MAY 15, 2006

Itching Ears Disease
by Pastor George Van Alstine

I think I can safely tell this story because “Janiceâ€? (a fictitious name) passed away more than ten years ago, after recovering successfully from the disease that threatened her spiritual life. The disease is Itching Ears, and young believers are especially susceptible to it. Here’s Janice’s story.

Janice accepted the Lord when she was in her late 20’s and already badly scarred by life. She was on her third marriage, and that one was in trouble. She was hanging with a really rough crowd, many of whom were living on the edge of the law. She dealt with her problems by drinking heavily.

I came in contact with Janice right after she and her husband had experienced dramatic conversions through Billy Graham’s ministry. They were excited about their new faith. Janice in particular couldn’t get enough Bible study, and her questions about what she read were deep and incisive. I enjoyed visits in the home and phone calls from her, because she was so hungry to learn and grow. She frequented the Christian bookstore in a search for more Bible study aids.

But at one point, I noticed a change. The books she brought home were less about central themes of Christian faith and more and more about fringy issues and questions. She had books about the significance of numbers in the Bible, about charismatic experiences, and about the order of events at Jesus’ second coming. Her enthusiasm to learn was just as great, but instead of trying to go deeper in her understanding, she was now going broader into fascinating but less important spiritual journeys. I sadly realized that Janice had a bad case of “Itching Earsâ€? disease.

Dr. Paul described and diagnosed this disease in a letter he wrote nearly two thousand years ago:
“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.â€? 2 Timothy 4:3-4

Since I first observed this in Janice, I have seen that the disease is most common in people who like her, are new believers. It also seems to attack people who are “almost believers,â€? seekers who get diverted from the true journey by the allure of some side trip that seems fascinating . . . . but leads no where!

One attractive avenue these days is “The Da Vinci Code.â€? It’s got intrigue, a bit of glamor, a sniff of naughtiness, and a cast of quasi-Biblical characters. It looks like it could be an interesting alternative Christian journey, but it really has nothing to do with Christianity. Traveling the Code Road is a waste of time, but people with Itching Ears disease will run to the theaters to be first in line.

Here’s the interesting thing I realized through working with Janice. Itching Ears disease is a diversion from serious spiritual growth. Janice had gotten far enough in her understanding of God’s Word and God’s Way that it began to hurt. She realized the Lord was asking her to deal with some issues in her life that would demand real brokenness, patience and determination. She needed to face resentment toward her mother, who was then dying of cancer. She was recognizing that she could not save her third marriage unless she changed the things in herself that had doomed the first two. And she had once again turned to drinking to narcotize the pain.

Serious Bible study made her feel worse, but the Itching Ears side trips allowed her to feel as if she was still growing, without demanding any real change on her part.

Think about Janice when you see your friends response to “The Da Vinci Codeâ€? frenzy. Become conversant with the main themes of this modern myth, and read enough so you can enter into sensible discussions. (Good analyses by Christian writers are available). Then see your friends’ excitement as an evidence of spiritual longing, but also a likely symptom of Itching Ears disease. When they’re ready for the true Cure, be there for them.