How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Christian youth of our day; those who can be called the 19-plus-or-minus ‘Google Genners’? How do we biblically respond to the trend among them that has emerged after some studies and observations?
The porn temptation
Christian youth have been tempted by pornography in an increased and sustained manner during the pandemic. In a report for The Week magazine, Pooja Biraia Jaiswal quoted Sanya Virani’s scientific journal article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry: “In the paper, the authors reported data to show the rise in pornography use during lockdown in different countries. Virani was shocked to find that India ranked the highest in terms of porn consumption during the pandemic among all nations” (‘Indians scoured the internet for porn during the pandemic,’ The Week, September 05, 2021).
I believe a passage in Song of Songs explains why there is a perceptible heaviness in the heart of the porn-watcher. Let me quote that passage from two versions; one from an essentially literal version and another from a recommended modern English version: “I was a wall, and my breasts are like towers. So now in his eyes I have become one who brings peace” (Song of Songs 8:10, NASB); “Her: I was a wall, and now my breasts are like towers; At that time I found completeness and satisfaction in his eyes” (Song of Songs 8:10, The Voice).
When the wife stands topless and naked before her husband, the wife discovers that there is a sense of peace and contentment in his eyes; that is what the Spirit-inspired author of this passage truthfully observes. However, the corollary will be true as well when the person standing naked before the husband is not the wife, but someone else, say a porn star or a topless star from a streaming service show. However, the difference in the latter case is that the peace in the husband’s eyes goes for a toss! The ‘shot-put ball in the heart’ feeling which comes when porn or so-called soft-porn is watched was put in our hearts by the Lord so that we repent watching porn, I believe.
The binge-watching addiction
In an article published in Counter Currents, Dr Swati Sapna and Upasna Gaba make these observations about the rise in binge-watching among youth during the pandemic: “As of the third quarter of 2020, Netflix had 190 million paying subscribers worldwide. This number grew exponentially, from 5 million in 2012 to more than 190 million… When an online streaming service (such as Netflix) simultaneously released all episodes of a season, it prompted widespread marathon-viewing (binge-watching) sessions among the 18-34 age group who initially binge-watched and then took to social media to share their apparently positive reviews of such shows” (‘Binge-watching: Impacting mental and physical health,’ Counter Currents, 18 November 2020).
When I mulled over this recent trend, I rediscovered a truth in the last chapter of Revelation that surprised me. Talking about realities in the New Jerusalem (that is, heaven), John writes: The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him (Rev 22:3, HCSB). In my understanding of this verse, on the other side of eternity, God and His Son will only have ‘slaves’ to serve him. What kind of slaves are these? They are bondslaves; like Apostle Paul branded himself (Rom 1:1). Who is a bondslave? He is someone who out of his own freewill submits his life as a life-long slave of his master even though he can choose an escape or a release from his master after having served him for six years, according to the Law of Moses (Exodus 21:1–6). The piercing of his ears with an awl indicates that now for all time, the rest of his life and all through eternity, he will choose to be a bound-by-love bond-slave of his master who considers him his most-beloved! Only those who come to his level of commitment, enabled by the grace of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, will be found in heaven. That means we, as serious followers of Jesus, must choose to turn away from binge-watching (a form of addiction), gadget addiction, social-media addiction and the like.
Eighteen-year-old Dazharia Shaffer (Dazhariaa Quint Noyes) from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA, reportedly died by suicide in February 2021 as the pandemic raged. She was a Tik Tok star with 1.4 million followers. She also had nearly 100,000 Instagram followers. One of the reasons that drove her to take this extreme step was this: she was called ugly by a group of trolls who also said that she was what she was only because of make-up (‘Bullied 18 Yr Old Tik Tok Star Commits Suicide; Disturbing Last Video’, MTO News, Feb. 12, 2021). This is not a stray story. Women’s Health magazine reports another shocking news of the same kind: Australian TikTok Star Caitlyn Loane Dies By Suicide: The young cattle farmer shared her farm adventures with over 50,000 followers (Sarah Felbin, July 8, 2021). Such stories are not strange to those of us in India. Sushant Singh Rajput, noted Bollywood star, ended his life in June 2020 in the middle of the first lockdown, leaving India stunned.
When I was in the prayer closet praying for this generation which can be called ‘generation self-destruction’, this truth from the book of Jeremiah settled onto my heart. This truth is expressed in Jeremiah 2:13. Trying to fill our thirst for purpose, meaning, true joy in our lives with things other than God himself, be it Tik Tok, or Instagram or fame, is like trying to drink water with ‘broken cisterns that cannot hold water’. What we try to indulge in may briefly give us meaning, purpose and happiness, but that won’t last any more than water can last inside a broken cistern.
The people of Judah whom prophet Jeremiah addressed in Jeremiah chapter 2, indulged in the worship of a pagan god called Baal (Jeremiah 2:8; 2:23). No writing prophet makes more references to Baal worship as does Prophet Jeremiah. Barry J. Beitzel writes that the folk of those days ‘perceived rainfall as Baal’s semen’ (in The New Moody Atlas of the Bible). This was Baalism’s sickening false belief: All that one needed to do to get rainfall, which was crucial to Judah’s fortunes as an agricultural economy, was to visit the Baal temple and have sex with the temple prostitutes around the temple; Baal god would see that from heaven and self-stimulate himself; as he climaxed, his semen would be the rain for their crops.
This is what Prophet Jeremiah communicated in Jeremiah 2:13, according to me, taking on the fallacy of Baalism: All the idolatrous sexual sin which you do as part of Baal worship cannot fill that thirst in your life for meaning, purpose and joy; trying that route is akin to drinking from broken cisterns; the pleasures you gain, the blessings you may receive will be fleeting at best; so, come now in repentance to the Yahweh, the Living Water who can quench your thirst fully and completely.
We must take this message to the young generation that is flirting with self-destruction affected by the pandemic. We must do that with great urgency.