Garbage In, Garbage Out


“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

-Jesus, Matthew 6:22-23

Not too long ago, a major telecommunications giant inadvertently made the search history of over half a million people available to the public. According to Tim Challies, this data contained over 21 million internet searches.

The company responsible for this breach of privacy claimed that they had changed the users’ personal information, but it didn’t take long for hackers to decrypt the account holders’ identities.

One can easily deduce what was discovered.

The leaked data showed that people live separate lives—one public and one private. As Challies puts it, one could “reconstruct a person’s life, at least in part, from what they searched for over a period of time.” The author of The Next Story reflects, “What is remarkable is the way people transition seamlessly from the normal and mundane to the outrageous and perverse.”

Our collective ability to be exposed to whatever we wish for or desire raises a unique challenge. But being able to access this world of information, images and far-reaching content in secret, without accountability, can have lethal consequences for our families, our communities and ultimately our souls.

Who can argue with Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount? “If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

What we see and what we are exposed to affects us. If what we look at is darkness, our true selves will be pitch as night. Alternatively, if we surround ourselves with sources of light, we will be true to Christ’s commandment that we are to be the light of the world. As one of our staff members recently shared, Jesus’s warning to us here in Matthew 6 reminds him of the admonition from the early days of computer technology: garbage in, garbage out. That is, if you put trash into a system you can expect a similar outcome.

As Jesus’s teaching to the crowds in Galilee highlights, this is not a new phenomenon. However, our 21st-century reality creates a new wrinkle. Unlike any other time in human history, you, me, our children and our grandchildren have access to a galaxy of information with a touch of a finger. It once took great resolve and courage to find and research the things that we were curious about and/or desired. Now we can have immediate access to it with little personal risk all within a fraction of a moment. Our technological prowess and ability to access whatever we wish to learn about or see pours gasoline on Jesus’s observation. Our personal devices enable our eyes to be overwhelmed by darkness. And this, in turn, has a cost.

Oh, it’s worse than you think, y’all.

Members of the House Intelligence Committee recently released the roughly 3,500 Facebook ads that were created by a foreign-based entity to influence domestic politics. How did they do it? They created and posted content that made its way on to social media. The content was divisive to say the least. The posts highlighted issues that tear the fabric of our communities apart. They played on fears and terrors of personal safety. They initiated racial and ethnic suspicions. They demonized people groups and sowed seeds of discord in an attempt to divide the American people.

Those who created this content were far more successful than we want to give them credit for. No, I’m not talking about a particular political outcome. I’m talking about the hate that these ad buys yielded. I’m talking about the anger that the images and stories prompted. I’m talking about how our exposure to these messages made us collectively less and less like Christ.

What we see and what we are exposed to can have devastating effects on us. It can lead to infidelity to the ones we love and pervert our sensibilities. What our eyes see and what our ears hear can lead us into the ever-present temptation to damn one another and to create walls between us that prevent us from loving our neighbors. The entertainment that we watch can normalize hate and justify terror. If we immerse ourselves in darkness, why would we be surprised that we’ve become what we see?

The remedy, of course, is easily attained. By being aware of the impact that information, images, and other content has on us, we can choose to limit our exposure to that which has the power to poison our souls. By setting boundaries on what our eyes see and what our ears hear—whether it’s the delicious gossip that is exchanged in the church parking lot, or the fringe news outlet that fuels discord—we can choose light over darkness. By choosing to be thoughtful with our spouses, co-workers, church family, and friends, we can place ourselves in environments that will make us more accountable to Christ’s expectations and commands.

Think about it now, because what seems unthinkable today may be commonplace tomorrow. If your entire digital footprint were exposed and made public, would you want your children to see it? How about your spouse? How about your employer?

Choose light over darkness. For our sake, if not your own.