Breaking News: The Bible Talks About Fake News… Kind of
Ironically, one of the most popular current news stories is about the news itself.
Since the presidential election, a large focus of media inquiry has been the role of “fake news” in shaping the American public’s perceptions of truth — specifically, the role fake news played in contributing to Donald Trump’s victory. Unsurprisingly, the battle lines in this debate have been drawn down partisan lines. Both sides have attempted to leverage the national frustration surrounding fake news to their advantage.
As people of faith who bear allegiance to Jesus above any nation or political movement, how are we to respond to fake news? Here are a couple of thoughts.
1. Fake news is false witness.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It is simply a modern-day embodiment of what the Old Testament calls “bearing false witness.” The 9th commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16), forbids speaking unjustly against others to the detriment of their reputation (see also Ex. 23:1; Deut. 5:20, 19:18; Joshua 24:27; Psalms 27:12; Prov. 6:19, 12:17).
This outcome is exactly what today’s fake news aims to accomplish. Individuals intentionally spread fabricated or manipulated information detrimental to their opponents in order to achieve a predetermined outcome. The primary differentiator between the Old Testament version and modern fake news is that fake news generally plays out in the court of public opinion instead of a court of law. This, however, does not reduce the seriousness of this act.
2. Bearing false witness is a big deal to God.
Bearing false witness is a deathly serious matter that is discussed in both the Old and New Testaments.
Deuteronomy 19:21 famously describes the “life for a life” and “eye for an eye” consequences awaiting someone who bears false witness against another. Essentially, they were punished for the crime that they wrongly accused someone of committing.
Jesus also describes the seriousness of this act as he says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matt. 15:19–20)
It’s clear that for God, the topic of bearing false witness extends beyond a news talking point. Like me, you may have been surprised that Jesus included bearing false witness among what are commonly perceived as the “really bad sins.” It is evidence that our hearts are worshiping something other than our Creator.
So how do we respond to this modern-day embodiment of bearing false witness?
3. Christians should eagerly pursue truth, regardless of the outcome.
To me, the fake news discussion is merely a representation of what happens in our own lives. Daily we encounter half-truths and deception that can advance our personal agendas, and we are forced to decide how to respond to them.
Let’s imagine that we take bearing false witness as seriously as murder. How many of us would watch someone be murdered in front of us without attempting to intervene? I’d guess not many. Yet, many of us routinely take a passive stance when we encounter bearing false witness for fear of loss, either personally or for our agenda.
This is so appealing to our hearts because we can have our cake and eat it too. As we dissolve into passive observers, we self-justify by disengaging from our role in the spread of the deceptions while simultaneously experiencing the joy of seeing our cause advanced. Our political, social and personal goals are advanced through the easiest of mediums: inaction (see Matt. 27:24).
What is the solution? Should we start telling people how they’re wrong and correct every misconception in pursuit of truth? No, that would be annoying.
Instead, as followers of Christ, let’s be known as people of love who do not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoice in truth, regardless of the outcome (1 Cor. 13:4–7). Let’s demonstrate a full reliance on the sovereign sustainer of the universe by subjecting our personal agendas to eagerly pursuing truth, in every area of life, regardless of the outcome (1 Tim. 6: 3–16).
As we navigate a culture riddled with fake news in pursuit of the truth, let’s go deeper than one-click and beyond one person’s opinion. With this in mind, check these out:
Listen to “The Truth Matters” by Alistair Begg
Watch the “Animated Explanation of The Law”
Listen to “Absolutism: Don’t we all have to find truth for ourselves?” by Timothy Keller
Read “Absolute Truth in an Upside Down World” by Benjamin Watson
Authored by NCC Assistant Pastor Jōn Whiteway| northcentral.org