Theologian Karl Barth once advised students to “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both”. As a self-confessed news junkie, I used to like this advice. But is it just me, or has the news cycle become… absolutely exhausting?
A global pandemic, economic disaster, abuse, wars, systemic injustices — this list keeps getting longer, and it’s just August. Most of us either know those who are intensely suffering, or are suffering ourselves. The constant exposure to everything awful happening in the world has left me feeling sad, anxious, and even frustrated with the (seeming) inaction of God in these circumstances. I know I’m not alone; even psychologists and mental health experts are concerned about the toll that the bombardment of negative news is taking on our health.
However, I don’t think completely disconnecting from the world is the answer. I agree with Karl Barth — the Church must be informed and engaged with the issues of our time to be salt and light. While I’ll leave deep dives into theodicy to those wiser than me, I want to offer some practical steps that may help us engage with the news cycle in a God-glorifying manner.
Hope is a constant theme in Scripture. The Christian’s hope is not merely a vague, generally optimistic sense that things will turn out okay, nor is it the promise of transcending the pain of the world through some sort of nirvana. Christian hope is the absolute certainty that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
While the powers of sin and death hold a very visible sway over our world, Christ’s death and resurrection guarantee that they are already defeated. Darkness will not have the final word, and our Saviour will return to set all things right. The pain of the present is nothing in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory” that is coming. Seek out things that point you to the hope of the Gospel and the promise of the coming kingdom of God. And look for opportunities to share this glorious hope of salvation with others!
The pain of the present is nothing in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory” that is coming
Gospel hope does not mean we should be satisfied with the world’s state — quite the opposite. The Church has always recognised that lamentation is a normal part of Christian life. The Bible itself invites us to grieve. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus. Job, the Psalms and the Prophetic books, in particular, are filled with emotional outbursts over evil and the apparent silence of God. Our grief, frustration and questions are not too much for God to handle. He has preserved these portions of Scripture in His inspired Word for a reason.
Besides grief, prayer is a powerful weapon. We can’t do much about most of the suffering we encounter, but we can say a quick prayer as we read the news, and add these matters to our prayer lists.
True gospel hope does not create people who are “no earthly good”. As N.T. Wright says, “People who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”
Aside from prayer, look for practical avenues to serve. Befriend the suffering. Donate your time and money to rescue organisations and mission work. Vote for good political candidates, and get involved with activism where possible and appropriate.
Look for practical avenues to serve… but know your limits
But, know your limits. Your ability to alleviate suffering in your local community is very different from, say, ending famine in a country thousands of miles away. Even locally, you cannot realistically be involved in every humanitarian crisis all at once. Pray for the wisdom to know the difference, and that the Lord will direct your time and resources to where they will be the most effective.
“It used to be the sole province of God to know the full accounting of all the human evil that was happening in the world at any given time, now it’s the province of any Twitter user,” said writer Elizabeth Bruneig. I think she sums this up very well. We may have access to an infinite amount of information, but it’s becoming more apparent that our brains are not designed to adequately process the scope and scale of what we’re bombarded with each day.
So, to my fellow news-junkies, don’t be afraid to log off and disconnect from your news apps and social media for a few hours of the day. Thank God for His omniscience, and rest in the knowledge that our Father has the world in the palm of His hand.
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