This week I leave for a trip to Ukraine, Belarus, and Hungary.  My first stop, Ukraine, brings to mind memories of the stirring Orange Revolution that occurred there in 2004.  In one of my books, What Good Is God, I told the little-known story of an unlikely hero who helped spark that revolution.

Like other members of the Soviet Union, Ukraine moved toward democracy as the Soviet empire collapsed, though in Ukraine democracy advanced at a glacial pace.  If you think our elections are dirty, consider that when the Ukrainian reformer Victor Yushchenko dared to challenge the entrenched party, he nearly died from a suspicious case of dioxin poisoning.  Against all advice, Yushchenko, his body weakened and his face permanently disfigured by the poison, remained in the race.  On election day the exit polls showed him with a 10 percent lead; through outright fraud the government managed to reverse those results.

The state-run television station reported, “Ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”  However, government authorities had not taken into account one feature of Ukrainian television, the translation it provides for the hearing-impaired.  On the picture-in-picture inset in the lower right-hand corner of the television screen a brave woman raised by deaf-mute parents gave a very different message in sign language.  “I am addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine,” she signed.  “Don’t believe what they [the authorities] say.  They are lying and I am ashamed to translate these lies.  Yushchenko is our President!”

Deaf people, inspired by their translator Natalya Dmitruk, led the Orange Revolution!  They text-messaged their friends on mobile phones about the fraudulent elections, and soon other journalists took courage from Dmitruk’s act of defiance and likewise refused to broadcast the party line.  Over the next few weeks as many as a million people wearing orange flooded the capital city of Kiev to demand new elections.  Under such massive pressure, the government scheduled new elections, and this time Yushchenko emerged as the undisputed winner.

When I heard the story behind the Orange Revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church.  Jesus-followers do not control the big screen.  (When we do, we usually mess it up.)  Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you will see a consistent message.  What matters is how beautiful you are, or how much money and power you have.

Magazine covers feature shapely supermodels and handsome hunks, even though very few people look like that.  Every parent knows what a devastating impact the relentless big-screen message can have on an unattractive teenager.  And though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or the news shows.  Instead we focus on the super-rich, names like Jeff Bezos or the Kardashians.  One telling fact symbolizes our celebrity culture: several elite basketball players in the NBA will each earn more money this year than the entire United States Senate.  What kind of society values one person’s athletic prowess more than the contributions of its top 100 legislators?

Our modern society is hardly unique.  Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers.  Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen—they’re lying.  It’s the poor who are blessed, not the rich.  Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted.  Those who go through life thinking they’re on top will end up on the bottom.  And those who go through life feeling they’re at the very bottom will end up on top.  After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?

Society barrages us with the message that our worth depends on appearance or income or access to power.  Jesus calls us to see the world through God’s eyes, to realize that God may care as much about what is happening in Syria or Myanmar right now as on Wall Street, that God may have as much interest in the rundown neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles 90011 as in Beverly Hills 90210.  The prescription for health, for an individual or society, requires attending to the contrarian message of the small screen.

The United States, arguably the most blessed nation in history, must confront the sad fact that privilege does not solve everything.  We have a stable political system and we have, at least for now, more money than any other nation on earth.  And yet with 4.4 percent of the world’s population we house 22 percent of the world’s prisoners, almost as many as China and Russia combined.  And we consume three-fourths of all the world’s prescription drugs.

The message of the big screen—Consume!  Indulge!  Enjoy!—has patently failed.  Apart from the damage it does our planet, consider the damage we do to ourselves.  The gravest health concerns in the U. S. stem from overindulgence: smoking (emphysema, lung cancer); obesity (diabetes, heart problems); stress (heart disease, hypertension); alcohol (fetal damage, violent crime, automobile accidents); drug abuse; sexually transmitted diseases.  We smoke too much, eat too much, drink too much, work too much, and sleep around with too many people.

We are quite literally destroying ourselves.  In light of that fact, shouldn’t we give some thought to the message of the small screen?

(Adapted from What Good Is God)


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16 responses to “Big Screen, Little Screen”

  1. Ann O'Malley says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. It came at a good time!

  2. Ann O'Malley says:

    I love your big screen/small screen analogy! It’s a great image of the church within the larger culture. But I have to admit that I get pretty discouraged by the current state of Christianity in America. It seems like a lot of believers do see the small screen, but choose to follow the big screen anyway.

    Another analogy that a Christian friend pointed out to me years ago involves the movie The Matrix, in which the main characters must choose between living what appears to be a relatively comfortable life but is actually an illusion to distract them from their slavery to the machines that have taken over the world, or facing reality, as unpleasant as it may be, and fighting for the freedom of people everywhere. When my friend and I saw it together for the first time, it triggered an ongoing conversation about the greatest realities in life. Which is the more real, the more permanent world—the physical one or the spiritual?

    As in the movie, believers face a choice. We can deny the greater, spiritual reality and commit our lives to our own comfort and security, or we can serve God and others regardless of the cost. Which option does the Bible demand of us? Which will have the greatest impact, not just in this life, but for eternity? (Adapted from my blog,, in a recent post titled “The Matrix.”)

    The trigger for my blog entry was a conversation with other Christians about the movie. They all agreed that they would choose to remain as captives in the matrix, rather than suffering and sacrificing in the real world. Even though they’ve seen the small screen and clearly understood it, they’re choosing to follow the big screen way of life.

    It helps me to know that a good and loving God is still in control, but I grieve for my country.

  3. J.Samuel Prem Chandar says:

    Blessed message. In fact see the world in God’s view through Jesus is the real blessing. For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

  4. Andrew P says:

    Thank you, Philip, for setting forth the truth in such a simple, clear and compelling manner.
    It is as Saint Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 1, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” Those who pursue only worldly success (wealth, power, fame, pleasure, and knowledge) are in truth the foolish and the weak. We could maybe modify Paul’s words, “God chose the foolish people of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak people of the world to shame the strong.” Let us seek to be foolish and weak (according to the world’s standards), that we may in truth be wise and strong (in God’s eyes).
    God bless you in your adventure of truth-finding and truth-telling.

  5. Joyce James says:

    I love and have read every book of yours that I have been able to obtain, and share
    with others. Always give me much to ponder on. A question: Is the Almighty Creator
    big enough, wise enough, His love strong enough, that His total will, His eternal purpose can be completely fulfilled. I like to think that it is eventually possible.

  6. Sharon Struve says:

    Jesus was always a servant. He even healed on the Sabboth. He loved the little screen and you have written about that so well. Blessings on your ministry and your writing. God chose you to minister to us.

  7. Ken says:

    As usual, brilliant observation. That we all would have that kind of courage!

  8. Thomas varghese says:

    We are blessed by reading your books.
    Specially books on grace of God.

  9. Agnes Banas says:

    Any public speech or serman in Hungary?

  10. Margaret says:

    Absolutely, Philip! The big screen is lying about “the golden years”, too! No matter how old we get, the path to joy and happiness is not the kind of retirement where we just focus on enjoying ourselves. “You deserve it!” the big screen ads say! But nothing makes us feel more vibrantly alive and “young” again than reaching out with God’s love and helping others, even when we least feel like it! My natural inclination even when traveling to an overseas mission is to just keep quiet and rest. . After all, I tell myself, why would a younger person want to talk to a 70+ gray haired old lady anyway? But I am always amazed, that when I push myself to inquire about their life, they are often quite excited to hear about what I do, and want to know more. And when I get to tell them about God’s love for them, I no longer feel old, tired or jet lagged!
    And you are on your way to Ukraine, Belarus and Hungary, Philip! Enjoy God’s blessings that are surely ahead and we will look forward to hearing about it in future blogs!

  11. Wai Ng says:

    I really enjoyed this

  12. Thanks Phil. You manage the little screen well.

  13. Judy Yoo (Hyeonjeong Yoo) says:

    /Small screen/

    Before any angel start to blow the trumpet
    we’d better hurry to concentrate to the real deep sound ones inside of each cells.

  14. Thomas Rood says:

    Excellent read we usual. Have read all your books and several on hand that I loan out!!

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