Philippians 4:8 reminds us that "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." The subject matter of some poetry can be offensive. Poems don’t shirk to write of human hypocrisy, greed, violence, or lust. Consider Alexander Pope’s "Epistle to Bathurst." Pope decries in his jeremiad the corruption of the court:

A Nymph of Quality admires our Knight;
He marries, bows at Court, and grows polite:
Leaves the dull Cits; and joins (to please the fair)
The well-bred cuckolds in St. James’s air:
First, for his Son a gay Commission buys,
Who drinks, whores, fights, and in a duel dies:
His daughter flaunts a Viscount’s tawdry wife;
She bears a Coronet and a Pox for life. (385-392)

Pope attacks the vain pretension and social emptiness of a court family whose children die in duels and contract syphilis. How should Christians respond to such material? In Philippians 4:8, the Apostle Paul enjoined us to dwell on what is true, noble, and right—to focus on those matters that are ethically and spiritually admirable. I hope it is obvious that this command does not preclude the reading of or discussing of human sin. If that were the case, a large portion of scripture would be off-limits! Sections of the books of Genesis, Judges, Kings, the prophets, and even some comments by Paul himself willingly discuss and portray human wrong-doing. We need to ask, then, how we are to respond to such material when we read it, to ask what is its artistic or ethical purpose in using such events. A proper and healthy response requires a certain developed discernment, for we need to know how to judge fairly, respond wisely, and contextualize properly what we are reading. Developing this ability may take some initial discomfort along the way. Like learning any other skill, learners have to engage works that stretch them.

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"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding