A test for news junkies
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This is the 16th in a series of classic columns (edited for space) by Joel Belz. In this Oct. 12, 2002, column, Joel stressed the importance of morning Bible reading.
Greetings, news junkies. Did you know that your addiction, over the next few months, is likely to become much worse? Two factors in particular will make it so. The first is that a national election is now only a month away. The second is that a major war may be launched at almost any moment. Historically, politics and war are two great drivers for the news media.
Which makes it appropriate for me to ask again here, as I did some years ago: Which did you pick up first this morning—your daily newspaper or your Bible?
I used to think that was a diversionary question, asked only by pietists eager to show us how holy they were. But there is some real legitimacy to the test.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth pulled his punches when he answered the question. The serious Christian, he said, should read with a Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. That way, you can see what God is doing in the world, but constantly refine your perspective in the light of God’s eternal truth.
I’ve sometimes argued the same way myself. But the advice has the potential for being dangerous, for it can imply equivalence between the two kinds of revelation.
My father always reminded me that God reveals Himself in two primary ways. One is the Bible. The other is everything else. All God’s creation and all God’s providence are just as surely an expression of His voice as is the Bible.
But Dad also always stressed that we should never pretend that all those other expressions of God’s voice are as clear as the Bible, or that they speak with the same force and authority. Hurricane Lili several weeks ago was a strong expression of God’s power—but the meaning of Hurricane Lili was much more ambiguous than are the words of John’s Gospel.
So we come back to this morning’s choice between the Bible and the newspaper.
At least you are engaging the world—and that is good. You are not splitting up God’s scheme of things into the “sacred” and the “secular,” and pretending that they can be thought of separately. But sometimes, we worldviewish Christians find it far too easy to suppose we are somehow pre-equipped to think Christianly about everything going on around us.
We kid ourselves. The “mind of Christ” takes at least a lifetime to form. The broad strokes of a Christian’s walk with God may be simple for a new believer to comprehend—but all the details and nuances of application to this sinful and broken and crooked world take the patience of someone assembling a 2,500-piece jigsaw puzzle. And nothing promotes that process better than regular exposure to God’s explicit words in the Bible.
Most of us, for example, would be hard-pressed to give a Biblical rationale for the so-called “just-war theory.” Or if a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier were to approach us and to ask, “Use your Bible to help us settle our differences,” most of us would be terrified to try. Any comprehensive awareness of what the Bible says about economic justice is equally shallow for most of us.
Is that because we’re better versed in our newspapers than we are in the Bible itself? Too often for me, that’s exactly the case. But personal experience from God’s saints through all the ages—including David (Psalm 143:8)—suggests that an early start every day with God’s Word is key. That is so for at least three reasons:
(1) It is a daily symbolic statement of what is most important. (2) In practical terms, what you do first tends to get done; what you put off competes with other obligations and tends to get bumped from the schedule. (3) What you do first tends to define the rest of the day.
The essence of our fallenness as humans is to think we’re smarter than we really are. The essence of our walk with God is to keep turning to Him for wisdom in figuring things out. Christians who are news junkies should do that sooner rather than later.
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