13 Reasons Why and the Hope of the Gospel

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From the Desk of Sara Litten:

There is much a buzz about the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” and if I were clever enough I would probably have written out 13 Reasons Why you should or should not watch this show, but I’m not that clever.  A couple of weeks ago I watched the show, in two days while I was hauled up in bed with a pulled neck muscle.  For the most part, if there’s a teenage show out there that is popular I’ve probably watched it.  I can act like it’s because I want to be relevant but the real reason is because I LOVE teenage shows, books, drama, etc.  Otherwise I suppose a 31 year old with a 3 year might not love doing this whole hanging out with teenagers gig.  All of that to say, I am sure that you have read a few articles and blogs about this show.  Maybe even freaking out a little because your child has already seen the show or just freaking out because everyone else is.  I’m not here to offer you any new information, but just wanted to inform you as someone that loves teenagers and all things teen my thoughts on the show. 

I have had numerous conversations about whether or not I think this show is appropriate.  Let me go ahead and start this conversation off with a resounding NO.  That way if you don’t want to read anymore and you’re good with that then you can stop reading here.  I’ll tell you the number 1 reason why I think your teen should not watch it unless they are a senior in high school or above has less to do about suicide and depression.  In this show, there are incredibly graphic scenes of rape and suicide that would be difficult to process as a young teen.  If your student has already watched the show, which even if they say they haven’t they probably have…it would not be a bad idea to process what they saw.

If you don’t know the premise of the show, the main character, Hannah Baker, commits suicide but leaves recordings of 13 reasons why she did it.  Each episode is a different reason or person that caused Hannah Baker to decide to end her life.  It is ultimately a revenge suicide.  Although, I understand why people are freaking out a little about this show, I’ll tell you there are a few things in it that I found very valuable and true about teenage culture, and the message that I really wish this show would have focused on.

Hannah Baker faces a lot of very typical things that teenage girls and boys alike face on a regular basis.  Rejection, loneliness, being misunderstood, embarrassment, and trying desperately to find out who she really is.  What does this sound like?  It sounds like life.  Hannah is rejected by new friends, gossip goes around about her that isn’t true, she is seen as an object for guys because of the gossip that has gone around about her, and innocent actions turn.  Almost all of these feelings that Hannah experiences revolve around this sexual culture that has been killing our teenagers.  I do not use the word “killing” lightly here.  It literally KILLS Hannah at the end of this show.  The sexual culture that, to paraphrase Walt Mueller, “the sexual soup our youth are swimming in,” is pervasive in so many ways.

One of the ways I have seen this in multiple conversations with girls is in the way that guys talk to girls and the way that girls respond.  If you were to ask many of the girls in our youth group if they have every been asked “for a pic” meaning a picture of themselves naked, or insinuating nudity, many of them will say they have been asked.  I remember very clearly having met with a few girls and we got on this subject.  I asked them if these guys were their friends or if they were just random guys.  All of them said, “oh yeah, these are our friends.”  They hang out with them, talk with them on a regular basis.  I asked them why they didn’t just tell those guys to go to you know where.  Many of their responses were that they didn’t want to hurt their feelings, or they just giggled it off.  The same thing happens oftentimes with girls when guys ask them to go further sexually than maybe they want to.  Instead of being firm and strong, they answer with a giggle and a no.  That guy needs that girl to say no.  That guy needs her to say, what you think of me is not what I find my worth in just as much as that girl needs to be strong.  This is where the feminist movement has it all wrong.  Instead of “take control,” how about we talk about their value as a human being.  How about we talk about men as valuable human beings. 

Our over sexualized culture says that sex is life. The truth of the Bible is that God created sex for man.  Our culture says, God (or whatever), created man for sex.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we deserve.  As teenage boys, it’s what it means to be a man and gain satisfaction or pleasure.  As teenage girls, it’s how we can feel attracted, loved, and valued.  For both guys and girls, it’s the measure of their worth. Hannah Baker’s death is what is true for each and everyone one of us when we seek to find our worth in anything but Jesus.  If all of our life comes down to how many sexual partners we have, how good we are in bed, how satisfied we are sexually, we are killing ourselves in the exact same way.

What I think is valuable about this show is that it reveals something, as believers, we know to be true.  It’s hopeless without the hope of Jesus.   Hannah Baker didn’t need more friends, she didn’t need more people to love her, she didn’t need better advice, she needed hope.  Hannah Baker’s experiences of loneliness, rejection, fear, desire, etc, are not to be demeaned.  These are feelings that we as adults face on a daily basis, but as a teenager they are experienced in a devastating way.  And I do mean devastating.  Sprinkling a little bit of Jesus in your life isn’t going to help those devastating feelings to go away.  What is true is that Jesus experienced all of those very same things (Hebrews 4:15-16). Rejection by the very people that were his friends, loneliness as He faced the ultimate rejection by His Father, despair, devastation.  He even experienced death.

This hope doesn’t make suffering and rejection and depression go away.  Jesus IS the hope and it didn’t go away for Him.  This hope points us in the midst of suffering to the One that actually gives us worth and value because He created us.    May this be the hope that we give our teenager in the midst of devastation and suffering.  Not as a bandaid to feel better, but to bring life and light to our dark and dead hearts. 

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