Red Herring

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, December 5, 2011 0 comments

I know that many of you are old enough to remember the famous O.J. Simpson murder trial.  (By the way, I realize that I must be officially included in that "old enough" crowd when I'm using the phrase to refer to something that occurred when I was a freshman in high school).  O.J. was on trial for two counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of his wife, Nicole, and another man, Ronald Goldman.  You might recall that what made the trial such a huge national story that dominated the headlines (other than the fact that O.J. was a star football player) was the ability of the defense team to make racial issues a point of focus.  Regardless of where you stand on the outcome of the case, it is inarguable that Johnny Cochran and the other members of O.J.'s defense team succeeded in this tactic.  It started in the jury selection process.  Out of 12 jurors, 8 were black, 1 was white, 1 was Hispanic, and 2 were mixed race.  Then, during witness testimony, Detective Mark Fuhrman, a white man, was questioned about his PAST uses of racist language.  Excerpts of tape recordings with his voice were played and Cochran used them to try to convince the jury that Fuhrman was racist, thus making his investigation of the crimes biased.  When the trial concluded in 1995, Simpson was found not guilty in criminal court despite the evidence against him.  Many believe that Cochran and the rest of the defense team were successful in making the trial more about Fuhrman's apparent racism than O.J.'s involvement in the crimes.

This tactic is known by the phrase "red herring".  A herring is a type of fish and it is "red" when it is smoked.  The phrase is used more in a tactical sense to refer to something that is introduced into an argument or setting to draw attention away from the central issue.  In the old days in Great Britain, the fish was used to train hunting dogs to follow the faint odor of a fox or other animal.  The trainer would drag a red herring, which has a much stronger odor, perpendicularly across the trail of the hunted animal to distract the dog.  Eventually, the dog would learn that it was a mere distraction and would learn to follow the correct scent rather than the strongest one.  You can also think of a mystery fiction movie or even TV shows such as Law & Order or CSI.  Often, the writers of the plot will intentionally mislead the viewer by making an individual who is truly innocent appear to be guilty, only to later reveal the one truly responsible for the crime.

When I think of distractions, I think of temptation.  And when I think of temptation, I think of Matthew 4 when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert after fasting for forty days and forty nights.  In the devil's first attempt, his argument was relevant.  Jesus was incredibly hungry and Satan told him to turn the stones into bread (v. 3).  Once that didn't work, his next attempt was completely irrelevant!  He told Jesus to throw himself down from the highest point of the temple to prove he is the Son of God (v. 6).  The devil even introduced Scripture, something we know is inspired by God himself (2 Timothy 3:16), to try to distract Jesus!  It's not that the Scripture he used is invalid; it's that it was completely irrelevant to Jesus' present goal of submitting to his Father during the trying times.  Just as Johnny Cochran was able to steer the jury's focus away from O.J.'s involvement in the murders and toward Mark Fuhrman's apparent racism, Satan tries to distract us (as he did Jesus) with things that seem good and noble but are in actuality irrelevant and not what God wants for us.

Are you going through trying times right now in your life?  Do you know how God wants you to respond even while you sense the distractions (which are likely "good" things) that the enemy is putting in your way?  Heed the instructions of the Apostle Paul: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8 [NIV]).