I was reading Micah today. I was particularly struck by this chunk:
“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
Has the LORD grown impatient?
Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
to him who walks uprightly?
But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
my splendor forever.
Arise and go,
for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
with a grievous destruction.
If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
he would be the preacher for this people!
(Micah 2:6-11 ESV)
It’s so similar to the kinds of things you come across in the New Testament. False teachers and prophets coming in, and gaining acceptance because they have a popular message. People with itching ears, who allow fallacy to slip between the cracks. The early church and leaders (e.g. Timothy) get it hammered into them by Paul – don’t let God’s truth get compromised. Gird it up, hold it tight.
This case is classic; Isaiah, Jeremiah and a bunch of other prophets experience it as well. They come along with a word from God, and they are hated for it. I just read a bunch of these stories where kings tried to kill Elisha because he didn’t prophesy favourably for them. It also goes back to Balaam.
That’s not all, folks. This pattern of truth-rejection, or replacement (what we might call itchy-ear syndrome) seems to be something all humans hold dearly. Most people would agree that lies are bad. But then most would say that white lies are ok. This is problematic, but I’m not going to comment on when tact becomes deceit. The whole concept of the white lie is founded upon the notion that sometimes, truth is less satisfactory than what we want to hear.
Ok, sure. White lies. They’re a little hazy. So what? Humanity, even in tiny things, is distorted. The truth vs. desire disjuncture is rooted in our nature – we all want to make it about ourselves, to serve ourselves, to satisfy ourselves. Perhaps satiate is a good word; to fill those yearnings for satisfaction with ourselves. It seems like an overstatement, but I think that it gets in the back door far too easily. We prefer to make it about ourselves than about reality.
If you look back to the fall, in fact, then you see the same thing. What convinces Eve (and Adam) to disobey God? In accepting the Serpent’s words, they are accepting a flawed, convoluted message. This message is focused around the people (not God or reality), and tells them something they want to hear. The fall occurs because of itchy-ear syndrome.
At the risk of offending the few atheistic or agnostic readers that have got this far, I think that we see this far too clearly in our culture. People are all about everyone being allowed to choose. In a liberalist climate, nobody likes being told they are wrong, and pluralism is increasingly pervasive. In particular, people dislike it when Christians (or anyone of some faith or strong belief) is outspoken about hard issues. When a Christian viewpoint is put forth that disagrees with mainstream society, it is slammed. When Christians talk about hell, about God’s love, and spiritual warfare, they are treated like loopy Larry. People tend to take offence to either the message or the idea of a message in the first place.
Basically, itchy-ear syndrome supports hedonism and materialism (both in the sense of accruing goods etc and in the sense of scientific materialism or naturalism). It may not be as simple as following the prophet who preaches of “wine and strong drink.” In an increasing number of cases it seems to be. But it may be someone whose ears itch to hear that science is the only worthwhile type of knowledge garnering. It may be someone whose ears itch to hear that religious people are inconsistent, hypocritical, blinkered or even evil.
Regardless, we need to make sure we stick to the truth, not what we want to hear.
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” – Thoreau, Walden
“Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” – the Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 6:14