Who do you trust? Who do you follow? To what extent do devotionals, news articles, or encyclopedia entries speak absolute truth?
I’ll give you the background of my question. As I was preparing some lessons for our Sunday morning Children’s Worship curriculum, I went Googling for various thoughts on the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. I wanted some good overviews of the text, and I found quite a few devotionals on the subject. However, as I went from site to site, I discovered a curious similarity: almost all of them had no author listed.
Now, before I get all up in my soapbox, I will try to imagine the other side. Perhaps this custom developed over time to allow people to read the devotionals without being distracted by details such as author, affiliation, date, etc. That way, they could escape all of the minutiae and just focus on the text at hand…
Sorry, I couldn’t do it… as much as I tried to see the appeal in such practice, it truly makes me shudder. Because it leads to accepting a text as authoritative because of its abstract qualities. It’s almost as if God is speaking to you. It’s almost as if the text is Scripture itself.
What’s funny about this is that Scripture is much more grounded than some other texts we read. For the most part, we know the details surrounding a letter or a book of the Bible: who wrote it (or at least traditionally who wrote it), when it was written (despite debates, there is at least consensus within a few hundred years), where it was written, why it was written, etc. Sometimes we treat Scripture as it came down from heaven with, a little black leather KJV with golden wings floating on a luminescent cloud. Scripture was inspired by God and directed by God, but it was still written by humans, with physical objects like ink and stone, in specific locations at specific times for specific circumstances and specific people. Somehow God has used these words to speak truth that transcends time, place, and circumstance. But they first started off in a physical state.
Raise your hand if you use Wikipedia. Ok, put it down. I do too. It is quite glorious, at times— amazing what it covers and what it doesn’t. But we all know, thanks to that high school teacher or college professor who would lambast it on a daily basis, that Wikipedia isn’t reliable. In fact, there are groups that are banned from editing Wikipedia because they keep on changing the “facts” to back their cause. Yes, I know, shocking that people would do that. (Insert sarcastic tone.) But even more shocking is the fact that actual people write the articles on Wikipedia! Even more… (Increase the sarcasm) everything from encyclopedias to devotionals to articles are written by people! I know, mind-blowing, right? (Lower sarcasm to 0.)
But really, how often do we recognize these facts? Usually I go check Wikipedia, find a paragraph of text, and let that information speak into my life. Sometimes if I’m cautious I check to make sure that there are sources listed at the bottom— but rarely will I read them in great detail. I assume too much. And you know what happens when someone assumes, right?
Think about the news. We read articles, listen to journalists, soak in the information they are handing us and rarely stop to think (unless you’re just awesome like that) “What’s their bias? What’s their background? What are their credentials?” At least the news is upfront about their desire to be objective— as difficult as it can be. The actors, writers, directors and producers don’t have to be as careful in their presentation of the truth. If they malign someone or tell a slanted version of the truth, they can just shrug and say, “Hey, it’s just TV!” or “It’s just a movie.” And what’s scary is that we feed ourselves with this media without realizing how its affecting us. The messages, philosophies, ideas, and arguments seep into our minds and attitudes and beliefs— and we are unaware it’s even happening. I mean, even just looking at advertising, there are estimates that you see anywhere from 247 to 5,000 ad images every day. Who are you listening to?
Now, I have to note that the best reporters, writers, and speakers use only the most reliable facts in their work. I won’t get into the debate of what constitutes facts here, and simply concede that there are some objective truths and facts that we can trust in 99% of situations. However, here’s the thing– no matter how reliable the facts, how detailed the report, how dependable the source, there’s always the role of human involvement (until we are all ruled by robots in 2054). For example, the reporter might not give you all the facts– all the facts they give you are true, but in editing their report, they change the story. A speaker might present one fact with great emotion and another fact with boredom and disinterest– which fact do you think the audience will hold onto? A writer might have triple-checked her sources, but years later, the truth comes out and her story becomes invalid. We should strive to present the truth, but in a fallen world, how can you always be sure? What color is the dress?
We must remember that everyone has a worldview. Every piece of art, every text, every film and production, every commercial, every ad, every newscast, every article, every essay, every Wikipedia or encyclopedia entry, every sermon, every song, every creation, every devotion is written by a human being with his or her own philosophical stance, theological beliefs, political affiliation, geographical location, personality, affectations, ambitions, background, credentials, experience, social class, economic situation, desires, hopes, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, worries, fears, knowledge base, peer pressure, interests, style, habits, and worldview. And whenever you partake of their work, it will influence you.
But perhaps it’s not such a terrible thing. We must simply be aware of what is happening. When I eat turkey on Thanksgiving day, I know I’m going to get sleepy later in the afternoon. I may know every scientific reason or at least have a general idea why, but I know that it will influence me in the long run. Do I avoid it, then? No, I enjoy it— and let it nourish me. But perhaps I don’t do it all the time. Perhaps I do avoid certain foods like Hot Pockets and sugar free gummi bears because I do know what they do to me. Perhaps I try to find foods that will leave me satisfied, healthy, and energized. But it all comes down to wisdom and choice.
Who feeds you? What do you consume? Why? After all, knowing is half the battle.
PS- And yes, I am also a human being, so you should take everything I say with a grain of salt. I do not speak with the authority of God– but I do hope I echo truth and wisdom. Grace and Peace to you.