Reading about wickedness (Part 1)

I posted the following to a discussion list on 12/26/10 (slightly edited from the original):

Since this post is under the subject heading of “Reading about wickedness” I will try to focus mainly on that, even though “watching wickedness” may come up from time to time (or it may not; we’ll see). I guess I’ll start with nonfiction and attempt to make comparisons between Biblical and extra-Biblical nonfiction that involves sin (wickedness). Of course, we know that some fictional novels are based on nonfictional events in history.

Some historical events recorded in the Bible are Samuel hacking Agag in pieces, Jael pounding a tent peg through Sisera’s temple, Ehud driving a dagger through Eglon’s midsection, the stoning of Steven, the beheading of John the Baptist and his head being placed on a platter, etc. I realize that out of all the violent acts recorded in Scripture, some of the acts are wicked and some are not, depending on God’s command.

The Bible never glorifies the violence unless it is violence done at God’s command. For instance, what the prophet Samuel did to Agag was violent, but it was not wickedness. But of course we are talking about whether nonfiction glorifies wickedness, rather than whether it glorifies holy, just violence done at God’s command.

So, we know that the Bible records a lot of wickedness in history, but that it never glorifies the wickedness. In fact, in many instances the wickedness is met with God’s judgment. For instance, when one of the men of Israel committed fornication with a heathen woman in the presence of those weeping (I think they were weeping; going from memory here), Phineas ran both fornicators through with a spear. I think in this “Phineas passage” and in the Psalms referring to this particular instance, there is a little bit of detail into the thoughts and motives of Phineas.

In the book of Acts, there was a plot by some to murder Paul. And only a smidgen of information given regarding the thoughts of those plotting his demise. The ultimate wickedness recorded — as it pertains to the actions of wicked men — was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Bible records the violence done to Christ at the hands of the Roman soldiers, which is detailed enough. But when the Biblical account is contrasted with an extra-Biblical historical account of all that crucifixion entails — which is quite detailed and graphic — the Biblical account’s detail pales in comparison.

Now as far as I can remember, the wicked acts recorded in the Bible do not go into a lot of detail. For instance, the account of Cain’s murder of Abel is not explicit in detail. The beheading of John the Baptist seems more detailed. A long time ago I read through some of Foxe’s book of martyrs. From what I recall some of it was way more graphic than the Bible in recording historical wickedness. But I think some of it was about the same as the Bible as far as the detail was concerned.

I suppose the following verses should be at the forefront of our minds when we read historical accounts that involve wickedness:

“I will set no wicked thing before my eyes; I have hated the work of those who turn aside; it shall not fasten upon me” (Psalms 101:3).

The Bible does not set wicked things before our eyes, but it does record wicked words and deeds. And thus, we have to look to Scripture to see what it means to set something wicked before our eyes. For example, we read some history (e.g., newspaper, history book, encyclopedia) that says this composer was profligate, an adulterer, and so on. Or, this Vladamir fellow in the [whatever century] took pleasure in impaling people, etc. Paul, for example, “sets before our eyes” the fact of certain kinds of sexual immorality in some places. But again, there is a scant amount of information. So, in the case of Vladmir and the immoral composer, the amount of detail would seem to dictate whether or not Christians should be reading it.

“And if your eye offends you, pluck it out and throw it from you; for it is good for you to enter into life one-eyed, than having two eyes to be thrown into the Hell of fire” (Matthew 18:9).

“For your obedience reached to all; therefore, I rejoice over you. But I desire you to be truly wise as to good, but simple toward evil (Romans 16:19).

“Brothers, do not be children in your minds, but in malice be like infants, and in your minds be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

“Test all things, hold fast the good. Keep back from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

“For it is shameful even to speak of the things being done by them in secret” (Ephesians 5:12).

Certain shameful things have to be mentioned if they are to be exposed and refuted. But I think Ephesians 5:12 is referring to explicit detail that implies glorying in the shameful thing, rather than exposing it. Ezekiel (16:25-26, 23:20) is a prime example of one who exposed the spiritual adultery of people by using graphic sexual imagery. But again, there is much “restraint” and euphemism when compared to other writings (especially fictional writings). Even if one says that the aforecited Ezekiel passages use unrestrained language, the context in which this language is found makes this language holy, scathing, and hopefully insulting to those who revel in wickedness.

In sum, the historical accounts of wickedness in the Bible are not that detailed (I think) when compared with extra-Biblical nonfictional accounts. And there are even times when reading extra-Biblical history in the newspaper, that we don’t even want to read one sentence, non-detailed descriptions of what happened to that girl or that boy or that baby.

I guess that’s all for now. I’ll try to post on fiction next, the Lord willing. I think that one is more difficult, even though I think the nonfiction part has difficulties as well.