See No Evil

If you have used the emojis of monkeys with their hands over their eyes, ears or mouth you are, perhaps unwittingly, making a reference to one of the Three Wise Monkeys.

See No Evil

At the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan, built in 1617, an eight-panel sculpture represents the Code of Conduct developed by Confucius. One of the panels features the Three Wise Monkeys, symbolizing the principle of not seeing, not hearing, and not saying anything evil. In the early 20th Century the sculpture became known to the West, inspiring the saying, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.

The proverbial saying has developed in Western culture to mean ignoring something that is wrong, which is perhaps a telling comment on our moral trajectory. However, taken at face value, the saying has great import and echoes many biblical themes which predate their earliest Eastern cultural references.

David is an important person in Old Testament history. He was the youth who faced Goliath with stones and a sling. He was the poet who played the harp. He was the refugee who led a band of misfits in the Judean wilderness. He was one of the most successful Kings of Israel. Most importantly, he was a man after God’s own heart who wrote many of the psalms.

At the beginning of his reign as King of Israel, David wrote Psalm 101 which has been described by the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon as the “Psalm of Pious Resolutions”. The first four verses of the Psalm are David’s resolutions for himself. He will go on in the Psalm to express his “pious resolutions” for Israel.

I will sing of mercy and justice; to You, O Lord , I will sing praises.

I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.

I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.

A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.” (Psalm 101:1-4)

David recognises that, before he addresses the nation he leads, he needs to make sure he has looked at himself. He resolves to make the Lord his primary focus, to emulate and praise those attributes of mercy and justice which are so characteristic of the Lord. He also resolves to live in such a way that enables him to enjoy the Lord’s presence.

The Wise Monkey with his hands over his eyes comes to mind as David expresses his resolution to “set nothing wicked before [his] eyes”. 

It has never been possible to set the whole world before our eyes – until now. In terms of visual experience, we can bring anything onto our screens, anywhere and at any time. Good and bad are equally available. If David knew the importance of guarding his eyes in his day, how much more for us?

If, like David, we want to enjoy the Lord’s presence, we must resolve to look away. Unless we make a conscious decision, we will see sin everywhere; casually watching TV or Netflix, travelling down a YouTube rabbit hole, browsing Instagram, and so it goes on.

Resolve to turn it off, unfollow, unsubscribe. Do whatever it takes to protect your eyes from sin. Make those positive decisions to set before your eyes the things that will be spiritually healthy and good.

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)


Photo credit: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu