I freely confess having gotten this passage wrong more times than I’d like.
By that I mean I’ve identified the “what goes into you” part with physical things like food, drink or entertainment. And I’ve identified the “what comes out of you” part with what I say or do. Jesus, I’ve said, was a lot less concerned with what a person said or did than he was with what kind of food they ate. He was more concerned with their spirit than he was with simple physical stuff.
Which is true, but I never connected the two and that’s what I got wrong.
Think about it for a second. Jesus says that the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and if wrong things come from the heart then the heart is defiled and so is the person. So how, we might wonder, do we get the “what comes out” part? Does it spring up whole inside of us? Does it come out of nowhere?
Probably not, I’d imagine. When we say or do things and express our opinions and attitudes, they’ve usually come from something. Maybe we’ve studied and reflected on an issue, or maybe we’re just reacting to something we’ve heard. Either way, what comes out of is affected by what goes into us.
I can’t imagine that Jesus would want us to believe that what comes out of our hearts has nothing to do with what has gone into our hearts. Even the digestion example he uses shows that he’s talking about what comes in, what happens to it while it’s there and what happens to it when it’s gone.
What, then, does go into our hearts? What do our spirits “digest” in our lives?
For one, I imagine, they digest our everyday experiences. The stuff that goes on in our lives, we know, plays a big part in what kind of lives we live. If we have a lot of rotten stuff go on, then we might feel pretty rotten. If we have good stuff go on around us, we might feel OK.
And so, we might indeed see a need to be careful about what we consume, because some things are more likely to produce good than others are. I firmly believe that God can and does work through every circumstance and every possible influence in our lives.
A key for us as Christians is to allow God to be the main part of processing those circumstances and influences. We’re all going to go through hard or rotten times, and they might have a rotten impact on us if we try to handle them ourselves. But with God’s help we can come through them with something of value. We won’t enjoy them, nor should we. But God’s power can redeem them. If he redeemed the senseless death of his Son, he can redeem anything.
In essence, we allow God to digest what we consume or experience to produce something nutritious from it. But we still need to discern what we take in.
I think everything around us carries a mixture of its original created goodness and its fallen sinfulness. But the mixtures aren’t always the same. Some things have less goodness and more sinfulness and vice-versa. Keeping the food analogy, we can be sure that almost all real foods have some nutritional value, but some don’t have much. Twinkies have nutritional value, but it’s really small, meaning we would have to eat a lot of them to gain something worthwhile from them, and that has its own problems.
I love movies, and I watch a lot of them. Some of them offer me things to think about and meditate on, and those thoughts might lead me closer to an understanding of God. Some of them offer very little to think about. Over the years I’ve tried to reduce those, and not because I feel very holy and moral about it. I’ve just started figuring out how much of my life I want to spend on stuff that gets me nowhere.
Sure, I can watch a Saw movie and have a discussion about appreciating life and such, since the killer’s motif is that he only targets people who don’t appreciate the gift of life. But what an amazing amount of garbage I have to consume to get that one little insight, and why would I want to spend two hours with that when I can watch a legion of better movies that would offer a lot more “nutritional value,” so to speak?
What comes out of us, Jesus says, shows people our hearts. But it’s what goes into us that shapes those hearts, and the question we face is what we will give God to use in that shaping – things of worth, or things of worthlessness?