Proverbs 6: 32-33But a man who commits adultery has no sense;whoever does so destroys himself.
There is a lot of teaching in the proverbs about warnings against adultery. This morning, this one in particular struck out to me because it is so different from the messages presented about adultery in popular film and television.
In 2015, I started reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In fact, I can tell you the precise day I started reading it – February 14. I wasn’t reading it because it was Valentine’s Day – I read it to distract myself while I was experiencing early pre-labour contractions with my second child who was born the next morning.
Being of Scottish descent myself, I loved the Scottish Highland setting. I also loved learning about the history – the deposed Stuart Monarchs – with whom I share a family linage (albeit a very very distant one!)
I also love the main character, Claire. I love her passion and her fire. I love that she is not a damsel in distress, but instead when she finds herself magically transported from the year 1946 to the year 1743, she uses every skill she had hones as a battle nurse on the front lines in WWII to survive.
Claire, married to Frank Randall in 1946, begins her journey in the past desperately seeking her return to the man she loves. Yet, through circumstances beyond her control, she soon finds herself with no other choice but to marry another man – rugged, hyper masculine, yet gentle and kind Jamie Fraser – (think every image emblazoned on the cover of a mills and Boone novel rolled into one).
Throughout the novel, both Claire and the reader’s allegiances shift from the “husband of her youth” Frank to her new husband Jamie. When circumstances eventually get too dangerous for Claire to stay in the 1700s, (with the ill-fated Battle of Culloden looming, and Clarie and Jamie finding themselves on the wrong side of history).
Instead of cheering for the safe return of Claire to her husband, little by little, the reader, along with Claire, has fallen for Jamie. Our hearts break when their love is separated again by a seemingly uncrossable span of 300 years. (But – spoiler alert – with another 6 novels to go at that point, we can safely assume Claire won’t remain in the 20th Century forever!).
I went along with the ride, suspending my critical brain and allowing the author to make me feel the same things as Claire. It was only later when I realised that I had been expertly manipulated into cheering for the ruination of one marriage for the sake of another.
When Claire returns to Frank, their relationship is never the same again. Nor should it be. She has given herself to another man – body and soul – and has nothing left to give to her first husband, despite the love she initially felt for him.
Outlander does in some ways depict the pain of emotional betrayal and marital breakdown; the sections that show the 20 years of a fractured, broken marriage between Claire and Frank after her 3 years with Jamie are painful, raw, and heartbreaking. In some ways it does depict the warnings of proverbs. Adultery can will the adulterer to injure themselves as well as the people they purport to love.
Yet the message presented by Outlander, as well as many other popular film and TV shows, can undercut such warnings. Claire finds her true love and soulmate in Jamie, despite the fact she has made a covenant oath to another man.
Outlander isn’t alone in preaching this message. Scandal, Homeland, The Good Wife and even my beloved BBC Sherlock all contain plots were we follow a main character from the arms of their spouse and into the affections, and often the bed of another.
Certainly, these shows do show some the problems that arise from such a coupling, and the complications that ensue. Yet, at the same time they are also designed to build the sexual tension between the two characters so that when they finally succumb to temptation, the audience is cheering, rather than, in the words of the proverbs, seeing the characters as having “no sense” and on a path to “destroy themselves”.
So much of the TV I consume runs in distinct contrast to the warnings in God’s word, like the one I read in Proverbs today.
What about you? Do you tune in to the TV and turn off your critical brain? Do you allow the messages of the story to dilute the true, right and lasting messages of God’s word?
God’s warnings in the Proverbs are to those who want to be wise. These are warnings we won’t be seeing on TV. What are you going to do with your viewing habits? And how will you temper them with the timeless truths of God’s word?