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Pondering Isaiah’s Advice to Close Our Eyes Lest We “Look on Evil”

May 24, 2018 6 Comments

In this age of nearly instantaneous communication, there is an overwhelming amount of news and information available to us. There is nothing wrong with news and information, but each of us must decide how much exposure, in terms of time and content, is good for us. Not all “Breaking News!” is really that urgent. Too much news can distract us, overwhelm us, and provoke anxiety and anger. Further, the “news” is heavily filtered to feature what is bad, strange, unusual, violent, and dangerous. It does not represent the reality most of us live in nor is it something on which we should be focused. Frankly, most of us lead routine and “boring” lives. This doesn’t make for riveting news, but it is more representative of our lives.

In such an environment, we do well to hear and heed an admonition of Isaiah, who describes the just person in this way:

He who practices virtue and speaks honestly,
who spurns what is gained by oppression,
brushing his hands
free of contact with a bribe,
stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed,
closing his eyes lest he look on evil.

He shall dwell on the heights,
his stronghold shall be the rocky fastness,
his food and drink
in steady supply
(Isaiah 33: 14-16).

Note especially this part: stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed, closing his eyes lest he look on evil. While it is not possible to avoid all exposure to bloodshed and evil, it is surely advisable to avoid unnecessary exposure to it lest we become desensitized to it or unnerved by it.

Obviously, we should avoid movies and video games with gratuitous violence, but we should also limit our exposure to a steady stream of news that emphasizes violence, conflict, controversy, excess, and aberration. Many news programs today feature panels who engage in endless debate, even to the point of yelling, and who say more and more about less and less.

There is also a lot of sinful curiosity and voyeurism involved. Everyone has personal struggles—even tragedies—but the cameras don’t need to be rolling and public displays made of them. Talk shows traffic in this sort of material; people are invited on to share what should remain private, and viewers, indulging in a kind of sinful curiosity, willingly consume the sad display.

Sadly, this bleeds over into news coverage as well, where every sort of strange psychological, addictive, compulsive, and dysfunctional behavior is trotted out for our consumption. The overall effect is to normalize bad or dysfunctional behavior, exaggerate its extent in the population, and make a public spectacle of it. All of this serves to desensitize us to its sinful, even tragic, roots.

We have gradually shifted from being informed to “look[ing] on evil” and “hear[ing] of bloodshed.” The loss of life implied by bloodshed is more than physical death; there is a great deal of spiritual death in our culture as well.

If viewing this public spectacle of sin, confusion, and death led us to deeper prayer and a commitment to working harder to speak the truth in love, perhaps it would be a more tolerable change. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of this even among committed Christians.

Therefore, the advice of Isaiah should be heeded. We should we actively limit our exposure to this spectacle, closing our eyes lest we “look on evil” and stopping our ears lest we “hear of bloodshed.”

There is some need to stay informed, but we should limit our exposure. Reading the news may be better than viewing it; one can skim the headlines and read further only if necessary. We don’t need to know as many details as we think we do. Staying informed at a general level is adequate for most of us.

Stepping back from the spectacle and from the steady diet of the dysfunctional and the tragic will give us greater serenity so that we can pray, which is a better gift to the world than our being merely informed.

St. Paul give the following advice:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:8-9).

Being serenely at peace, connected to God, able to pray, and growing in virtue are much better solutions for the problems of our day than is knowing all the gory details. Be careful what you read and listen to each day. There is a place and time to close our eyes lest we look on evil and stop our ears lest we hear of bloodshed.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Israel B says:

    Day after Day, Msgr. Pope, you come up with insightful and unexpected commentary.

    Today’s column especially highlights the corrosive effects of an agenda-driven Media, adding to the industry affinity for covering tragedy and suffering. “If it bleeds, it leads” is their own saying.

    Despair, envy, anxiety, anger, hopelessness…all preferred tools of The Enemy. Ironic how they self-congratulate themselves on their great service to “The Public Good”

  2. Your article today is very interesting because I had the same thoughts. If we would hear only good things on the news it could change the world. Much of what we hear is murder and bloodshed. Every young person wants to make a name for himself so they shoot up a school and they make the headlines.

  3. Jay C says:

    Beautiful observations, Msgr! Incessant 24 hour news can become an addiction in my experience. It’s a matter of taking custody of our senses as the Sisters used to say.

  4. for you says:

    Thank you Monsignor. I gave up movies many years ago and all television about four years ago. I do watch some You Tube reports/videos which I can be very selective with that. I try to be aware of the current events and the tactics of the evil one through news and You Tube reports, while still trying not to expose my mind to all the images and details as much as I possibly can (2 Corinthians 2:11 – “For we are not unaware of his [the devil’s] schemes”). The images do seem to be everywhere and evil ideas and provocative language too. Even in looking for basic information on the computer there are very inappropriate images slipped in all over the place. I have “images on/off” on my computer which helps some. You are so right about what we expose our minds and eyes and ears to, it is a challenge to stay pure in a world that has become anything but pure. I have become more and more aware also that there are many subliminal images and ideas in watching and listening to what may seem innocent and many others have seen this and done videos and reports on the subliminal messaging targeting adults and children alike. It is just evil, and for those who are not aware, how does anyone avoid the deceptions and temptations and mind manipulation, it seems impossible. I believe because of the vast and far reaching extent of our technologies, many people are being seduced and indoctrinated into the service of Satan as never before.

  5. Chris says:

    I was a long time news junky and about three years ago I gave up cable news completely and began watching only local news once per day. By doing so I could stay informed enough to check a big national story for more info if needed on-line. (Which was pretty rare) My level of stress decreased and and I felt a lot more peace and balance in my spiritual life. After nearly three years, I gave in to a degree and I began checking both a conservative and a liberal news network’s website daily for national news. After being way for so long it was easier to see that all too often even just the titles of many news stories were designed to create a level of shock and anger. Within two or three weeks I stopped and returned only to local news. Sadly, although to a lesser degree, this exists on certain Catholic websites too. I found in reading them everyday that the constant barrage of news on the Church’s challenges and problems could be equally disheartening. There is the never ending pro, or anti-Pope Francis stories, or the never ending problems at the Vatican, Novus Ordo verses the Latin Mass, Catholic Universities, liturgical abuses, or problems regarding the global Church in general. I find some of the comments sections also to be often lacking in charity. On the spiritual side, there are certain sites that spend an inordinate amount of time on all things that will cause one to experience the pains of hell or some other issue as to why we are too worldly, not holy enough, etc. While it is important to know what is going on with the Church (even a duty), and it is very important to be in touch with dangers to one’s spiritual life and salvation, it can go beyond helpful and informative and lead to a place of despair. We live with so much information at our fingertips, on platforms that allow for so many points of view, that moderation has never been more important. I think that this post offers a lot of wisdom. I also believe that we should approach our intake of Catholic media with some of the same considerations.

  6. for you says:

    a video for you Msgr. I am not that familiar with all the music of this band but the poetry of this song I do recognize and is apropos I think:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CK3uf5V0pDA&list=RDCK3uf5V0pDA&t=78

    Back on the Chain Gang – The Pretenders

    I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
    What hijacked my world that night
    To a place in the past
    We’ve been cast out of? Oh oh oh oh
    Now we’re back in the fight
    We’re back on the train
    Oh, back on the chain gang

    A circumstance beyond our control, oh oh oh oh
    The phone, the TV and the news of the world
    Got in the house like a pigeon from hell, oh oh oh oh
    Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies
    Put us back on the train
    Oh, back on the chain gang

    The powers that be
    That force us to live like we do
    Bring me to my knees
    When I see what they’ve done to you
    But I’ll die as I stand here today
    Knowing that deep in my heart
    They’ll fall to ruin one day
    For making us part

    I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
    Those were the happiest days of my life
    Like a break in the battle was your part, oh oh oh oh
    In the wretched life of a lonely heart
    Now we’re back on the train
    Oh, back on the chain gang

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