I am a reader. I can say that without feeling embarrassed that an eighteen year old might refer to me as an old man. I can also say that, though I couldn’t always, without an air of superiority. Being a reader, for quite sometime, became a badge of intellectual aristocracy that I would use to berate and harass simpletons who would rather eat light bulbs than sit down with a book.
I bring this up partially because confession is good for the soul, partially because blogging is cheap therapy, and also because of a short line in a Psalm I recently read.
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.
Without creating an enormous post about media content and what’s acceptable and what’s not, and where the lines are drawn morally and ethically for Christians…without going into all that (which I may in the future), I do feel that there is merit in looking briefly at the essence of this passage. We live in an image-saturated culture, and almost every excursion we embark on will bring us in front of images and words that are designed to capture our attention and influence our thoughts. The opening paragraph was meant as a reminder that what we “set before our eyes” is not reduced to photos and films, but books can create powerful and lasting images in the mind as well.
More than inciting an argument over profanity in movies or loose sexuality in novels, this verse is pulling the camera lens back for an areal view to offer us a different perspective. The eyes are the largest windows we possess to inform our minds and hearts about all of the physical world existing outside of ourselves. The human eye is an amazing piece of machinery, still unrivaled by anything that science and technology can craft or concoct. But there is one function that the eye was never designed for: appraisal.
Eyes merely absorb and transmit data. That’s an oversimplified way to see it, but it isn’t untrue. The eye was never built to assess situations, figure out odds, logically piece things together, or determine value. However, in our culture we have placed an unnecessary burden upon the eye. We expect the eye to determine what is good, needed, and costly. But that is a far cry from It’s actual core competency.
William Blake offers this stanza:
This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.
It will not be our eyes that determine if something is worthless in front of us, it will be our hearts that let us know. Our hearts, our souls, the center point of God’s work in us, the nucleus of change in our lives…that is the place that tells us what we’re really looking at. And the truth stands clear: gazing upon valuable things offers us far more joy that spending the currency of our time on the worthless things in the world.
I believe there is a way that we can watch films and read fiction that creates value in those things, not only because of the rest they offer, but also because there are redemptive shadows in many of the stories we read and watch. Redemptive stories are everywhere, they know no boundaries, but they also don’t always call themselves redemptive. We find out what is worth our time and what wastes our time by allowing God’s indwelling Spirit to inform us of these differentiations.
The key to this is having what Paul referred to in Ephesians as “the eyes of our heart” dialed in to God’s Word and the direction of the Spirit. It is sometimes difficult to judge what is beneficial for us or harmful, what is worthwhile and what is worthless, when we are only allowing our five physical senses to inform our decisions. We will be apt to either turn away from things that we need to see, despite their sometimes brutal nature (ie. the cross), and conversely we will be tempted to turn toward things that might titillate our carnal “fancy” but be devastating to our souls and future.
It matters how much something costs. Only fools purchase things without looking at the sale price. I encourage you today, don’t be a fool, look at the price. Or, as the language of an old church song goes, “count the cost”.