Garbage In, Garbage Out?

To remain pure in this worldly, impure environment, many Christians believe that they must screen what they see and hear. Contact with the secular world is to be avoided as much as possible. Spiritual authorities are called upon to act as moral environmental protection agencies, monitoring the air around their followers' eyes and ears, attempting to keep it free from evil pollutants.

   The assumption is that people are what they read and become what they hear. Take in a good thing, you become better; take in a bad thing, you become worse. Introduce garbage into a person's mind and it ruins his character. In computer terms: it's know as, "garbage in, garbage out."

   Paul tells us, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things" (Phil. 4:8). To a degree, the "garbage in, garbage out" theory is true. However, this passage concerns the things we choose to hold in our minds — what we meditate on — not what we must touch, see, and hear while living in this world. It isn't

Page 155

a command to become cultural ostriches.

   Nevertheless, many have turned to a head-in-the-sand approach to Christian purity. They assume that if we hear no evil and see no evil, we will most certainly speak no evil.

   This position is unrealistic for two reasons. First, it is built on a false assumption about the nature of evil. It's easy to put the focus of our battle for purity on keeping worldly garbage out and yet avoid hauling out the garbage that's already in. The prophet Jeremiah declares, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" (Jer. 17:9). Jesus echoed that when He pointed out that it's not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out (Matt. 15:11).

   Struggling with evil exclusively on an external level often conceals our own sin, leading to self-righteous piety instead of real purity. Hiding from the garbage that's already in us keeps us from our point of contact with a fallen world. We lose our sense of compassion, become judgmental, and end up condemning the world rather than identifying with its fallenness and bringing it the good news of salvation as Jesus did.

   The second reason why the head-in-the-sand approach to Christian purity is unrealistic is that we will remain frustrated in our attempts to avoid worldliness, even if our battle with evil were solely external. A flick of the dial, a glance at a billboard, a walk by the newsstands, a look in the paper, a song on the radio, or any ordinary daily occurrence can bring us face to face with some unclean thing. Then what?

   The important issue is not to keep the garbage out, but to deal with it, to pick through it, and to process it. This is where we must be careful.

   If we don't process it, "garbage in, garbage out" will properly describe our lives. We can unwittingly be affected by what we see and hear if we become passive receivers. Do I sit glued to the TV without noticing whether lies or truth are presented as solutions to human problems? Do I sing along with songs on the radio without thinking about the words? Is my mind in gear, or neutralized through passive involvement?

   The Bible asserts, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things" (1 Cor. 2:15). It declares that a mature man discerns good from evil (Heb. 5:14) and that real purity isn't so much an external matter as it is internal: "To the pure, all things are pure" (Titus 1:15).

Page 156

   The spiritual man in an unspiritual world doesn't stand aloof, unsullied and unscathed, from humanity. He walks with compassion among men, learning to spot good and evil, truth and error — in himself and in his world.

   A truly spiritual man participates in the world and actively listens, neither avoiding the garbage nor ignorantly accepting it. Sorting through life's rubble, he finds treasures. For, however fallen, this is still our Father's world.

Chapter 45  ||  Table of Contents