I read an ominous article several days ago. Or, better put, I read it halfway through—it was too disturbing to finish.
The article was about a group of young ladies from the early 1900s that worked in a factory in New Jersey. Their job was to paint the face of watches using radium-based paint. This radioactive substance caused the watches to glow in the dark, which was especially useful during this time period of the World War I for military personnel.1
Nearly twenty years earlier, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium and came to understand its hazardous condition through their research. Nonetheless, the general public believed that the dangers were found in large quantities of the substance and that small amounts were harmless. Furthermore, the factory management reassured the workers that smaller quantities were safe when they began their work in the factory. Thus, these women confidently worked with the material day after day.2
Perhaps what is most bothersome about the story is to know that these young ladies would lick their paintbrushes after each use in order to maintain a fine point for the intricate work they were doing. In essence, they were ingesting small doses of poison.3
After time, the girls themselves started to glow due to their prolonged exposure to the substance. Nonetheless, what should have served as a warning instead made them embrace their work all the more. They were happy to be the subject of fascination within their community and were proud of their well-paying job.4
Only five years after the factory opened, radium claimed its first victim—a young lady of twenty-four years old who was subjected to a horribly painful and gruesome death. After reading her story and noticing that the article mentioned many other young women that began to follow suit5, I couldn’t bring myself to read any more. It was just too horrific.
The most sobering idea, however, was the one that entered my mind as soon as I put the article down—that the way people viewed radium in the early 1900s is often times how we view sin today.
As believers, we understand the poisonous consequences of certain sins while all the while justifying “lesser” sins without recognizing that we are really drinking from the same poison. We downplay certain attitudes and behaviors when we actually ought to remind ourselves of this one, simple truth—that sin leads to death.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Romans 6:23
Fortunately, those of us who are in Christ Jesus have received the gift of eternal life, as the above verse states. Jesus received the wages for our sin through death on a cross. Nonetheless, that does not mean that we won’t ever experience the consequences of our sins here on earth. When we continue to participate in sin, we are ultimately leading our relationships, health, opportunities, reputation, etc. toward death. After all, poison is still poison, whether you ingest it in a teaspoon or a cup.
I was ingesting my own poison by the spoonful several years ago. It was in the form of a TV show that I unintentionally became hooked on when I was flipping through channels one day. Since I love learning about different cultures, and the characters on the show traveled overseas, I was immediately intrigued.
I knew early on that this show was not edifying nor pleasing to the LORD, but I tried to ignore it. I was already addicted. I couldn’t ignore the truth for long, however, so I tried to justify my behavior instead. Surely this show was not affecting me! Surely the cultural insights I was gaining from it were valuable! Even as I started to think about the characters more and more and how I would handle their problems if I were them, I had no premonition over the internal damage being done.
Fortunately for me, God made it very clear to me one night how affected my mind was becoming by the series, and I was able to break free from it because of that. All it took was for me to realize how costly it would be to continue viewing the program. I had to recognize that I was walking down a path that led to death.
When I think of the women that worked at the factory painting watches, I can’t help but wonder if all who died could have been spared that fate had they left their jobs sooner. Would it have already been too late had they resigned once their bodies started glowing? Would their health issues have been lessened had they quit a few weeks, months, or even years into the job? These questions might never be answered, but something I am fairly certain of is that these women would not have worked in that factory at all had they known that this job would ultimately lead them to their deaths.
In light of the untimely death of these women, we must ask ourselves if we, too, are unknowingly ingesting poison. Who are we working for? And what will the wages for our work be?
In the book of Psalms, David asked God to do the following:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!Psalm 139:23-24
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Let’s be encouraged to ask God the same and to rid ourselves of any grievous way within us. Let’s stop justifying or excusing any sin in our lives that might seem minor to us and instead ask God to truly help us recognize the dangers thereof. We don’t have to work in the factory of sin any longer. So today, let’s choose life.