I sat down on the couch, picked up the remote, and began scrolling through the available TV shows and movies. There were hundreds to choose from ranging from Karate Kid to Skyfall. I clicked on an episode of West Wing and begin to immediately watch it. I don’t have to set my DVR to record at some future time. There is no need to look at the listing time to see whether or not I am home. I can watch it right now. Oh, the beauty of Netflix. It is TV on my schedule and my preference.
On-demand television is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, the stock of Netflix recently soared based on dramatically increased subscriptions over the past few months. Apparently, people are switching from cable to on-demand viewing because it is personal and convenient. Experts indicated this is the new way of watching TV. Cable companies will have to adapt otherwise they will see their customer base decrease. I’ll be the first to admit I get it. I like being able to watch a program when I want to and how I want to. Yet, in thinking about this entertainment shift, I wonder what impact this might have on our faith. I think like this because I believe what happens in one area of our life definitely impacts other areas.
First, I wonder if this shift will only accelerate our spiritual narcissism. We already live in an age where we expect God to cater to our needs. We are less quick to trust in God’s sovereign purposes and readily willing to demand that He meet our desires. It is not uncommon for me to hear someone say during a pastoral conversation, “I have been attending church. I don’t understand why He is doing this to me (i.e. some hardship).” I graciously respond by reminding them that God is not a genie but Lord. This mentality doesn’t surprise me. We live in service-oriented culture. Customer is always right. Good companies handle complaints quickly and favorably. When we live in such a culture, it should not surprise us that eventually it carries over to God. And now we have the Netflix phenomenon which pushes us more towards a “me-centered” perspective.
Second, it seems that on-demand viewing can lead to a breakdown in relationships. Rather than collectively watch a program, everyone can simply enjoy their own personal TV or movie theatre. You don’t even need a TV. You can watch your own program on your smart phone or laptop. We are becoming more privatized, more individualized. We don’t have to negotiate a program with other people. We simply watch what we want when we want it. We have already seen this shift in the church as more people admit to staying at home. Rather than worship in a community, they seek spiritual teaching through the internet, radio, or TV. There is no need to worship with people. We can enjoy God in the private, alone and based on our preference. In my experience, this works good when life is good. However, in the difficult moments, we need real people with real hugs and real conversations.
Third, our patience is becoming defined by minutes not months. There used to be a day where patience was a natural part of living. We waited for our meals rather than expected immediacy. A person would schedule their evening around a particular program then wait until it showed once a week. Now, there is no waiting. Some new TV series are even released at one time rather than weekly. A TV executive was asked why they released all six episodes at one time. They responded, ‘People don’t want to wait for the next program. They want to watch it now.’ This is the mindset of today. Patience is defined by minutes not months. Again, this most certainly will impact our relationship with God as we are quick to say “Lord, please respond to my prayer today.” I am guilty like everyone else when it comes to spiritual patience which is why I need to be reminded that God is not going to change simply because culture has changed. He will accomplish His purposes according to His timetable, not ours.