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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Watching Closely

Contagion, a 2011 disaster movie about a viral pandemic, has soared in downloads and rentals. The 1995 film Outbreak has seen a similar surge in views. Even tales of zombie armageddon like 28 Days Later and World War Z are more popular than ever.

You might imagine we would be desperate for escapism now, but instead many of us are choosing to watch our worst fears play out on screen. As one BuzzFeed headline despaired: ‘The Only Thing I Want To Do Is Binge-Watch Apocalypse Movies.’

Charles Bramesco describes this as a ‘sanctioned version of exposure therapy’. By recasting our current situation in a fictional scenario, we can watch a version play out where some characters triumph, a solution is discovered, and ‘an inconceivable menace can be experienced and survived’. In other words: disaster films lend us an illusion of control.

The pandemic has introduced great uncertainty to areas which we normally try to manage: our health, our financial security, our future plans. It’s shattered the idea that we are rulers of our own destinies. Watching disaster films, refreshing news coverage, cycling between social media, or rechecking the infection curve can provide temporary reassurance – a feeling that we are one step ahead. But for Christians there is an extraordinary assurance that we aren’t in ultimate control.

In Psalm 121, the psalmist journeys along a dangerous path, wondering where to look for help. He remembers God’s promise to ‘watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore’. God represents himself here as a watchman who cares for the city during the night; one who never tires. For us, too, God’s careful watch promises to cover our whole lives – and deaths – until the end of the age and beyond.

There are many places we can look for an illusion of control, particularly in a digital age of 24-hour news and streaming services. Perhaps, like me, you need some practical measures to ‘turn your eyes upon Jesus’ instead. This week, why not open your Bible before checking your phone each morning, fast from social media, memorise Psalm 121, take breaks from the news, or use your daily exercise to pray as you walk?

As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can rest secure in the knowledge that God himself fixes his eyes on us. There is no safer place in the whole universe than under the gaze of the Lord Almighty.


Katherine Ladd


  1. Thank you, Katherine, very wise and timely suggestions especially on organising our daily routine to prioritise our access to God’s word and prayer. I recently made a startling comparison of my time spent daily doing newspaper puzzles with time spent reading God’s word… adjustments have been made! Our spirits need extra nurture/food/drink in order to sustain and energise our souls and bodies, particularly in this situation.

    By Jeremy Clare  -  24 Apr 2020
  2. Katherine you eloquently draw a very important contrast. Maybe those of us of a certain age should re-watch Hal Lindsey’s apocalyptic film ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ released in 1978……..only joking! Sadly this prevailing theology in the 70s that the ‘world is going to hell in a handcart’ but don’t worry as we will be ‘Raptured’ any day now has in part led to a generation of Christians who disassociated themselves from the world and is a tragic delusion that LICC and others are striving valiantly to overcome.

    By Peter Riley  -  24 Apr 2020
  3. Very helpful and encouraging

    By Evelyn whyte  -  24 Apr 2020
  4. That makes sense, Jenny! Thank you Katherine.
    I remember being at a Schools conference many years ago as a Headmistress was telling our lunchtable about this horrible doctrine that God was always watching us, that she had been taught as a child, and what a cruel thing it is to say to children!
    I had to tell her that this was the most inexpressibly COMFORTING doctrine for a lot of people, and that I deliberately reminded myself of it as often as i could.
    It all depends upon how we look at the God who is looking at us!

    By Michael Brittain  -  24 Apr 2020
  5. Thanks Katherine – insightful and helpful as ever. Interestingly, sales of The Plague by Albert Camus have also soared. I dusted off my yellowing copy with its grim Picasso cover of a cow’s skull a few days ago. Camus’ classic offers an insight into how people behave when a pandemic persists over a protracted period of time, when it becomes the new normal. In that regard, it probably doesn’t work to give us an illusion of control. Rather, he holds up a mirror to the beliefs, values and desires that shape people’s/our actions in such conditions. Uncomfortable viewing at times.

    By Mark Greene  -  24 Apr 2020
  6. Thank you very much. The reminder I needed this morning.

    By Kirsten Oesterby  -  25 Apr 2020
  7. Thank you so much Katherine.

    “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

    By Greg Noller  -  27 Apr 2020
  8. Dear Katherine,

    I am so thankful for your writing. If I had read double the number of words just to get to this phrase, “disaster films lend us an illusion of control”, it would have been worth it. Dear sister, I think you really nailed it, you captured the feeling and the reasoning behind it. It was so satisfying to read your post!

    Many blessings,


    By Jubiracy da Silva  -  11 May 2020

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