In the dark tragedy Othello, an ensign named Iago—one of Shakespeare’s worst villains— hatches a plot against his commander Othello, who Iago believes has overlooked his skill and promoted a man less worthy. Sadly, Othello listens to Iago’s innuendos and deceptions regarding his (Othello’s) new young wife, Desdemona, allowing them to play on his mind until his heart is filled with jealousy and thoughts of revenge. By the time Othello realizes the villainy of Iago, it’s too late—he has snuffed out the life of his wife Desdemona.
When my family moved from Florida to South Carolina, we began the difficult process of visiting churches. I’ll never forget one in particular that advertised a women’s Bible study called “Love Hunger.” The name alone should have raised a red flag, but my curiosity got the best of me.
The teacher, a young twenty-something mother of two toddlers, opened the study by sharing several issues she was having in her marriage and then captivated every ear present with an account of her actions the previous weekend. She actually painted large signs with the words “ON STRIKE,” borrowed a bull horn, and marched back and forth on her front lawn as a one-person picket line. I couldn’t help but wonder what her neighbors over in suburbia were thinking as they witnessed this bizarre scene.
I looked around the room, confident that one of the older women—a few elder’s wives were in attendance—would chime in and get this train wreck back on track. Instead, one by one, the women began sympathizing and identifying with the grievances expressed by the leader. My heart rate suddenly synced with my body weight.
Afterwards, I privately approached the study leader to voice my concerns and inquire whether the Bible’s teaching on marriage and relationships would be a part of future studies. I tried to be sensitive and gracious, but it didn’t go over well as I’m sure you can imagine.
Although I probably should have heeded my original inner caution, I did learn an important lesson that day. The things we expose ourselves to Monday through Saturday shape our thinking and worldview more than a 35-minute sermon on Sunday. At the time, the hottest thing going in American evangelicalism was pop psychology, heavily doused with Freud and infused with self-love. The enchantment proved irresistible for many as well as lucrative for Christian bookstores that lined their shelves with self-help books—who doesn’t pant after a subterfuge on which to blame all the messiness in one’s life.
One day an elaborately decorated wagon rolled into the village of Zerbst, a little town across the river from Wittenberg. The springtime weather welcomed the townspeople into the streets where they witnessed a processional making its way to the marketplace. Curious as to the nature of this event, they followed the parade route but soon found it difficult to keep up as more and more bodies pressed in on them. Finally, the entire crowd came to a standstill.
As they looked around at their neighbors, they noticed that everybody who was anybody stood near the front of the line—priests, the town council, friars, the burgomaster. Continuing to scan the scene, they observed a papal banner waving in the breeze. A short distance away stood a money chest, perched on a makeshift wooden stand.
A round-faced, well-frocked man stepped up on a small prepared stage, waved his hand, and silenced the crowd. “Think of your loved ones in purgatory with their arms stretched out for your help,” he cried out. After a long passionate plea for the departed—aided by visuals—the man, whose name was Tetzel, slowly lifted his hand and placed in on the money box. “Every time a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!” The words fell like a spell over the hapless listeners.
The citizens of Zerbst may not have possessed iPhones in 1517, but news traveled fast. On the other side of the Elbe river, Wittenbergers were itching to see Tetzel’s religious sideshow. There was just one problem—Tetzel had been denied entrance into Saxony. So the good people of Wittenberg did what any clever citizenry would do—they crossed the watery border, purchased their indulgences, and returned home in a trance of happy feelings. Like their contemporary counterparts, they held to a Monday through Saturday paradigm that shaped their thinking and worldview more than the Sunday sermons of their pastor, Brother Martin.
All three of these vignettes have one thing in common—people lent their ear to the wrong voices. Today, the average person in America consumes approximately 3.6 zettabytes of information in a 24-hour period. That’s equal to about 5.1 million hard drives or 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day. This information comes to us through television, smartphones, internet, radio, email, text messages, conversations, reading.
“Nothing comes from nothing,” penned the Bard. The things I watch, listen to, and read all week long have a deep impact on how I view the world and what I believe to be true. If I’m not discerning and deliberate in my choices, then the voices I listen to will only amount to “vanity and a striving after wind.” (Eccl. 1:14)
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.