scripture wants me to weep at? My big fear is that we as Christians are more attuned to what Disney wants us to cry about than what God wants us to cry about.
I don’t have an easy solution, but I expect it starts with noticing the problem, and beginning to care about it. How sad if our consumption of fiction is producing a greater emotional reaction than reality. We’re naïve if we think that Youtube videos and screens are not training us. Video editors know exactly how to pluck our heart strings and hook us. Our moral sensibilities are being trained in the sentimental. Oscar Wilde describes the sentimental person as one “who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it”. I suspect that sentimentality is a much bigger problem in our lives than we realise.
An old preacher told the story of a Greek sculptor who wanted to make a statue with someone’s face showing true anguish. He wanted to get it just right to produce a brilliant piece of art. So he found an old man and had his servants torture him, so he could capture the expression on his face perfectly. He tortured him for hours and days, while he perfected his work of art as a monument of suffering. It’s a horrific thought, but, at bottom, the sculptor is more interested in reproducing an emotion than in what produces the emotion. Maybe that’s not so far removed from us, when we happily shed a tear at an emotive video, but never for the lost.
I include myself in this challenge. Every story we hear and watch is shaping us. Sadly, the stories in our Western media do not correspond to the stories of Scripture. If we’re going to grow in likeness to Jesus, I think we need a much deeper immersion in the true story of Scripture. I expect we all need larger doses of Bible readings in church. We need the Lord’s Table to recalibrate our feelings. If we want to weep for the right things, we’re going to have to stop opting for the “easy” route to the emotions, crafted by music and video-editing techniques. Instead, we’ll need to put in the hard work of training our moral sensibilities with God’s truth.
If we really want to weep more for the lost than for Mufasa, we’ll have to cut out the emotional short-cuts and take our emotions on a Bible boot-camp.