I recently read an article on how Finland is arming its citizens to deal with the onslaught of fake news in the digital world, in which most of us find ourselves enmeshed. Their goal is to assist a person who reads some outrageous accusation or claim about another group in their country (or outside their country) by giving them tools to evaluate if that outrageous claim is even vaguely true or if there is someone “out there” attempting to create distrust and conflict. What I love about Finland’s approach is that they are predominantly asking people to be discerning. To not accept what is “outrageous” without thought, and inviting them to avoid jumping to conclusions that focus on the worst without further confirmation from credible sources. Be thoughtful and discerning, the Finish authorities are saying! I think that’s good advice!
For much of my life, I have not had to think much about this duplicity of intent. My world view said that people generally told the truth and that if there was mistruth out there, it would be self-evident, easy to spot. I would be naïve to believe that today. So the call for you and for me is also to be thoughtfully discerning. It’s in our best interest.
When I think about being discerning, King Solomon immediately comes to mind. He was King David’s son, and as such was following in some very big footsteps. His father, King David, connected himself so closely and firmly to God that his decisions and movements for most of his life were formed by his love and worship of God. He was a flawed human as we all are, but his epithet from Scripture says that God called him “a man after my own heart.” Wouldn’t you love for God to say that about you? As Solomon then followed his father, I can imagine his anxiety was high. Many people would want to speak into how he ruled. They would look for ways to whisper their influence in his ear. Many people would appear before him, swearing to tell the truth, but colouring it with lies and half-truths. How could he possibly sort through all that “noise”, the fake news, as it were, to make good and wise decisions and lead his people well?
I Kings 3 details a dream that Solomon had early in his reign, in which God appeared to him in a vision and asked him what he would like from God. Here’s how Solomon responded to that offer. “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” God was delighted by this request, and granted him that wisdom (along with all the things he didn’t ask for). He too, for much of his life, would be led by thoughtful discernment, as he submitted his choices to the God he followed. His legacy of being wise continues to this day.
He is the one who wrote, in Proverbs 3:21-24, about the many and varied benefits that accompany discernment: “My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” There is something to be said for being discerning!
Solomon’s ability to be wise and discerning came from his connection with God, from listening to the right voice. I would like to suggest that this is also true for us. Scriptures give us God’s “good news” to which we firmly attach ourselves. It is the news that we are loved by God, saved by the gift of his grace, included in his large and diverse family, inheritors of all his riches, and recipients of the hope that comes from being held by him. He sweeps us up in his kingdom, and invites us into a new way of being human, where walls of hostility are broken down, where forgiveness is the norm, where we care for the “least of these” and where true wealth is defined in a much larger sense than just by what we own. We get to live out of love rather than fear. We get to see what’s going on around us with a different set of eyes. Even if it looks like the “authorities and powers” currently around us (both locally and spiritually) are winning, Jesus’ death and resurrection says “no!” to that. He’s already won. He’s on the throne. We’re part of a different reality. It makes you want to stand up and cheer! It is to this God of good news that we come for wisdom to be discerning in this time and place where we live.
Fake news from the evil one says that God is losing. That when things aren’t going your way, it must prove that God isn’t big enough or that God doesn’t care. Fake news says you have a right to your outrage, that the people you dislike are the people God dislikes. Fake news says that you can hold that prejudice or grudge, and God will look the other way. Fake news says that your worth comes from somewhere other than your belonging to God. Believing these things makes us vulnerable to all the craziness that assaults us daily from every side.
The antidote to fake news is not so much “true news” as it is “good news”! So I want to leave you with a prayer that King David left for us in Psalm 119:125. Would you make this your prayer, as you live your days, seeking to be connected closely to Jesus, being wise and discerning as his followers?
(God, we pray)… “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes” (and live well in this day!) Amen, and amen!