How Can Christians Digest the News with Discernment?
- Erica Wiggenhorn Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 25 Oct
Within the last decade, psychologists have discovered a new phenomenon: our logic can become hijacked by emotion. The emotional brain and the logical brain stop communicating with one another and the emotion most commonly cited in this occurrence is anger. Psychologists refer to this interruption in rational thinking as “child-logic” and the primary result includes unrealistic expectations resulting in anger, hopelessness, despair, and a sense of a loss of control. These are the same emotions expressed by people suffering from anxiety and depression. We need to watch our news intake with discernment, because most of the time, the stories have been crafted to tug at our emotions.
A survey done by Reuter’s Incorporation concluded that over 56% of Americans believe that major news outlets exaggerate their reporting. We instinctively know that news networks sensationalize their coverage in order to entice us to keep watching. Therefore, we need to develop specific strategies for our viewing intake to maintain wisdom and employ logical thinking while checking the news. Here are three safeguards to employ while digesting news on network television or social media:
Daily News Messages versus the Message of the Ancient of Days
The average person spends 145 minutes per day on social media. On top of that, 62% of Americans believe that social media maintains too much control over our news content. In contrast, 50% of adults spend less than 30 minutes per day reading their Bible. We consume daily messages and rarely check the message recorded for us in God’s Word: He is in control, and nothing lies outside of His sovereignty and plan.
Look at the truth to which we as believers can cling to in times of uncertainty:
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ Isaiah 46:10.
If we feel fearful or anxious over the future, Scripture reminds us that we serve a God who knows everything that we will ever face in this life and His will remains unchangeable. In the wake of changing leaders or unstable governments, God says:
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” Isaiah 43:12-13.
To maintain discernment, we need to dwell in the messages of the Ancient of Days with greater consistency than we digest the daily messages presented to us on the news.
Want some simple tests to know if you are ingesting a toxic amount of news? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is the news always playing in the background in your home or car?
Is your phone the first thing you grab when you have a free moment?
Is your phone or favorite news station the first thing you check in the morning above checking in with God?
Ask Yourself: Is This Story Meant to Provide Insight or Incite Me Emotionally?
A second safeguard invites your inner critic. Studies show that three out of four people worldwide expressed concern over “fake news” regarding the coronavirus. Yet during 2020 every single news network reported spikes in both number of viewers and length of time watched.
Why would someone knowingly subjugate themselves to false information that created fear, confusion and powerlessness?
The most oft repeated command in Scripture is “Do not fear” or “Do not be afraid,” so if we purposefully consume reporting that we somehow instinctively know is skewed and results in us being filled with fear, does this honor God’s command? God does not tell us to bury ourselves under a rock and deny events around us. But when the disciples questioned Jesus about those who had suffered from unexpected tragedy in Luke 13, Jesus suggested they “repent”– in other words, keep your primary concern in life your relationship with God. Circumstances will come and go.
When we watch a news story or read an article citing alarming statistics, our default will be to fall into fear. Our emotional logic will override our rational thinking. Instead, we need to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” He is in control. He sees our plight. He has a plan. He has not forgotten us.
What are some simple things to do when fear takes hold, resulting in anger?
Focused breathing, calming yourself down, and slowing your heart rate.
Use imagery. Visualize a relaxing experience.
Avoid your triggers. In other words, take a break from your news consumption.
Get active. Take a walk. Do some stretches. Get outside.
Improve your communication skills. In moments of anger, people jump to conclusions and say unkind things. Pause and say a prayer before you post a reply on a social news site or share your opinion over something viewed on television within the company of others.
Meditate on Scripture. The Psalms provide lots of great options when we feel afraid or anxious. In Psalm 94:19 David said, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” As David thought about the goodness of God, this brought him comfort. When everything around us begins to feel bad, we need to unplug and spend time engaging in an alternative activity.
Information Is Powerful, but Never More Powerful than God
We often consume the news because feeling like we are in the know gives us a sense of power or control over our lives. But no amount of information will ever surpass the power of God. One acid test that we are relying on information over God’s intervention is when we choose to forfeit other activities in order to keep feeding on it. We feel we cannot step away from the screen. The sources of news begin to supersede the sovereignty of God.
A recent article in the New York Times issued this warning: “The evidence from social science suggests that biased or sensationalist news programs may misinform citizens or discourage civic engagement, and that we should also be cautious about what we give up for the sake of entertainment.” When Asaph witnessed the evil in the world and wicked people seemingly prospering, he cried out to God: “When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Psalm 73:16-17). As he entered into the presence of God, he concluded, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (Psalm 73:24).
God remains the anchor of our souls, firm and secure, not the news anchor filling us with further dread. Nor the social media pundit predicting further woe. When we sense ourselves spiraling down in despair, anger and fear, we need to remember these three strategies to maintain proper perspective. Our time in the eternal truth of God’s Word provides security as we face temporary circumstances. Our emotions serve as indicators, not dictators. We can press pause on our feelings and purposefully process them to regain proper perspective. Intentionally avoiding information sources that continually incite us proves wise. When our emotions run rampant, we must return to the presence and security of the Ancient of Days who promises to work all things together for our good.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tero Vesalainen
Erica Wiggenhorn is a Bible teacher and author of Unexplainable Jesus: Rediscovering the God You Thought You Knew from Moody Publishers. She loves to open the Word and invite God to move. You can connect with her at www.EricaWiggenhorn.com.