Garbage In, Beauty Out?

“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” “God helps those who help themselves.” “Kiss dating goodbye.” All statements mistaken as gospel truth. Let’s add another one to the pile: “Garbage in, garbage out”.

If you’ve never heard that one before, it’s something that gets told to Christian teenagers in reference to their media consumption. It is a warning that if you persist in watching terrible or pornographic or sinful content, it is going to pile up inside your psyche and then come pouring out into your life in some manner or another.

Now here’s the rub: I don’t entirely disagree. A person totally absorbed in viewing violence or pornography is not spiritually healthy. But a human soul is not a simple mechanical processor of media content. The problem is this: it is not in the Bible, so let’s not pretend it is there. In fact, Jesus seems to say something that shakes the foundation of this belief:

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts– murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Matthew 15:17-20

The trouble I have with spouting “Garbage in, garbage out” is that it turns people into garbage inspectors, usually on behalf of others. Now, I’ve been a youth pastor. And I’m sure it calmed a few parents’ minds to think there was someone out there policing their teenagers taste in video games, TV and movies. A pastor is not there to police the sins of his congregation.

If anything, I am there to ask: “How is your heart doing?” or as the Methodists would put it, “How is your soul?” Maybe you have a problem watching naughty shows, fine. Let’s talk about what is going on inside of you that so compels you to seek out these things. As Jesus will say in a few chapters, “You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former”.

So what? So, yes, let’s be careful about what we set in front of our eyes. Not because it defiles us, but because our desires speak what is in our heart. So actually, let’s put it this way: be careful about what is in your heart.

Do long to see justice work out in your world? Do you wish others could experience you have received from the hands of Jesus?

Or do you just want to relax and watch someone pretend to die in a fiery explosion? And why is that?

Lord, my heart is grey place on the map that merely reads “Here be monsters”. Give me courage to face myself. Rescue me from my own sinfulness. Give me wisdom to make good choices.

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