When Curiosity Becomes Sin
I read that another such television program, “Temptation Island,” put attractive men and women on a romantic island in situations where each one’s current “relationship” (none are married) is challenged by the shameless seduction of members of the other sex. Scripture tells us to flee temptation, but even our curiosity concerning what these pathetic souls may do on camera should be mortified. Even though we may never expose ourselves to such foolish enticements, the very act of watching the temptation of others is debasing. The Psalmist said, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3).
Yet far too many Christians know too much about worldly things and too little about matters pertaining to eternity. Although Paul admonishes us to reflect on what is objectively good and true (Philippians 4:8), many Christians drink in huge amounts of popular culture because they think they must satisfy their curiosity. But curiosity in a sinful world may be sinful. There are many things we should not see or hear, read or think about. In exhorting Christians “to live as children of light,” Paul says that “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12). By walking in the light, our lives expose darkness by way of comparison. When he writes of “exposing” the “deeds of darkness” (v. 11), Paul does not mean seeking these things out—or televising them! The NIV Study Bible note reads: “Christians should not dwell on the evils that their lives are exposing in others.” But this is exactly what our culture does. It exposes everything indiscriminately for the sake of satisfying sinful curiosity.
The media coverage of the 1999 Columbine massacre—which occurred in my hometown of Littleton, Colorado—also catered to sinful curiosity. Painful scenes of hysterical and grieving teens and parents were televised repeatedly and recklessly. News helicopters buzzed the scene and inhibited the rescue. Worse yet, a scene of a blood-soaked boy falling out of a window into the arms of policemen was aired over and over. No one asked that young man or his family or his friends if they wanted this scene televised to appease the curiosity of a television- and violence-addicted culture. Although my wife and I desired to know what had happened at Columbine, we quickly stopped watching television coverage and instead focused on praying and coming to terms with the tragedy. The curiosity to see such evil was itself a lesser evil we needed to resist. The media never even tried to resist the temptation. They would have photographed the dead bodies if the police had not barricaded the area.
Sometimes a graphic image will teach an important lesson, such as the prize-winning photograph of the burned and naked young Vietnamese girl running from the bombing of her village. But this rarity hardly justifies all that we are exposed to in the name of being “informed.”
In his autobiography, The Confessions, Saint Augustine warned of “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16, KJV), which he understood to involve sinful curiosity. His autobiography, unlike so many today, never panders to curiosity. It is a sober reflection on his life. When he recounts his sinful past before conversion, he does so to confess it before God, and also to teach his reader how to avoid sin and follow Jesus Christ.
The old phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat,” carries a current lesson. Curiosity can hurt us, too, polluting our souls and interrupting our fellowship with One who is, above all, holy. “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).