Christians condemn witchcraft, right? In word, yes, but in practice, not always. I believe there are many Christians who engage in what can be called Christian witchcraft. Let me explain.
Witchcraft is an attempt to control, manipulate, or engage with the spirit world through various practices such as spells, incantations, and rituals. Typically, in the Christian world, witchcraft is viewed as delving into the demonic realm and therefore something to be avoided. Scripture levies several warnings against witchcraft:
- Leviticus 20:27 prescribes the death penalty for those who are mediums or necromancers.
- 1 Chronicles 10:13 says that God put King Saul to death for consulting a witch for guidance.
- Galatians 5:20 lists sorcery among other damnable sins.
There is also no doubt that the Bible teaches the existence of spirit beings, both angels and demons. God forbids attempts to connect to the spirit world through any other means than by himself, and more specifically, through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Therefore it should come as no surprise that Christians virtually unanimously denounce witchcraft and generally steer clear of it.
Except that I’m not so sure that really is the case. As I see it, many Christians have their own version of witchcraft that they practice. It doesn’t involve ouija boards, candles, horoscopes, crystal balls, tarot cards, and the like. But just because it doesn’t look the same doesn’t mean it’s not real.
In an interesting article, Kelsey Munger tells her story about growing up in a Christian family that was obsessed with the spirit realm. Her parents, both very devout Christians, had many different routines they practiced in order to combat what they perceived to be demonic attack. This included rubbing canola oil in the shape of a cross on their home’s doorpost, pouring canola oil in a barrier around the family property, praying over jewelry before wearing it, avoiding imported products for fear they were made by pagans and could carry demons, praying specific phrases repeatedly, and even scouring the backyard for objects that might have been placed there by a witch to curse the family.
You know what those practices are? They are not Christianity. They are witchcraft. They are attempts to control the spirit world through object-oriented rituals.
Some Christians might not go to quite that extreme but still demonstrate a similar pattern of thinking. They tend to blame everything on demons: headaches, a fender bender, lost car keys, a criticism at work, or a financial crunch. They might pray the demons out of a new car or new house. They tend to automatically assume the hippy next door is demon possessed. And they believe that rock music is from the devil.
Here’s why this is so problematic—there’s no Scriptural support for any of it. These are all beliefs and practices that find no basis in God’s Word. Instead, it is the result of taking the witchcraft mentality and applying it to Christian belief. It bears a closer resemblance to superstition than to biblical Christianity.
Back in 2014, a video made the rounds online of a Christian woman explaining why Monster energy drinks are of the devil. She points out that the Monster logo has some symbolism that can be interpreted as being references to the occult and the anti-Christ. At the end she concludes “this is how clever Satan is, and how he gets into the Christian’s home and the Christian’s life, and it breaks God’s heart. Jesus said, ‘My people perish for a lack of knowledge.'”
Let’s be clear: this is utter foolishness. This is Christian witchcraft. Satan does not enter people’s lives through energy drinks. He does so through sin and through unbelief. And though Jesus did say that people perish for a lack of knowledge, he didn’t have demonic symbolism on aluminum cans in mind.
This kind of obsession with the demonic is unhealthy and counter-productive. It does not lead to a life of godliness and fear of the Lord. It leads to a life of paranoia and fear of the devil.
Don’t get me wrong. Satan is real. Demons are real. The spirit world is real. Scripture says so and therefore we Christians ought to believe it. However, the Bible does not dwell on the spirit world the way we sometimes do. It does not emphasize it to the point where we should be on the lookout for demons everywhere we go. In fact, the pattern of the Bible is that overt demonic activity is at its most prevalent during the gospels and Acts, when Christ was on earth and the early church was just getting rolling. Contrast that with the entire Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament, where mention of demonism is very limited.
Although there is no doubt in my mind that Satan and demons are active in the world, and that they can and do manifest themselves in physical ways, that seems to not be the norm. In fact, it is the norm mostly among people who are already looking for it. Missionaries working in very pagan and spiritual cultures might encounter this more often. Those Christians who are obsessed with demonism are more likely to experience strange shadows on the wall. But this does not seem to be what Scripture paints as normal Christian experience. Satan and demons primarily work through deception, doubt, accusation, and the like. (Read an article I wrote about Satan’s tactics here.)
Some Christians will push back. You’re acting like Satan doesn’t exist! If you don’t guard yourself you will unintentionally invite demons into your life! To which I would ask, where does Scripture teach that? Where does it give such warnings? Yes, the devil is a prowling lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), but what is his access point to my life? Is it through the fortune cookies at the bottom of my Chinese takeout? Is it through the skull and bones on my child’s toy pirate ship? Or is it through my lack of Bible reading, my unconfessed sin, and my proud heart?
Far too many Christians focus on the former things while neglecting the latter ones. When believers begin to focus on material things as if they carry spiritual power, we are acting like pagans more than Christ followers. We have abdicated Scripture and become superstitious. And ultimately we will divert ourselves from the God to be glorified and the mission to be accomplished.
My point is this: when Christians find themselves constantly thinking about the devil and what they can do to ward him off, they have fallen into the trap of Christian witchcraft. They have taken their focus off of Christ, which is where it rightly belongs (Hebrews 12:2). They have begun to believe that power against demonic forces resides in rituals or objects and not in Christ alone. Recall that when demons encountered Jesus they trembled in fear and needed to ask for permission even to speak (Matthew 8:29, Luke 4:41). Christ rules over the spirit world, and since Christians are united to him by faith, he is the only weapon we need to face off against any forces of darkness that may oppose us.
This past week I was working on a sermon for Father’s Day when my daughter Bella walked into the room and asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was writing a sermon about being a great dad. Then I asked her if she could help me by telling me what she thinks a good dad would do. Little did I know she would take me so seriously! She sat down with me and compiled a list of 22 things that a good dad does. I share it here for your enjoyment!
- he’s helping
- he’s caring
- he preaches
- he works
- he does the dishes
- he drives
- he reads the Bible
- he uses the phone
- he shops
- he cooks supper
- he massages mom
- he plays
- he goes on daddy dates
- he prays
- he pays for things
- he plays pokemon games
- he goes to the park
- he waters the garden
- he goes to church
- he meets new friends
- he gives hugs and kisses
- he gives medicine
Not a bad list for a 6 year old! Now that I have an official job description I’d better get myself to work. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1 million people commit suicide every year across the world. In Canada, where I live, that figure is about 4,000 annually. These numbers are tragic, because they are not really numbers at all. They represent the precious lives of human beings, people with names and faces and stories—not to mention the countless friends and family who are affected by their deaths.
My desire is for people to live. Not just to be alive, but to truly live. For that to happen though, some people simply need the end of a rope to cling to when all hope seems lost. To that end I offer these 13 suggestions for preventing suicide.
Remember that there is always hope. The darkness may seem insurmountable, but it is only there for a season. Every suicidal thought has an expiration date. Don’t give up! Better days really do lie ahead.
If you are someone who is feeling suicidal…
- Call an emergency hotline if you are in immediate danger. Try the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For a list of other hotlines worldwide, click here.
- Tell someone if you are having thoughts of suicide. It can be a friend, parent, sibling, mentor, doctor, teacher, coach, counsellor, pastor…anyone who will listen and take you seriously.
- Seek out medical advice if you are dealing with severe depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. Your physician can help you get what you need to cope.
- Avoid isolation. Negative thoughts have their greatest power when you are alone. Try to be around people in general, but especially those who love you and are supportive of you.
- Deal with any trauma that might be a major cause of your negative thinking. Talk to a counsellor who can help you begin to sort things out and get your life back on track. The death of a loved one, experiencing abuse, a family divorce…find someone to help you work through whatever you may be dealing with.
- Pray and/or keep a journal. If you believe in God, use prayer as an outlet for your thoughts and emotions. If not, try using a journal to dump out everything negative in your mind. Like a soda that’s been shaken, emotions that are bottled up become explosive.
- Get physically healthy. Physical health and mental health are not the same, but they can be strongly related. Exercise, get some sleep, and eat well.
- Keep a “board of gratitude”. Write on sticky notes everything you are thankful for and put it up on the wall. It could be small things like a funny joke you heard, a smile from a passing stranger, or a warm bed to sleep in. Try to put up at least one new thing every day.
- Be careful what you watch, read, and listen to. Music and movies can be powerful things. They can sway our thoughts and emotions for better or worse, so choose to consume only that which will build you up and inspire you. Try reading biographies of great people from history past or present.
- Go outside. Nature has a way of reviving the soul. Try to spend some time outside every day. Go for a walk, swim, gaze at the stars, or even just take one big breath of fresh air.
If you know someone who is feeling suicidal…
- Know the signs. You can click here to learn more or refer to the chart below.
- Be a supportive friend to those who are hurting. A comforting presence is sometimes the difference between hope and no hope. Listen and be available. Stick up for the victim when you see someone being bullied.
- Challenge negative assumptions. Someone who is suicidal believes things that simply aren’t true: I’m alone, I’m worthless, I’m ugly, I’m not worth anyone’s time, people would be better off without me, there’s no hope for me. Part of being a helpful friend is to identify those negative assumptions and challenge them with the truth. Show your friend why what they believe is wrong, but do it gently and not argumentatively.
Suicide isn’t the only option. Together we can find a better way.
This article is part of a series of posts on the Netflix hit show 13 Reasons Why. You can read the other entries by clicking below.
After watching 13 Reasons Why, there is much to be said about this wildly popular and controversial show. I will attempt to share some reflections in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks. I will link to other articles as they are published. Be warned, spoilers and tragedy ahead.
Reflection #5 – Not escape, but revenge
Hannah Baker thought she just couldn’t take it anymore. She had suffered enough disgrace from her fellow high school students and was ignored enough by the adults in her life that she decided to end her own life.
Hannah’s suicide is troubling enough. Any time suicide is portrayed in entertainment media it is a dicey thing. There are always concerns that those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts in real life might accidentally be encouraged to take their own life because of the example of another, even if that person isn’t real. 13 Reasons Why has surfaced such concerns. Hannah is a very likeable character, and some of her experiences are not all that uncommon from that of real life teens. It is conceivable that some 15 year old girl out there somewhere will watch the show and relate to Hannah so much that she decides to follow the same course of action.
This, however, is not a concern unique to 13 Reasons Why. Copycat behaviour of any kind can surface from a number of places and for a number of reasons. What is even more concerning to me is not only that Hannah Baker killed herself, but how she did it. I’m not talking about the stomach-churning razor blade scene in the bathroom though. I’m talking about the tapes.
As I covered in the first article in this series, Hannah records on 7 cassette tapes the 13 reasons why she has decided to end her life. Each side of a tape is devoted to a specific person who was a domino in the line that led to her fateful choice. These tapes, where she reveals these people’s sins against her, are intended to be passed around to each guilty party so that they can all listen to how they are collectively responsible for her death.
Copying a suicide is one thing—and unimaginably tragic at that. But to copy something like the tape scenario would be even more sick and twisted. In the show, Hannah claims not to have evil intentions with the tapes. And, to be sure, she is exposing evil that was done against her. But make no mistake about it, Hannah’s suicide is not just an act of escape—it is an act of revenge.
Hannah knows what the tapes will do to her classmates. She instructs the listeners to keep the content of the tapes private. Why? The only reason can be to inflict personal torment on her former friends. She desires for them to feel the full weight of their guilt and have no way out. She doesn’t really call them to change or to redeem themselves. She simply wants them to know that their actions made her want to die…and they are stuck to live with that forever.
There’s no doubt that many of the characters in the show should feel guilty. They wronged Hannah, and in some cases in horrific ways. But Hannah is not interested in their redemption. She is not really interested even in justice. Rather, she wants them to suffer like she did.
I seriously fear that some people who watch 13 Reasons Why might be influenced to copy Hannah’s actions. It is not uncommon to leave a suicide note, but Hannah does more than that. Her tapes are more than a record of why she did what she did. They are not even meant to explain things to her family. They are for no other purpose than getting even with those who hurt her. Her suicide is tragic enough, but the tapes make the whole situation an unimaginable monstrosity. Heaven help the family and community that ever has to endure in real life what this show portrays in fiction.
Not only did Hannah not have to kill herself, she also didn’t have to live in bitterness towards those who wronged her. There was another option. Hannah could have chosen forgiveness. This does not mean that she should not have sought justice for the things that happened. Bryce should have had rape charges pressed against him. Sheri should have had legal consequences for causing the car accident that killed Jeff. Many students should have faced serious penalties from the school and parents for their bullying and hurtful behaviour. But even still, Hannah did not have to hold a grudge against them. In fact, doing so is one of the reasons she did what she did. In her mind, with forgiveness not an option, she had no other way to live in her world of pain other than to leave it.
Though the show is intended to help those who are struggling with suicide, I fear that it might do the opposite. A better solution to Hannah’s suffering is never offered in the show. There is no alternative route that is suggested. A discerning viewer might recognize that Hannah’s actions are not helpful, but younger, more influential viewers (who are the shows primary audience) might not have the maturity to see it that way. They might look at Hannah as a hero. After all, she took control of her own life, she refused to keep allowing others to define her, she found a way to end the pain, and even a way to get even with those who deserved it. It’s as if Hannah’s ghostly hand reaches out from the grave and clutches those who wronged her and refuses to let go. Even in death she has great power over them.I worry that some hurting young person out there will see that and want it for themselves.
Yet Hannah’s post-life influence on others does not bring life, but more death. All of those who contributed to her problems are crushed under the weight of personal guilt and turn on each other. In the concluding episode, Alex shoots himself in the head and Kevin is seen stocking up on guns as if for a school shooting. Netflix has recently announced that there will be a second season coming out, so it seems we are in for another twisted round of death and destruction at every turn.
There is a better way. If we all insist on getting revenge with those who wrong us, the cycle of abuse and pain will just keep going around and around. No one will really get the help and love they need. We will all be trapped in a net of our own making. But it need not be that way. Hannah didn’t have to keep suffering in silence, and neither did her friends. There is hope for all of them, and it comes in the form of forgiveness. If Hannah had forgiven her enemies, even if she still sought out justice, she would have been able to live with herself. Some of the bitterness and pain would have washed away, and she could have found a means by which to carry on. If Hannah’s friends received forgiveness, they might have found freedom instead of enslavement to their dirty secrets.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
The healing balm of forgiveness is not a magic cure-all for personal pain, but it can afford freedom to those who are otherwise trapped in bitterness or regret. But 13 Reasons Why does not hold out forgiveness as a viable option. It’s a shame, because it is the very thing that everyone in the show needed. We all need forgiveness first from God—even those among us who are the butt-end of bullying are sinners in need of forgiveness. And, as those who have been forgiven by God, we can in turn forgive those who have wronged us. The chain of forgiveness is the only thing that can sufficiently replace the chain of anger that binds each and every one of us.
If you are someone who can relate to Hannah, I am asking you to consider seeing her end as a tragedy to avoid and not a victory to emulate. There is nothing victorious about it. Hannah cut off her own future and any hope that resided there died with her. Hannah’s parents are left traumatized and scarred for life. The classmates are buried in their own guilt with no hope of escape. All that happened is Hannah’s pain was passed on, and even magnified, in everyone around her. That is not a good outcome for anyone. She may have sought to make things right, but everything went disastrously wrong.
Suicide is not the answer. Revenge is not the answer. Hope and forgiveness is the starting place to a life of healing and happiness. It might not come immediately, but better days lie ahead. Hannah’s story shows us that she was a hurting girl who was sorely mistaken about how to handle it. I pray that would not be the same for you or anyone else.
Few things in life can bring more joy—and, conversely, more pain—than a romantic relationship. Since it is such a central and important aspect of our lives, we ought to consider how God has designed for relationships to work best. They were, after all, his idea. Wouldn’t he know what is good for us?
If you are a Christian looking to date, you will inevitably need to answer the question: Can Christians date non-Christians? What does God think about it? The straightforward answer from Scripture is no, Christians should not date non-Christians. There are at least three reasons why.
1. Scripture says that Christians should only marry Christians
Technically the Bible doesn’t say Christians shouldn’t date non-Christians…because the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about dating. Dating is a modern custom that didn’t exist in biblical times. Yet that doesn’t mean the Bible can’t help us answer the question. Since the ultimate purpose of dating is marriage, we can look at what Scripture says about marriage to point us in the right direction.
The most common passage cited against a Christian marrying a non-Christian is 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” A yoke is a harness that hitches two animals together so they can plow alongside one another as a team.
The verse is saying that in relationships where people are bound to one another, Christians should not be “yoked” to unbelievers. This is because the pairing would be “unequal”. Why is that? Because Christians and non-Christians are on two completely different playing fields from each other.
- Christians love Jesus, unbelievers don’t
- Christians follow Scripture, unbelievers don’t
- Christians have God’s Spirit living in them, unbelievers don’t
- Christians are right with God, unbelievers aren’t
- Christians are going to heaven, unbelievers are going to hell
It will be hard for two people this different to be on the same page about things, especially the big issues of life.
Some people point out that 2 Corinthians 6:14, in context, isn’t talking about marriage at all. It is referring to Christians in the church and how they should associate with each other. While this is true, there certainly is a wider application. Any context where Christians are “hitched” with another person should be considered, especially the more intimate a relationship becomes. What could be more intimate than marriage? Even if you reject this passage as restricting marriage for Christians, the rest of Scripture teaches the same thing.
In 1 Corinthians 7:39, the Bible says that a Christian widow can remarry when her husband dies, but “only in the Lord”, meaning that she can marry a believing man. “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”
Later in 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul argues that he has the right to marry if he so desires. However, it should be noted that he specifically mentions that the other apostles only marry “a believing wife”, implying that that is what is fitting for a Christian man. “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
Proverbs 31 highlights what a godly woman is like. Verse 30 says “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Notice that the wife that is being praised in the passage is a believing woman.
Also, back in Deuteronomy 7:3-4, God forbade the Israelites from marrying foreign women. Despite what some say, this is not to prevent mixing races. Rather, it was to prevent the mixing of religions. God did not want his followers to marry those who worship other gods because it would cause their devotion to go astray. “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons,  for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.”
Lastly, perhaps the most pointed passage in the whole Bible on this subject is from Malachi 2:11-12 where God says “Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.  May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!” God could not be more clear. He calls a believer marrying an unbeliever “faithless”, an “abomination”, and “profane”. Clearly God considers a Christian marrying a non-Christian a very serious sin.
2. Inter-faith dating lacks true intimacy
Christianity is (at least in part) a worldview. It is a set of beliefs and values that inform and guide a person’s life and decision making. If a Christian dates or marries someone who is not a Christian, they are linking up with someone who has a different worldview. This matters because our worldview guides everything we do in life. It will be impossible for two people to have true closeness and intimacy if they do not share common beliefs and values, especially on the most important matters.
Tim Keller points out how this works. As a Christian, the most important thing in your life is (or at least ought to be) Christ. Yet if you are with someone who is not a believer, they cannot understand or relate to the most important thing about you. The thing that most defines you (as a Christ-follower) won’t make any sense to them. As a result it is impossible to have true oneness.
One of two things happens as a result. Either the Christian will continue to keep Jesus at the centre of their life and force their partner to adjust, or the Christian will compromise their faith in order to get closer to their unbelieving partner. Either scenario is a lose-lose. If the Christian remains faithful to Christ, the unbelieving person will never feel close in the relationship. But if the Christian compromises, they may be able to get closer to their partner, but lose intimacy with Christ as a result. Neither situation is ideal in the least.
However, when a Christian dates a Christian, there can be incredible unity and intimacy. Since they both share a common worldview and a common love for Christ, they can pursue him together. They each are running after Jesus and can cheer each other on. There is no competition for devotion to the Lord, but rather that devotion to God actually brings them together. They can pray together, read Scripture together, serve together, attend church together. They both are living for the glory of God and loving others. They have a common view of sex, finances, friendships, family, and the like. And even when there is disagreement, there is a common understanding of how to deal with it. Scripture acts as the arbitrator. Repentance from the guilty party and forgiveness from the innocent party is a given. In other words, they have the tools they need to make a 50 or 60 year run at life together if God should allow them to live that long.
As someone who is married to a strong Christian woman, I cannot overstate how much I appreciate this. Life and marriage is hard enough even when two people are on the same page. I can’t imagine trying to make it work with a partner who fundamentally sees the world differently than I do. A truly great relationship in such a case is virtually impossible.
3. God desires for us to pass our faith on to our kids
Maybe as someone who is only dating, the thought of marriage and especially kids seems a long ways off. But the wise person thinks long-term. One day the person you are dating (now or future) will become your husband or wife, and not long after you are likely to start having children together.
As a Christian, I’m assuming that you will want your children to love Jesus too. You’ll want to pray for them, teach them the Bible, bring them to church, talk to them about life and love and God. You’ll want them to have their own relationship with Christ and know the joy and freedom that comes with it.
Doing this task of passing on the faith is a lot of work. It is not an easy job. How much harder it is when your partner is not on board with it! Bringing children up in a home with mixed faith can be awfully confusing for the kids and frustrating for the parents. This is exactly the kind of thing God has in mind when he commands believers to marry only believers. Returning to Malachi 2, the passage goes on to say in verse 15 “Did [God] not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” Part of God’s purpose in marriage is to bring children into the world. And the reason God is so against Christians marrying non-Christians is because their children are far less likely to be Christians. He desires godly children, and that is hard to achieve when mom and dad are not pulling together in the same direction.
A family unit functions much better when there is agreement. In my home, it doesn’t matter who puts the kids to bed—they will be prayed with. It doesn’t matter if my wife or I can’t be there for supper—the other one will still lead family devotions. My kids never have to wonder why only one of us go to church, because we go together. They know that we both put Jesus first. There is a kind of unity that is wonderful beyond words, and God desires for all homes to experience this. But it only comes from obeying God’s will in these matters.
What do I do if I’m dating a non-Christian?
The truth is you already know what you need to do. The relationship needs to end. Of course this might be incredibly painful, especially if the relationship has continued for some time. But I can tell you that the pain now will be better than the pain you will experience down the road. I know many Christians who are married to non-Christians, and while they put in a lot of effort to make it work, their marriage is very hard and lonely. Often they experience more closeness with a Christian friend than their own partner since they can’t really talk about their faith at home. They can’t pray together or read Scripture together. They are pursuing Christ alone, while also knowing that their loved one will perish without faith. What a tragic and difficult place to be. It is far better to prevent winding up there if you can do so!
Conclusion: God has great plans for you
The real issue is faith. Do you trust that God knows what he is doing? Do you believe that he has a great plan for you? God loves you and wants good for you. He wants to direct you into the abundant life he has for you (John 10:10). My plea is that you would believe that God can provide for you a partner that you can have a great relationship with, one whom you can grow in faith with and have a kind of closeness that brings great joy. Trust him, walk in obedience, and he will direct your paths!
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Since then, it has been translated into hundreds of languages. English is one language that is fortunate enough to have many different translations of the Bible.
Translating from one language to another is a difficult task. Translators must take into account several important factors:
- Words in the original language may not have direct equivalents in other languages.
- Some expressions used in an ancient culture might not make sense in a modern-day culture.
- The meaning of words change over time.
As such, Bible translations vary along a scale from one extreme to another. At one end you have what is called word-for-word translations, which aim to translate from one language to another using the exact wording from the original, or at least as close as possible. On the other end you have what is called thought-for-thought translations (sometimes called dynamic equivalency) which aim to translate not the exact words from the original, but rather the basic concepts. This allows the translators to update the language and expressions to fit modern-day understandings. The most extreme forms of a thought-for-thought translation are actually less of a translation and more like a paraphrase.
The chart below demonstrates roughly where several popular translations land in terms of being word-for-word or thought-for-thought in their approach.
The New International Version (NIV), which is the most popular English translation in the world, lands roughly in the middle of the scale.
Which translation is best for me?
It is wise to make use of several different translations. When doing careful Bible study, it is good to use a more word-for-word translation. However, for long reading and devotional purposes, a thought-for-thought translation is easier to read. You might use a very literal translation to lead a Bible study class, but a thought-for-thought translation when teaching the Bible to young children. It also depends on your own skill level in reading and the skill level of others if you are in a teaching setting. Combining several solid translations for various purposes tends to be one way to get the most out of Bible reading.
After watching 13 Reasons Why, there is much to be said about this wildly popular and controversial show. I will attempt to share some reflections in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks. I will link to other articles as they are published. Be warned, spoilers and tragedy ahead.
Reflection #4 – Your truth, my truth
One of the more interesting characters in 13 Reasons Why is Tony. At first, it is hard to know if Tony is a good guy or a bad guy, but as the show rolls on it becomes clear that he is well-intentioned. Tony was entrusted by Hannah Baker with the cassette tapes she recorded explaining her suicide, and she left him a final task: make sure that everyone responsible for her death listens to the tapes.
At one point in the show, as Hannah’s best friend Clay Jensen is struggling to make sense of the material on the tapes, he and Tony get into a lively exchange. Clay openly wonders if all of the things Hannah says on the tapes are true, or if perhaps she is misconstruing things or, even worse, flat-out lying. Other characters in the show certainly accuse her of misrepresenting their part of the story. Hannah says on tape 1, “If you want to hear the truth, just press play”….but does she really tell the truth?
The concept of truth and lies is an intriguing interplay in the show. Hannah’s tapes are intended to be a tell-all of what led her to take her own life. But those who are indicted on the tapes vary in terms of accepting their role in that event. Some fully admit that Hannah’s portrayal of them is accurate, but others accuse her of misrepresenting the truth. In several cases, only Hannah and the accused would be able to know the truth, and since Hannah is dead, how can anyone know what really happened? It becomes a matter of he-said she-said, and this turns the teens against one another.
Back to Tony and Clay. Clay questions the truthfulness of the tapes, including his own, and argues with Tony that Hannah isn’t being honest about what actually happened. “It’s not true!”, Clay contends, feeling frustrated about the whole matter. “She’s telling us her truth,” Tony retorts, trying to give him a different perspective of things.
Who can argue with that? Hannah tells us her side of the story, and now that she is dead and on record, it becomes hard to challenge her take of things. Who wants to accuse the girl who killed herself of lying? How can anyone prove her wrong? It’s no surprise that the characters all find themselves in a moral dilemma of sorts. On one hand, they all did things that contributed to Hannah’s misery. On the other hand, there may have been other circumstances to factor in that Hannah doesn’t bother to mention. She simply gets to tell her version unchecked, and everyone else must deal with it.
Scripture warns us about failing to consider both sides of the story. Proverbs 18:17 says “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Problem is, Hannah Baker has made it next to impossible for the other side to share their version of events. She can’t be cross-examined. What she says goes, and because of that she paints many of her peers into a corner. Those listening to the tapes are left to wonder, do they deserve to be cornered? Or has Hannah manipulated the story to her own advantage?
Tony makes an insightful point when he says that Hannah is telling “her truth”. He implies that it doesn’t matter if her version seems off to you. Why? Because it was real to her. It is how she saw things, and no one can question it. People might not have tried to hurt her, but they did. Or, at least, she took it that way. How others see things doesn’t matter because how she saw them created the reality in which she lived…and it was something she didn’t want to be a part of any longer.
While Tony is absolutely right—Hannah was telling her version of the truth—it is very dangerous to suggest that such a notion is a good or acceptable thing. Is it right for Hannah to accuse someone of wronging her, even if they didn’t? Does how she take things override how things really were? In many cases, there is no doubt that Hannah was wronged by people in the show. But there are a handful of events where that is not necessarily so clear. Does she get to extend sweeping judgment in those instances just because she saw it that way? Or do those who are accused have a right to give their side of the story? Who’s truth can supersede someone else’s?
Pontius Pilate once posed this question to Jesus: “What is truth?” Is truth something that is objective, or is it subjective? Who gets to determine what is true when there is disagreement? If I see something one way and you see it another, who is telling the truth? You? Me? Both of us?
We live in a society that wants us to believe that truth is relative. What is true for you may not be true for me; we get to have our own versions of the truth. But this mentality is corrosive. When truth becomes untethered from reality and instead based on feelings, it becomes unhinged altogether. Truth ceases to be truth at all. All that is left are opinions and perspectives. And while opinions and perspective are useful, they are not solid foundations on which to build a life or a society.
Part of the reason there is so much vitriol in our culture is because we have lost the concept of real, objective truth. One of the most prominent examples of this in the show is when Hannah visits the school counsellor Mr. Porter as a last-ditch effort to reconsider suicide. She says it was her “one last chance at life”. She meets with him for only a few minutes and secretly records the conversation. She tells him that she is really struggling and does say at one point that she wants it all to end. It is a subtle suggestion at suicide, and Mr. Porter probes further, asking if she wants to hurt herself. Hannah refuses to talk about it, and Mr. Porter says that if she’s not willing to open up about things, there isn’t much he can do. Her only alternative is to try and move on. Hannah takes this as a rejection of help, leaves his office, goes home and kills herself.
Hannah clearly blames Mr. Porter for letting her down. The other students do too. Even Mr. Porter himself seems nervous when things go to trial that he might lose his job or be found to have broken the law. But I couldn’t help but notice that it is not so clear that Mr. Porter failed Hannah. It’s true that he could have perhaps tried a bit harder, but it is also true that Hannah shut down the conversation. In fact, she leaves his office and pauses outside the door, hoping he would come after her. He doesn’t, and Hannah blames him for giving up too easily. Yet it is worth asking, should he have chased after her? Is it a good idea to hound a student who is shutting down? I can say from experience that trying to have a student open up when they don’t want to can be counter-productive. Perhaps Mr. Porter was biding his time, hoping for a productive conversation soon thereafter. Little did he know it would never come.
Mr. Porter is legally obligated to report a student who he believes is in immediate danger of hurtful or suicidal behaviour. It is questionable if Hannah says enough to justify him doing so. Hannah seems to conclude on the tapes that he did fail her, but is that true? Just because Hannah wanted him to do more does not mean that he let her down. I feel bad for Mr. Porter. While I do think that he could have done more, it doesn’t help that Hannah was being passive-aggressive with him. When she comes to him for help and then shuts down the conversation, how is he supposed to overcome that? When she leaves his office but expects him to come after her, how is he supposed to know that is what she wants? This is one instance where Hannah is telling her version of the truth that might not be exactly as true as it ought to be.
The sum of the matter is this: Truth is real, and truth matters. People do not get to simply make up their version of the truth and then demand that others live by it. Hannah’s assessment of other people’s actions sometimes lacks a full and fair portrayal. Simply because she says she is setting the record straight does not mean that her perspective gets to go unchallenged. While her perception of the world around her is a painful one, that does not automatically assign blame to others. To be sure, many instances in the show are clearly sins against Hannah. But at least and handful are questionable. The truth might lie somewhere beyond her simplistic and one-sided viewpoint.
If we are going to make progress in helping hurting people find healing, the first step is to define reality as it actually is. Sometimes our perspective is what needs changing. To be sure, people need to be heard. They need empathy and understanding. But we ought not to allow people to define reality for themselves and then demand other people fall in line with it. Such a view of truth is destructive by necessity. It will breed only quarrels between competing “truths”. Rather, truth exists objectively outside of our subjective feelings, and we need to help each other pursue that. Your truth vs. my truth is a collision course that brings only casualties.
Hannah’s world was full of pain, but she believed that there was only one way out. She had defined her own truth, and needed someone to show her a reality that was different from the one she found herself enclosed in. The truth is that suicide was not the only option. It was not even the best option. But Hannah had boxed herself into her own version of the truth, and it killed her. Sometimes the best thing we can do for someone is challenge their sense of truth. But to do so begins by understanding that truth is not based on a person’s individual feelings. Such an idea just might suck a person into their own early grave.
After watching 13 Reasons Why, there is much to be said about this wildly popular and controversial show. I will attempt to share some reflections in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks. I will link to other articles as they are published. Be warned, spoilers and tragedy ahead.
Reflection #3 – Maybe there aren’t any good kids
It does not take long to figure out that there are some major problems going on with the characters in 13 Reasons Why. From the beginning of the first tape to the last, Hannah Baker unfolds detail after painful detail about how she was hurt, betrayed, bullied, lied to, lied about, disappointed, and even raped by those around her. The 13 episodes move almost like a conveyor belt of sins that lay before the audience some of the harshest sides of human nature. To one degree or another, everyone on the tapes has contributed to the mess they find themselves in through their own sinful choices.
Many of the characters, perhaps even all, struggle with feelings of guilt for what they have done. They are not only part of the reason for Hannah Baker’s suicide, but they have torn others apart in the process. They try various things to alleviate the consciences that constantly gnaw at them. Some turn to alcohol, some to blame shifting. Others experience denial, while another wants to confess and bring everything into the light. One girl, who was partly responsible for causing a car accident and successfully blaming it on someone else, actually goes after school hours to the victims house to visit and help out. The elderly couple thinks she is just being a nice girl, but they have no idea she is trying to atone for the fact that the man’s injuries are actually her fault.
What I find really fascinating is the difference in perspective between the students and the adults in the show. On a number of occasions, when a teen begins to express feelings of guilt, they are assured by their parents that it is not their fault. Rest assured, the parents say, “you’re a good kid”. This statement—you’re a good kid—seems to be the central truth claim that the parents use to try and make their kids feel better. This claim is repeated several times over until finally Clay Jensen snaps back at his mother “maybe there aren’t any good kids”.
Maybe there aren’t any good kids. Whether knowingly or not, the show has finally made its first correct diagnosis of the problem. While the adults try over and over to squash this notion, the teenagers’ inner voices speak too loudly. Clay, Jessica, Bryce, Alex, Zach, and the others all know better. They are keenly aware of their choices, and the idea that they are “good kids” is just way too superficial a notion to gloss over their horrendous actions. That they could be just “good kids” who messed up a little is a truth claim that they ultimately seem to reject, although it is never really made clear how they cope with the idea that they might actually be bad people.
I point this out because 13 Reasons is on to something. When Clay shouts in frustration that there might not be any good kids, himself included, it is the closest the show comes to a biblical worldview. Jesus himself says “no one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Scripture does not teach that human beings are good at their core with some minor flaws that need adjusting. Instead, it says that we are sinners by nature, and that what we need is not self-improvement but inner transformation. It is too bad that Clay finally gets headed in the right direction with his assessment of the situation—there aren’t any good kids—but the show never comes back around to properly addressing it. By the end of the show, Clay seems to have learned from his mistakes and becomes a more loving person (he reaches out to a girl that needs a friend). But this, at least in my judgment, seems like an awfully superficial solution. If the kids truly are bad, can they just make that go away by making better decisions? How can they make good decisions from a nature that is broken?
The Christian answer is that they can’t. It is true that there are no good people. We are all self-centred by default. Sometimes even our acts of charity can be driven by selfish motives. What sinners (aka bad people) need is not simply to make better choices. What they need is a new nature. They need renewal, to be born again, to become a new person. This is the hope of the gospel, that by faith in Christ we become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is what the crew of 13 Reasons Why so desperately needed but never seemed to find. Because of this, the very thing that wreaked havoc in the first place goes on unchecked. The show implies a degree of progress has been made, but this is wishful thinking. If Clay is right that there aren’t any good kids (and he is), then the solution must come from somewhere outside of humanity, from above and beyond. The transforming power of Christ is the solution, it’s just a shame that this hope was never really given any consideration at all.
Reflection #2 – A world without God
The world of Hannah Baker is a dark and depressing one. It is this way not only for her, but also for many of her classmates at Liberty High. The school has a major bullying problem, while also dealing with the standard teenage drama: drugs, alcohol, complicated dating relationships, and the like. Though a fictional universe, 13 Reasons Why reflects much of the high school experience for real-life teens. It is a place where sin runs rampant and the consequences are devastating.
It is worth noting that the show barely even addresses the existence of God. It hardly acknowledges religion in any form at all. If I’m not mistaken, there are only two times religion is really brought up. One is when Tony mentions in passing that he is Catholic—and even then, it is not hard to figure out that his Catholic self-designation is more of a family tradition thing than a real, active faith in God. The other is when a family sits around the dinner table to say grace over the meal, a scene which adds no real significance to the plot line at all.
This is not to say that God isn’t mentioned, because he is. Jesus is too. In fact, they are mentioned multiple times in pretty much every episode. Problem is, they are only mentioned in the form of curse words. And even though the show revolves around the death of a girl, talk about the afterlife is next to nil. A handful of passing remarks are included, but not with any real serious discussion or consideration. It seems that Clay and the rest of the 13 Reasons Why folks essentially find themselves in a world where there is no hope beyond themselves and the present life.
This worldview is important to note because it shapes and influences the rest of the show. For a story that wrestles with some of the most foundational aspects of our existence—life, death, hope, forgiveness, and justice—I can’t help but think that the absence of God and religion is entirely intentional. Even if the writers and producers do not hold to religious beliefs themselves, to completely ignore them in a show like this just doesn’t make any sense. Why is there not even one character who holds even moderately deep convictions of a religious nature? Why does not one person grapple with the question, Where is God?
It seems like a gigantic omission to me. I don’t expect shows like this one to promote a religious message, but to create a world that is so strikingly absent of any real concept of God at all seems imbalanced and unrealistic. However, I do think that this has its advantages. Because the world of 13 Reasons has no God, it is a painfully bleak place to live. Hannah feels as if her reputation as a slut cannot be changed and is incapable of finding hope or healing. Clay begins to take matters of justice into his own hands when he learns what others did to his friend, something which is surely motivated in part by the belief that there is no God to execute this justice instead. Other students struggle to forgive themselves or each other. Hannah’s parents try to alleviate their feelings of guilt by promoting anti-bulling campaigns in the school. In short, no one seems capable of true forgiveness or trusting in God to right all wrongs in the end. Everyone seems to assume that they must create these realities for themselves, otherwise they will never exist.
Here’s my point. 13 Reasons Why does a great job of portraying a world that has no hope. Without God, we cannot expect to receive any help from the outside. We are left to our own devices. This is the fundamental truth that ruins everyone’s lives in the show. Those who need an identity beyond what others have labelled them cannot seem to create one. Those who need healing seek it in the wrong places. Those who need forgiveness try to atone for their own mistakes. Those who need hope try to manufacture it on their own. It is sad and tragic because all of these problems can find their solution in God.
The main point by the end of the series seems to be that by caring for one another, the struggles experienced in the show would be resolved. Yet this is surely too simple of an answer. We know from looking at human history that unkindness is part of this world. We all contribute to this misery by treating others in ways we should not. To believe that the pain of life will be taken away by expecting that human beings can live together in peace and harmony is a pipe dream. That universe has not, and cannot, exist. At least not apart from God.
Though the show does not intend for its viewers to seek God, my prayer is that the hopelessness of the godless world of 13 Reasons will drive viewers to look for help from the outside. It is painfully clear that these high school students do not have the resources they need in themselves, each other, their families, or their schools in order to cope with the troubles of life. It is nothing but cycles of abuse, revenge, and misery. But a world that includes God includes hope.
Hannah needed to know that her reputation didn’t define her; God’s love does. She needed to know that when everything around her seemed hopeless, there was still hope; God is above and beyond her circumstances. Clay needed to know that he did not need to seek revenge for Hannah; God will execute justice in due time. The others needed to know that they could find healing from their guilty consciences; God forgives us of our sins.
A world without God has no hope. 13 Reasons shows this well. It is a good thing that 13 Reasons is just a work of fiction. The real world in which we live does have hope, because there is a God we can turn to in times of need, who has a plan and a future for anyone who trusts in him.
Reflection #1 – Why so popular?
If you haven’t heard of it by now, you are either completely disconnected from social media, living under a rock, or have no real presence in the world of teenagers. The Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why (based on a book of the same name) is easily the most popular show online and is one of the most trending conversation pieces on social media and in the blogosphere. It is the talking point among young people. And as a pastor who works with young people, I decided to sit down and watch the show for myself so I could be part of the discussion.
First, the premise. 13 Reasons Why centres on main character Hannah Baker, who we are told up front has committed suicide. Through a series of flashbacks, the show traces Hannah’s various troubles as a high school student that eventually lead her to take her own life. Along the path, many different friends, bullies, and even school faculty are drawn into the web of events that eventually cause Hannah to feel as if life can no longer go on. To be clear, the show is directly centred on suicide. It is not a side issue, but the issue in the show.
The plot twist that makes the premise even more troublesome is that, prior to killing herself, Hannah records a series of 13 cassette tapes, each addressed to a specific individual whom she blames as part of the reason for killing herself. Through the tapes, she tells the story of how each person contributed to her misery, and how these events connected to each other. She also demands that each person included in the tapes take turns listening to all 13 of them. In this way, many people’s secrets are revealed and a web of sin is spun that entangles them all. Oh, and one more thing. Hannah has given a second set of tapes to a trusted friend. If the tapes are not passed along to each person to be listened to, this confidant will release the spare ones to the public, so that every wrong that has been done to Hannah will be blown up for the world to see.
Though Hannah is the main subject of the flashbacks, the show’s present-time storyline revolves around Hannah’s former best friend and eventual crush Clay Jensen. Clay, unlike most of the guys at the school, is quiet, unassuming, and kind. He doesn’t appear to care much for popularity and isn’t chasing after girls left and right. Clay is particularly distraught by Hannah’s death and struggles to sort out why she did it. As one of the last recipients of the tapes (after they have been listened to by several others first), Clay bounces back and forth between going to the police and feeling pressured to keep the secrets under wraps. At other points he gets revengeful towards those who have hurt Hannah, and it becomes an internal struggle to know what the right next step is. Does he honour Hannah’s wishes by keeping things hush? Does he seek justice against those who have wronged her? Is he willing to risk going down in flames with those who also are named by Hannah in the tapes?
This show is really hard to watch. I did not watch it for entertainment purposes, and I would not advise anyone else to do so. Though very well done and very engaging, the storyline is extremely disturbing, and the content even more so. Included in the 13 episodes are a constant barrage of filthy language, sex, drinking, drug use, violence, theft, bullying, self-injury, sexual assault, rape, threats of murder, and in the show’s climactic scene, a horrifically graphic depiction of Hannah slitting her wrists in the bathtub. The camera does not pan away from any of these events. I had a really hard time watching the show, and there were a number of times when I had to avert my eyes or simply fast forward through parts. It’s not at all the kind of thing I would normally watch.
Despite all of this, 13 Reasons is wildly popular, especially among young people. What is it that draws such attention? The reason I believe is that the show’s content hits close to home for many teenagers. It is not a cheesy portrayal of high school life as many movies and tv shows are. Rather, it is raw and real. No topic is off limits, and sensitive subject matter has no bounds. It is in your face—and in that sense, it resonates with many high school students. Hannah deals with a lot of things that are common in high school, and many teens can likely relate to her. If not to her, it is not hard to relate to at least one of the characters in the show. A diverse group is included in the central plot line and therefore the content of the show comes off as being very real. In short, young people emotionally connect with the show because it cuts to the heart of what they are already facing.
This is both good and bad. The producers of the show make no qualms about their goal: they intended to create a product that would force people to talk about suicide and the harshness of teen life. They wanted to make it impossible for people not to talk about it. Well, objective achieved. The show is on everyone’s radar now, but I can’t help but wonder, is that good or bad? On one hand, it creates a great opportunity to talk about a subject that is still seen as taboo in many places. On the other hand, one might argue that the show does not provide a clear enough solution to the problem. After all, Hannah does kill herself. There is no happy ending. While the show intends to move the viewer towards learning a lesson from this tragedy (ie. how we treat people really matters), it might be just as likely to entrench a person in the mindset that there is no hope out there.
At the very least, the subject matter is on the table; of that there is no denial. Some might find it too sensitive to touch, but I beg to differ. The fact that this has come to the forefront of the discussion means we have a great opportunity to talk about these issues and provide care, support, and solutions. And though the world of 13 Reasons is a really dark one without a simple, clean-cut conclusion, that actually can aid the conversation. Life doesn’t always work out smoothly. Real life is complicated and messy. But unlike what Hannah ultimately determines, there is still hope in the midst of the pain.