We live in a world of ubiquitous news.
It is everywhere.
On the TV. On the radio. On the computer. On our phones.
I remember reading a statement in the book, Margin, which has always stuck with me:
A single edition of the New York Times contains more information than a 17th century Britisher would encounter in a lifetime.
Let that sink in for a moment.
In one day, we are exposed to more news than most people in history would have heard over the course of their whole lives.
We are inundated with information…overloaded with news…deluged with stories around the globe that are beyond our human capabilities to fully digest, understand, or do anything about.
But isn’t the “information age” a good thing?
Doesn’t knowing all this stuff make us smarter…wiser…better able to impact the world?
Isn’t “knowledge power”?
I’m not so sure.
One thing I am sure of is that all this news makes us more anxious, stressed, angry, and depressed. Here is what many mental health experts are saying:
Consuming the news can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which causes your body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Then, when a crisis is happening, and we are experiencing this stress response more frequently… physical symptoms may arise. Some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping.
This emotional toll and negative effect on the psyche was demonstrated in a study that found people who watched negative material, as compared to those who watched positive or neutral material, showed an increase in both anxious and sad moods only after 14-minutes of viewing television news bulletins and programs. (verywellmind.com)
The Bible actually describes the “last days” as a time when many people will be running to and fro and knowledge shall increase (Daniel 12:4).
One older Bible commentator described it as a vain traveling about in order to discover knowledge (E. J. Young, 1949).
A vain flipping of channels…surfing of the internet…scrolling through social media…in order to “be informed.”
In a similar vein, the apostle Paul talked about people always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).
We are running around…almost frantically…trying to know as much as we can know about all there is to know.
And the news media feeds our addiction.
It is a multi-billion dollar industry…and competition is stiff. So what do they need to do to stay in business? Keep you hooked. Not just to the news but to their “inside scoop” on the stories…to their own unique political angle to what is happening.
It is almost like a soap opera. Regardless of when you start watching, you are instantly sucked into the narrative…and you have to “stay tuned” for more.
Two years ago, I took what I called a “monk retreat.” I spent three weeks in a small cabin in the woods of North Louisiana. No smartphone. No internet. No TV. No radio. No news.
It was an information-overload-detox.
And a significant spiritual time in my life.
Ironically when I returned to “civilization,” I found that the news hadn’t changed. It didn’t miss me. The same crises were still being talked about…with a few new ones thrown into the mix for fun.
The same angles. The same anger. The same angst.
The same addiction.
And to further feed our habit, many people are running headlong into conspiracy theories. The “real” story behind the stories. What is really happening.
It feels powerful. Like you are the only one who is truly “in the know.”
But it is simply modern-day Gnosticism…the belief that “secret knowledge” is the key to life…even the key to salvation.
Are there conspiracies out there? Certainly. People with power and influence will almost invariably try to use their power and influence for their own purposes. And sometimes they may hide their true intentions behind false pretenses.
Back in 700 BC, when powerful world empires were just beginning to form, people started talking about conspiracy theories all the time. Finally, the prophet Isaiah had to address it:
“You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’
Regarding everything that this people call a conspiracy,
And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it.
It is the Lord of armies whom you are to regard as holy.
And He shall be your fear,
And He shall be your dread.
Then He will become a sanctuary…” (Isaiah 8:12-14a)
In other words, you either believe that the “power players” in the world call all the shots or you believe God does. Either you fear them…or you fear God.
When you fear God alone…and recognize His sovereignty…then you find yourself enshrouded in a sanctuary of His peace. Underneath His wing.
Let the powerful conspire.
They will all expire.
Let the nations rage.
God will still reign.
We are called to be a people of faith…who follow the directives of Scripture not the invectives of man.
Is knowledge important?
Absolutely. But the right kind of knowledge. The knowledge of truth. The knowledge that leads to wisdom. The knowledge that leads to love.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Watching and reading news at the start of your day…and throughout the day…and before you go to bed…does not lead to truth…nor to wisdom…nor to peace.
It usually leads you to the doctor’s office…or to the increasingly isolated world of the constant complainer or the angry cynic.
So does that mean we put our heads in the sand and let the world go on its merry way?
Nope. That’s not what I am talking about at all.
We need to be aware of our world. Students of our culture. Discerners of the times.
But here’s the counter question: How much “news” do I really need to know to be effective for Christ in the sphere of influence and ministry which God has given me?
Am I watching the news to make myself a better witness for Christ…a better spouse…a better parent…a better friend…a better neighbor? Or am I really watching it because it has sucked me in…because it feeds my incessant curiosity…because it makes me feel like knowing things is somehow changing things?
Am I nothing more than an ancient Athenian spending all my time seeking out something new to talk about…but missing out on what life is really all about (Acts 17:21)?
So here’s the bottom line.
Let Scripture frame your mindset not the narrative of the news.
When you start the day saturated in the news and end it there, you will inevitably let the media-framed crises of the world dictate your thinking, your emotions, and even your view of how God’s people are to live.
Instead begin the day in God’s Word and end it there. Let Scripture give you the lenses for seeing the daily news in the right perspective…through an eternal perspective.
Let the eternal frame the temporal…not the other way around.
Only watch and read as much news as you can actually digest, pray over, or act upon in some way for the kingdom of Christ and the benefit of others.
It is the biblical command to “watch and pray.”
Watch. Be alert. Know what is going on around you.
And pray. Take all that you are alerted to and pray for God’s wisdom, strength, and grace to know how to respond.
What if we kept a small notepad with us while we watched the news and wrote down the needs of the world that we are exposed to, the people who are in power that need God’s salvation, and we stopped and prayed before going to the next news show?
It would probably curb our news consumption.
And change our perspective.
Take a week off from watching the news, surfing the net, or scrolling through social media.
Do a media detox…and see how addicted you really are.
Invest the time you would have spent on the incessant media world and meditate on God’s Word, listen to praise music, go on long walks with the Lord, read a good book, exercise, volunteer, write the letter, note, or poem that you have been thinking of writing.
Then, after the week is over, take an honest inventory of your mental, emotional, and spiritual state and see if anything has changed.
The world will be the same.
But maybe your heart won’t be.
Perhaps your focus will be different.
Your perspective larger.
Your hope greater.
Your life simpler.
And your knowledge truer.
After all, the only knowledge that really matters is knowing the Lord.
And knowledge of Him is not only power.
It is life itself.
Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. (John 17:3)