I read a book a number of years ago. The title was Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman. The author contends that all media are entertainment, even the news. Why? Well, the pertinent reason to our situation here is, because to stay on the air, they have to make money. And to have money, they have to have high ratings so they can sell advertising. Entertainment drives ratings up. Drama is entertaining.
I was up late one winter night – bored, channel surfing. And I know it makes no sense, but I watched one of these continuous weather channels. Could there be anything more boring than that? Right? Well, they were talking about an impending storm coming in from the frigid north. Reporters were already out on the streets in their parkas, interviewing people in New York City – which was supposed to be the epicenter of this storm. Snow was predicted to be 12 inches deep. It was going to paralyze the city. Did everyone have enough food and water? Were hospitals ready for all the frostbite and heart attacks, from the effects from the cold, on the hearts of the elderly and from all the shoveling to take place the next day? Was the mayor’s preparedness plan ready to go? It was going to be record-setting snow and cold – the mother of all storms. Oh boy! Finally, I got tired and went to bed. It was going to be a while before that storm hit. But the moment my eyes popped open in the morning, I ran to the TV in breathless anticipation. I was shocked to see that it snowed less than an inch in New York City. No guys in parkas on the street. It was only announced by the woman looking at the big weather board in the studio. Business as usual. It was all a big bust – fortunately for the elderly in New York City – but the night before, weather TV had some really good ratings.
Well, the point is this: TV news sensationalizes everything in order to make more money. I guess I should say, “TV news,” alone – every news Website, every newspaper – you know, with their 4-inch headlines and all. They have to entertain us to remain viable. Drama draws viewers and makes money for the outlets.
I have a number of friends who are Democrats and Republicans. My Democrat friends will tell me about how Trump killed off a high-profile Iranian terrorist and now we’re going to go into a costly, debilitating, protracted war that will not get us anything in the end. When I asked my Republican friends about this, they tell me that it was a good kill, and that there was no war, so it was really no big deal. And the point there is: there has not been any war, which would have been the big dramatic thing. That war idea was not conceived by the media, but it was promoted by them, realizing that they could make money from it. Or, my Republican friends will tell me that Democrats have been plotting to take Trump out of office before he even got in, and that shows how corrupt and treasonous they are – the very stuff of drama! Just the thought of it raises blood pressure and the heart rate. So they race to watch Fox News. Democrats have heard nothing about this. They all agree Trump should go, but they haven’t heard anything about any political coup to unseat an elected President. They view the impeachment process in the House as completely in accordance with the Constitution, and they’re jolly-well glad about it. After all, they have learned for three years that President Trump hired the Russians to spy on Hillary. They learned that on CNN. He was trying to change the election results. What a treasonous monster! Oh, the drama! Meanwhile, new political Websites are popping up, actors who know nothing about politics are making all sorts of emotional statements. It makes a great news feed. And, at the same time, all this high drama on TV is causing ratings on both sides of the media to rise.
It reminds me of the football players in the stadium, throwing their arms up in the air to rile up the fans. Politics are now finally, at long last, interesting and also, more profitable. Most of the time, it’s more upsetting than it really needs to be. It’s exaggerated for effect. Now I’m not saying that any of the examples I mentioned are true or false. I’m only talking about the effect of the way the media presents all it.
Now let’s talk about what I just said – both sides of the media. All human beings are biased. We can’t help but be. We all interpret what goes on around us from our own unique data pool. Media are no exception. They try to cover it up, but now all explanations about a lack of bias are clearly seen as only thin veneer. CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC are all slanted toward, what some call, the left. Fox News, One America and NewsMax are slanted toward the right. What has this deepening division caused with media? Katie Couric said, a couple of years ago, “People no longer watch news to be informed. They watch it to be validated.” The media are now working to validate one or the other of the two divisions in our nation. That’s how to make money in media.
Also, both sides are trying to affect the outcomes of elections – in other words, to control the nation by controlling national opinion by controlling what’s put on the air. For example, during the election cycle when Barack Obama ran for President, there was a senator from Texas, who was a Libertarian, Ron Paul. He was running on the Republican ticket. He complained, late in the process, that he could no longer get any time on Fox News – who claimed to be fair and balanced. Why do you think? Well, Fox News executives were afraid he would draw votes away from the Republican they thought would have the best chance against Obama. Of course, the mainstream media in the next election cycle, thinking Hillary Clinton would be the best to contend with Trump, hushed up the Democratic National Convention’s under-the-table sabotage of Bernie Sanders’ election efforts, because he was threatening Hillary Clinton. They thought he would take votes away her, just like…. We see them all trying to shape the news, rather than simply report it.
Now the media people are not the only ones trying to make the nation in their own image. We have learned that all the big data miners – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc. – are all using their data and the platforms to affect the outcomes of the elections. Regarding the bitter polarization going on in our country, it’s also interesting to note that the four heads of the four largest data miners were summoned to an investigation by the US Congress. What I learned from the results of that meeting, sometime after it happened – if the results can be trusted – is that, for a measly sum of four million dollars, seventy percent of the US population was reached over various platforms on the Internet by a low-level Russian effort to subvert our country. Their strategy? Was it to cause Hillary to win or Donald to win? Neither one. Their effort was to increase the already deepening division between collectivist and individualist leanings in our country. They don’t care who wins, as long as we hate each other over it.
When we watch collectivist or individual news, if we are not careful, our view can be unconsciously slanted one way or the other – neither way of which is God’s way. So what way is God’s way when it comes to US politics? Well, more about that in a minute.
Liberals, conservatives and God – that’s our next section here. Think about the environment. Both parties claim that they care about the environment. And yet, all my life, the environment has gotten worse and worse as the population rises, because of the technologies we use and the ridiculous strategies and laws that we have employed to change them. We have to remember that nothing happens in our country, except what the 457 elected officials of the US government want. They control it all. So both sides are responsible for the state of the environment. What they’re doing not only doesn’t work, it’s not what God would do. How do we know that? Well, all we have to do is read the prophecies that show us what life will be like in the world after Jesus returns. God is going to promote technologies that not destructive. How do I know that? Well, the planet, we are told, will burgeon with health and vigor once Christ returns – no room for poison-producing technologies there.
Let’s look at another issue – the poor. Both parties claim that they want to take care of the poor. And yet, there are more homeless people than ever before in the world and in the US. The two parties’ methods for taking care of the poor vary vastly, and neither one of them work. And neither way is the way God has taken care of the poor in the past. Every time Jesus and the apostles have spoken about the poor in the Bible, and every instance we see in the nation God created in the Old Testament, there is the same approach put forth that is different from both Republican and Democrat plans. God’s plan essentially makes it the responsibility of everyone to take care of the poor around them. Of course, in His plan, we would not already be burdened with the incredible taxes that we pay, which are supposed to be for the poor. Responsibility is placed on the individual and on the community. Also, the word poor means something different in the Bible than it does today. In the Bible, orphans and widows are mentioned often. And they were considered a part of the population that was called the afflicted – that is, people who, through no fault of their own, were unable to sustain their own lives. That would include all people whose health or mental state – absent drugs – would make them unable to work. God’s system would also include life in a community that promoted connection, inclusion, productivity and faith. It’s interesting to observe that this kind of environment tends to reduce anxiety, which is the elemental cause of drug addiction. If you look at most of the people who live on the street in this nation, they are unable to compete in any aspect of the job market. And that is one of the curses God tells us will occur when we go contrary to Him – when we don’t do things His way. Historically, neither party has done much of anything to help. The situation is only getting worse and worse, and ironically, it’s going that way in the most affluent nation in world history. By contrast, very few starved in ancient Israel. And that was without Social Security, food stamps, Medicaid, nor any of the taxes that come with those kinds of programs.
We can also look at education, employment, the military, insurance, the border and all other hot-button issues and come to the same conclusions. It seems like any humanly devised solution has positives and negatives. God’s solutions have no downs and have been rejected by the politicians, in spite of that, on both sides of the aisle. It’s foolish for Christians to get sucked into thinking the politicians of one party or the other have any real solutions. We’ve had a long time and nobody’s put forth any solutions that have worked yet.
We Christians might have some meager insight from the scriptures into what could be done, but none of us has complete insight, nor the power to bring it to pass. So there’s no need for any one us to become self-righteous and judge others, as though we could fix everything if we were suddenly in charge.
So let’s talk now about the Christian way to keep track of world news and events. Do you know why a Christian should watch world news? Why do you think? Well, in Matthew 25:12, Jesus said:
Matthew 25:12-13 – Truly, I say to you, “I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you neither know the day nor the hour – He was talking about His own return.
He said that none of them knew, and later, in another place, He said that He didn’t know when He was going to return either – only the Father – so our job is to watch! And the signs that He gave us were all about events that were going to occur in the world, mostly around Jerusalem. So we have to watch world news, if we’re going to do what He told us to do. So we’re to watch and be ready – not that we can or are supposed to do about what will come to pass, because we don’t have the power to do that. If we watch the news from that perspective, it all becomes curious, interesting and somewhat fearful, but not so much angry and frustrating – though I confess, I have a hard time with those last two on some occasions when I watch the news.
So let’s think about God’s values now in Bible prophecy. Is God a liberal? Is He a conservative? Is He an individualist or collectivist? Well, as far as being an individualist or collectivist, He’s both and He’s neither. He wants all people to be able to enjoy the fruits of their own labors, to own their own property, to sit under their own fig tree. We know that. It’s in the Bible. He wants us to be free individuals. And He wants all of us to collectively take care of the afflicted in our midst – to help people get a fresh start, if they need it, to lift up others, so that they can eventually lift up others yet.
Our nation was founded on something similar to that individualist value. And that’s kind of tricky for some Christians. It kind of throws them off. However, the way we have practiced it in this country, allowed for an entirely different approach to take root, which is a kind of collectivism that, historically, has always failed. And, of course, all of this, on both sides, has always been about how to get money. Turning our government over to the kind of legislators we have elected to embellish our national approach is like putting foxes in charge of the hen house.
And that brings us to another of God’s views on the operation of nations – not so much collectivists or independents – left or right, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative – but instead right or wrong, good or evil. And guess who gets to decide who gets to condemn others for being good or evil? Well, I’ll give you a hint. It’s nobody on this planet. Notice something in Hebrews 5. It says, in verse 12:
Hebrews 5:12 – For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basics principles of the oracles of God – the revelations of God – the Bible, in other words. You need milk, not solid food. You people are still babies! For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. So this is about developmental delay of Christians. But solid food is for the mature – now he’s going to define that term, spiritual maturity – for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
So the mark of a mature Christian is the ability to discern good from evil – to know when a sin has been committed, when a philosophy is not lined up with God, or when something good has been done, or when an approach is right.
So, when we watch the news, it’s always a good idea to think about whether we are listening to good or bad things at any given time. You know, it’s always good to know a scoundrel when a scoundrel shows his colors. Jesus seemed to model this quite effectively for us. While at the same time, instead of condemning, we are to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves, as opposed to being as wise as dove and harmless as serpents. So, turning it all over to God, we should just hide and watch – see what He does, how He’s going to work out His plan.
There’s also another warning about how to watch the news in Luke 21:34. It says:
Luke 21:34-36 – But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life – you know, the cares of this life. That could be having enough money, or job, or whatever, but it could also be about getting all upset, and depressed, and anxious about what’s going on around us in the world. Being worried about what’s on the news certainly qualifies as a care of this life. …and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
So our job is to pray and to watch and not to worry. Sometimes, even doing what God tells us to do can be a trap, if we don’t do it the right way. So, while we’re watching the news, we need to do what God says. We need to pray that God guides leaders and nations so that we can live in peace and do His work. And then, just let God work. Watch the news to see how He’s going to make that happen.
Ezekiel 9 – I failed to write down the verse here, but you can find it.
Ezekiel 9:4 – Pass through the city, through Jerusalem – the angel is telling Ezekiel in prophecy – and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.
It’s always going to be hard to see all the horrors that happen in the world every day. But there is a promise from God to all those who watch the news in anticipation of Jesus’ coming.
Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And – and this is the promise – the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding – in other words, it doesn’t make sense how you can watch the news and be at peace, except through Jesus Christ – and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
When we watch the news and we sign and groan as though we were wounded – that’s what the meaning of that word groan means, by the way. It means to groan as though we were being hurt. As we watch the news with that kind of great empathy for God’s children, then we’re in a very special category. And that category is the reason why God promises to guard our hearts and minds. God reveals that to us in Hebrews 11, starting in 32. Paul said:
Hebrews 11:32 – What more shall I say? This is the Faith Chapter. It’s about all the faithful people of the Bible and what faith is. For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the fire of power, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn in two. They were killed by the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world is not worthy…. See, when a person watches the news and is sorrowed by what they see, and longs for Christ’s return, they belong in a very special group. That’s just another of the great spiritual ironies. The world has hated and despised God’s followers all down through history. And God’s response is, that actually, it’s the other way around. It’s not that we are not worthy of the world, it’s that, because of Jesus Christ, the world is not worthy of us. So we walk in a heady crowd of David and Samuel, and the ancient patriarchs, and all the great prophets of God. Notice this, too, reading on: …wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
So our job, then, is to watch the news. We will be shocked and horrified and saddened by what we learn. But there should be no anxiety. God is on His throne, and He’s working His plan. He sets up and takes down kings and nations. He’s in control from beginning to end. And that plan includes putting the salvation of all the biblical heroes before us on hold, until we all go together.
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Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.