For those seeking to break the cycle of their entertainment addiction, theologian John Piper argued that Jesus’ command to “tear out the eye that causes you to sin” can be applied to devices too.
In a recent podcast, Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, responded to a listener identified as Cesar, who said he cannot break his addiction to video games.
“I am convinced that the short-lived emotions of entertainment do not compare to the pleasures found in a deep life of communion with God,” Cesar said. “But I can play a video game for three hours, and feel my emptiness and dissatisfaction, but the next day my desire for more entertainment is renewed, and this has turned into a horrible, vicious circle. I am very stressed with this situation. I want to grow spiritually. I do not want to waste my life in trifles.”
The pastor began by advising Cesar that he can, in fact, stop playing video games. “You’re not in bondage to that game,” he explained. “You can stop. You can walk away from it. I promise you. With a blowtorch in your face or a million dollars in your pocket, it would be easy. It would be easy to walk away. The fear of pain or the pleasure of money would have instantly replaced your desires for that game.”
Piper went on to point out that Cesar is not actually “convinced” that the pleasures of entertainment do not compare to the joy that can found in communion with God.
“No, Cesar, you’re not convinced of this. You say you are, but these are just words,” he said, adding that Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”
“The essential thing he meant was that people say many things, feel many things, think many things, but a decisive test is fruit. So three hours on a video game day after day, wasting your precious life, is not a fruit of being convinced that communion with Jesus is better. It’s not.”
Video games, Piper contended, have “re-throned” Jesus in Cesar’s life: “It takes its place as the king of your will. It means that you then take your seat passively at its feet, and you do its bidding like a slave. Two-bit, no-count, low-grade, wasteful video games are beating him up, deceiving him, making him a lackey and a slave.”
Piper applied Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28 to devices: “I say to you that everyone that is suckered in by the fluttering eyelashes of a video game commits adultery with the game in his heart. If your right eye causes you for a video game to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into Hell. And if your right hand causes you to be glued to a video game, cut it off and put a blowtorch to it. For it is better that you lose one of your members than your body be thrown into Hell.”
“Here’s my counsel,” he concluded. “Tear out your eye and cut off your hand. That is, get rid of all the apps that suck you in and make a slave of you. Just tear them right off your phone. Tear them right off. I mean, tearing out your eye surely has an application to your devices.”
“Then turn away from the games and receive the million-dollar gift from Jesus,” he added. “No, no, no, no — that was an understatement. Billions, billions, and billions of dollars worth of reward. Better than anything else.”
According to a 2018 study by market-research group Nielsen, American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media — up from nine hours and 32 minutes just four years ago.
Previously, Piper offered five ways Christians can cultivate a greater love for God than for entertainment in today’s media-dominated culture.
Recognizing it is a huge step in the right direction.
Seek the Lord earnestly about it. Pray like crazy that God would open your eyes to see wondrous things out of His law.
Immerse yourself in the Bible, even when you don't feel like it, pleading with God to open your eyes to see what's really there.
Get in a group where you talk about serious things.
Begin to share your faith: "One of the reasons we are not as moved by our own faith as we are is because we almost never talk about it to any unbeliever," Piper said. "It starts to feel like a kind of hothouse thing and then it starts to have a feeling of unreality about it. And then the powers of entertainment have more sway in our life."