How to Brave the News: Reading Headlines Through Psalms

Two millennia ago, Paul visited Athens and found that its citizens and visitors “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). For Paul, this was an opportunity to share his truly good news. But what are we to make of today’s constant rush of information, with far more news, arriving from far more places, than previous generations encountered?

“God keeps an infinite number of balls in the air, but most of us can handle just one or two.”

In 1985, when Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, the threat was that we would live frivolous lives and die laughing. Postman died in 2003, when 24/7 cable news channels were elbowing past the previous era of game shows and sitcoms. Since then, the torrent — augmented by Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook — has become a flood. Postman’s concern about escapism is still important, but here’s a question for the present: Will we die crying, or at least anxious?

News Through Psalms

One proposed solution is that we not pay attention to news. Maybe that way we can avoid the world-weariness evident in this April report on the Ozy news site: “Another day, another horror. A gunman shot eight people dead at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis late Thursday night before killing himself, the latest mass shooting to strike America.”

Just “another day, another horror”? Thankfully, the Bible offers a better approach to the constant stream of bad news coming at us today. Four psalms in particular have helped me wade into the brokenness of the news without drowning.

1. Don’t occupy yourself with news.

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother. (Psalm 131:1–2)

The “great and marvelous” things certainly include theological realities, but we can also apply those phrases to the news. The Bible does not tell us to avoid big news from some other part of the country or world. It tells us not to be “occupied” with it.

We can read the headlines without spending time dwelling on the details of incidents over which we have no control. God keeps an infinite number of balls in the air, but most of us can handle just one or two. We need to concentrate on what we must juggle, and not what will cause us to drop our specific responsibilities.

2. Realize where your only hope lies.

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:24–25)

Direction in this life, the hope and expectation of eternal life, and the conclusion: What other choice do we have? When sensational news makes it hard to be calm and quiet, it’s time to read the Bible and take comfort in God’s guidance, God’s promise, God’s uniqueness.

3. Keep up with God’s news above man’s.

How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever. (Psalm 92:5–7)

This teaching runs against contemporary wisdom. Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg became prominent for suggesting that “autonomous thinking” is the seventh and highest stage of human intellectual development. That’s making ourselves into God.

The highest stage is actually dependent thinking that recognizes our reliance on God. Long ago, Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” Today we might say that if we’re more desperate to keep up with the news than to keep up with the Bible, it’s not the gospel we trust, but our Facebook feed.

4. Observe the testimony of depravity.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2)

In 2021, our 24/7 news services pour out speech but do not glorify God — and yet, we also learn something from news that shows the sinfulness of man. The Bible teaches that when man turns away from God, he acts like a beast, and that beastliness will show itself sometimes in awful crimes. We do not want to dwell on them, but if we ignore them, we’re ignoring evidence for the understanding of man’s sinfulness that is essential to Christianity — for if man without God is not beastly, then Christ’s sacrifice for us was unnecessary.

“Take comfort in God’s guidance, God’s promise, God’s uniqueness.”

Keeping these verses in mind can help us be conscious of the news but not burdened by amoral journalism that emphasizes all the sound and fury in the world and presents people’s lives as tales told by idiots, signifying nothing. The Bible is often sensational, as it wakes up the sleeping and reminds us of the nature of God and man. But amoral journalism is sensationalism that does not point us to God.

Comfort in Life and Death

We are little hobbits in this great big world, but we have a great opportunity to glorify God and enjoy him immediately. As John Piper notes, “Every joy that does not have God as its central gladness is a hollow joy and in the end will burst like a bubble.” In Christ, we can have great joy by discovering more of him in all things, however dark, and honoring him above all things, however great.

Most nights before we go to sleep, my wife or I say to each other the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. It has a way of grounding us in realities far above the daily news cycle, and even far above the sorrows that sometimes strike our own lives. The question asks us for our only comfort in life and death. Here’s the answer:

That I am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins. He delivered me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head, yea, that all things must work together for my salvation, wherefore by his Holy Spirit he assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

That sensational promise summarizes brilliantly what the Bible teaches. We need to be less independent and more dependent on God, who has saved us. “Belong” means belong, “fully satisfied” means fully, “all the power of the devil” means all the power, “all things” working for our salvation means all things.

If we believe these promises and keep reminding ourselves of them, we can hear the news without being occupied by it. We can remember where our only hope lies. We can care more about God’s news than man’s. And we can look at depravity without being swallowed by it. In other words, we can stand upright in the Information Age.

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