When I was growing up in the 1980s, my parents and grandparents watched both the local and national news every night. I distinctly remember how the news would often lead into the break with a line that was guaranteed to make sure that you didn’t change the channel during the commercial. It might be, “A food you are eating every day that is endangering your health” or “have you protected your children from this silent killer.” Either way, the line would tap into your fear and desire for safety to make sure that you were still watching on the other end of the break.
What older news programs would do a couple of times an episode is how many news outlets craft every headline in the age of social media. With so many sources of information vying for our attention, it seems that every headline is calibrated to grab our attention and entice us to click the link. Unfortunately, few of these headlines stoke our desire to be informed but instead are tailored to either make us angry or make us afraid. Appealing to these two strong emotions–fear and loathing–may spell big paydays for corporations, but they are killing our souls and destroying our sanity.
Followers of Jesus have to find a better way to read the news. We need to be informed, but we need to read in such a way that we are not constantly shaking in fear or seething with anger.
Read the News with An Eye on the Preciousness of Time
We live in an economy where the advertisers fight for your attention. They don't have to get you in front of a television or sitting down to read the newspaper anymore. A device constantly begging for your attention sits in your pocket and one "quick check" can send you down a rabbit hole of links and discussions.
Steward the time you spend looking at your phone and set specific times during the day when you will get on social media or check news headlines. If you try to constantly "stay informed," you will end up never accomplishing anything important while you take in a steady stream of relatively unimportant information. You only have one life, don't spend it staring at your phone.
Read the News with Faith in God's Promises
When we think about the issues taking center stage in our day, many of them concern things that make us anxious– rising healthcare costs, a shrinking economy, the threat of terrorism, and battles over free speech and religious liberty. When we hear about another terrorist attack, a liberal professor stifling free speech, or an increase in our healthcare premiums, our natural tendency is to worry and panic.
In times like these, we need to review what is true for those who trust in Christ. We know that God providentially rules over all of human history and he is working all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28-30) We know that Jesus has ascended into heaven and is preparing a place there for those who belong to him. (John 14:1-6) We know that those who are in Christ will share in his inheritance because we are God's sons and daughters. (Romans 8:16-17)
We could spend all day reviewing the glories that are coming to those who are in Christ and we need to look at the daily news in light of these overwhelming realities. This doesn't mean that healthcare, abortion, social justice, and civil liberties don't matter, instead, it reframes how we think about these issues. If we don't get justice in this world, we know that ultimate justice is coming. If our opportunities for a comfortable retirement are declining, we remember that we look forward to something much better than retirement. Our great future hope changes the way that we look at everything.
Read the News with Love for Your Neighbor
Most of our news comes to us with a partisan slant. The headlines grab our attention by reinforcing the bad things we believe about our political enemies or show how our heroes are being disrespected. What ends up happening is that we grow in our animosity towards the other side. We start thinking that they don't just disagree with us on political issues, but are dangerous people who must be stopped.
Someone once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is. He answered that the first is to love God and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Then, the questioner asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer this question. He showed a man taking personal responsibility for the suffering of someone who would consider him a social, political, and religious enemy. Love for our neighbors looks like this. It crosses all of the lines that we like to draw.
Christians must not fall into the trap of reading daily news to feed our loathing of other people. Because Jesus loved us when we were hostile to him, we love the people with whom we disagree. We read, not to get angry and lose our cool, but to better understand how to engage those who stand on the other side of important issues. If you find that reading the news causes you to in personal animus towards other people, it's time to review the message of the Gospel and remember the love and patience God has shown you.
Read the News with a Discerning Heart
Too often, we react to the news like people who aren't growing as believers in Christ. Too often, we draw strong conclusions and develop unrelenting opinions based on incomplete information. We read the title of an article or hear an out-of-context quote and rage inside. Then we start reading the comments and shake with anger at people we have never met. This takes us to a place of anger, anxiety, and unkindness.
The Proverbs speak to us about listening and making sure we have thoroughly heard a matter before we develop a strong opinion and lose our cool. "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." (18:13) "Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense." (19:11) Solomon reminds us in these passages that wisdom calls us away from quick conclusions and hot-headed reactions. Instead, it beckons us to make sure we have heard what is being said and respond with a cool spirit.
Getting angry or anxious because of the news is not a new phenomenon. Things will take place in this world that will tempt us to shake our heads, grit our teeth, or fret over the future until Jesus returns. Until that great day, Christians should walk by faith in the promises of God, remembering to love our neighbors and live our lives with wisdom.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: Julius Drost/Unsplash
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”