Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Garbage In, Garbage Out? (Part 2)

Yesterday, in part 1, I addressed the unbiblical cliche of garbage in, garbage out. So if this isn't true, what is?

Two words: wisdom and discernment. If we live wisely and have discerning minds, then we won't need cliche phrases to lean on.

How do we pursue this? Make the most of every opportunity. Paul writes these powerful words in Ephesians 5:8-17:

...for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,       

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (emphasis mine)

As children of the light, we're to walk in dark places, exposing sinful deeds and pointing out the beauty and truth of Jesus. Paul is assuming that the Ephesian Christians are living in a sin-permeated culture, that they're living in the midst of the darkness and garbage that we often try to hide from. Instead of hiding, we're to illuminate the truth while being in the midst of the darkness.

Let's be clear: this is a dangerous way to live. That's why Paul exhorts Christians to look carefully at how they live. We're to evaluate our lives, asking ourselves tough questions about when we're tempted to sin, and making sure that we're still walking as children of light. Wise and discerning people live in community with fellow believers who will hold them accountable and be a source of encouragement. They also live in community with friends and neighbors who don't know Jesus so that they can be a source of light. This means having close friends who aren't Christians. This means watching films and listening to music that don't carry the label "Christian" because they might actually be better and more reflective of our Creator.

The importance in all this is the fruit. Paul points out that the works of darkness are "unfruitful," while the fruit of the light is good and right and true. In the closest biblical connection to "garbage in, garbage," Jesus is placing emphasis on the resulting action, the fruit of one's heart. Garbage in doesn't necessarily mean garbage out. We may be exposed to "garbage," but that doesn't mean the garbage will result in sinful behavior. Perhaps being exposed to the garbage will result in a Godly relationships, a better understanding of the world, or (paradoxically) experiencing beauty and truth.

Can the "garbage" influence us to sin? Yes. Does it automatically make me sin, trumping the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in my life? Nope. This is not an excuse for knowingly engaging in sinful behavior. Nor is it permission to consume any type of media or art form, regardless of its value or beauty. Paul points out clearly in 1 Corinthians 10 that not all things are beneficial or constructive, that our motivation behind everything should be what pleases the Lord and is for the good of others. If my actions are causing other believers to stumble, then I need to repent and change, even if I know I have the freedom in Christ to engage in those actions. If I'm looking carefully at how I walk, if I'm truly making the most of my time, if I'm trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord, perhaps that means I need to take a step away from some of the tempting situations in my life.

But I also cannot live a life based on fear. As a child of light, I need to be actively exposing the darkness, using discernment to point out what is beautiful/true and sinful/false. This isn't done in a self-righteous or judgmental manner, but as an act of love. We need to be people who make the most of every opportunity in the midst of culture, not people who sit on the sidelines of culture and foster fear-mongering.

Garbage in, garbage out assumes that garbage has all the power. I want to live a wise and discerning life that assumes that the Holy Spirit has all the power.


  1. Dude I think we are on the same page for MOST of this. I think you touched some of the key points. Wisdom and Discernment play a lot into my thoughts on this topic. Both of which find their foundation in Fearing the Lord.

    My problem is your opening line suggests that the "principle is false" because it isn't biblical. Which is true. God doesn't overtly use the GIGO principle. I probably need to draft a more detailed response, so I might look at a different perspective on it, and put it on my blog.

    I think GIGO has merits, in this format. What you feed yourself visually can impact you personally. Using Wisdom and Discernment becomes important. Being aware of the environment you surround yourself with will impact you. I just don't think you can blatantly dismiss a principle because it isn't in scripture? Nor do I think the principle is a complete farce. I think the perspective you give on it is accurate, but I typically don't refer to it in that way.

    Gravity isn't talked about much? Neither is Elevator Etiquette.

    Anyway Joel, we'll probably end up writing a book on the subject.

  2. Duncan, I agree that we're mostly on the same page, and if you write a blog post on it, I'd love to add the link here! But I'm still unsure that there is a principle in GIGO that's worth following. I'm not saying that only explicit truths written in Scripture are the only truths out there; if anything, I'm pointing out the opposite, that there can be beauty and truth found in creation, including sinful people.

    I agree with your statement "what you feed yourself visually CAN impact you personally." But I think the mindset of many who subscribe to the GIGO mindset are saying, "what you feed yourself visually WILL NEGATIVELY impact you personally." It's the assumption that the garbage will come out of me, whether I like it or not, regardless of taking every thought captive or the Holy Spirit fostering self-control in me. I see this mindset when people question why I called "The Social Network" the best film this year when it has swear words and sexual situations in it, that the inclusion of those sinful behaviors will automatically make me sin. (Perhaps they haven't read the Bible, which includes far more graphic sexual situations than any film I've seen!)

    Thanks for the pushback, I love it when conversation happens like this. And If you write a book, I'll read it. Oh are! And I'll be one of the first to buy it, and read it with an Australian accent. :)

  3. Ha!

    I love it man, it might take me a little while to construct a flipside argument, it has been a while since I have done a GIGO talk. So I'll pop you a note when I get it done. Looks like the book has been pushed back for a Feb release.

    Which is ok, I am still excited! I'll make sure you get a chance to buy a copy early on.