Tearing Down the Temple

Reactions to reading the book of Romans

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Romans 1:18-24. The Unholy City—XI. Defiling a man

There is nothing inherently wrong with watching television. Many millions of dollars are collected and expended each year by organizations that oppose the violence, sex, language, and criminality of television programs, and I should add that I also oppose those things and therefore have a certain sympathy with their efforts. But, in the long run, those things are not corrupting.

Jesus said, “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him, can defile him: but the things which come of out him, those are they that defile the man.” (Mark 7:15) Jesus was, of course, referring to the food laws of Judaism, but later in the discourse, He makes it clear that the scope of His remark is far broader. He points out that, “…from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7:21-23)

In practical terms, merely witnessing bad things does not itself corrupt anyone: they are not the occasion for even the slightest sin. Jesus Himself is the proof of it. He was exposed to all kinds of bad things and temptations, yet did not sin. Any insistence on the corruption of youth or anyone else by watching television or movies is a denial that wickedness comes from within us. It denies responsibility for sin. It denies original sin. It denies the very words of Jesus expressed on point.

In practical life, I think that we see this principle borne out over and over again. Two men receive the same proposal, for instance, to take a bribe (the one who offers the bribe is, of course, culpable, but consider the positions of the two who are hearing the offer). Suppose one refuses, and the other accepts. The one who accepts is the one who does evil; the one who refuses is not culpable under the law for any offense. Jesus heard many proposals to do evil, some from the devil himself (Matt 4:1-11). Given His refusal of those proposals, no evil can be imputed to Jesus on the grounds of having heard the proposals. The evil is not in hearing the proposal but in the response of acceptance. A multitude of similar examples will occur to you.

The particular application here is that those who try to stimulate an evil response in a man rely on the evil already being in the man’s heart, at least in potential. A righteous man can watch television or movies all day without any sin (though why he would do so is hard to hypothesize). We who are prone to sin must not do so, because the suggestions we receive we sometimes act on, more often than we would like to believe. It is not a sin to receive a sinful suggestion, but it is a sin to act on it. The evil is not inherent in the medium, any more than it is in our stars, but it is in our selves. Note that the innocence of witnessing evil is eradicated when one derives pleasure from the activity and seeks out the opportunity to witness evil again. This seeking out is a condition that qualifies as “coming out of a man” in Jesus’ analysis.

This is Jesus’ analysis of exterior rules of life and sin. It is going to be hard to find any way to place the blame for evil on someone apart from ourselves, if we have any regard for Jesus’ opinion.



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