Fake news has been making a lot of real news lately. These lurid fabrications have been feeding people’s sense of grievance and igniting outrage like a a string of firecrackers at a Fourth of July picnic.
Some claim that “fake news” swayed voters and affected the outcome of the 2016 election. For all that is wrong with fake news — and there’s plenty — this is an argument I just don’t buy. I find it hard to believe that a Hillary supporter would change allegiance because he believed the “news” that she operated a child sex ring out of a pizzeria.
I thought that rather than swaying votes, the election’s fake news was a classic case of confirmation bias. It didn’t change minds; it just confirmed and legitimized what we already believed. Recent research supports this view. (Hmmm. Is that why I believe it?)
By the way, real news can do this, too, if we limit our exposure to voices that we already agree with. This is equally dangerous. Listening only to what is pleasant and affirming — whether it’s real news or fake — makes us thin-skinned and intolerant. That’s the last thing the world needs right now.
Living in this echo chamber of “confirmation bias” news can spill over into our spiritual life, too.
We can just as easily treat Scripture like any other source of information: picking and choosing so that we only hear what conforms with what we already believe. Easy, but wrong.
It is wrong because the Bible’s purpose isn’t information, it’s transformation.
Scripture asks us to conform to it, not the other way around. It offers an alternate reality in which we are most assuredly not the ones calling the shots, where our lives have meaning far beyond what this world can offer. It invites us into a world where we are challenged and equipped to live radically countercultural lives
to forgive and not retaliate
to bless those who persecute us and pray for our enemies
to love extravagantly
to submit our will and our discernment to a King
To do this, we first have to lay down our desire to have our own ideas affirmed and confirmed by Scripture. We need to leave behind the prerogative to choose what we will allow into our bubble. Instead, Scripture demands we listen to all of it — the beautiful promises of God, the words of judgment, the puzzling incongruities, the violence, the mercy, the unimaginable love. Scripture asks us to risk being uncomfortable, uneasy and occasionally unsettled.
Despite all our efforts to domesticate it, use it to support our political views, or make excuses for why parts we dislike should not apply to us today, the Word of God remains gloriously untamed.
Scripture defies attempts to reduce it to a sweet bedtime story full of meadows and puppies and instead confronts us with some hard truths.
Sometimes our desires and God’s desires for us are not the same and no amount of rationalizing will change that.
There are some things that we have to chalk up to mystery, as much as that offends our rational, 21st century minds.
There will be times when we crave certainty and it offers nuance, and other times when we want wiggle room and it offers none.
So, read it. All of it. Ask the Spirit of God to pull up a chair next to you and guide your mind and heart into all truth. Read the icky parts that talk about judgement and the parts that make you weep with gratitude. Wrestle with it as Jacob wrestled with God, and let it bless you as God blessed him.
I love what William Willimon has to say about how to read Scripture:
“We trust the Bible because it keeps making sense of, as well as disrupting, the world in which we live. The Bible does not just “make sense” in the sense that the Bible is congruent with our present experiences of and definitions of reality. We must read the Bible in a way that is more careful and respectful than simply going to the Bible, rummaging about, picking and choosing on the basis of what we consider to be possible and permissible within our present context … The temptation is to discard that which makes us uncomfortable or that which does not easily fit into our present conceptual scheme of things.
Therefore, an appropriate hermeneutical question is not simply, What does this text mean? but rather, How is this text asking me to change?” (from Pastor: the Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry)
Unlike every other information source in our lives, let’s not construct a Bible that reassures us that we are right and just fine as we are.
We don’t need a mirror to tell us we’re the fairest of them all.
We need a window to show a reality of God’s making, not our own.
It is a reality in which we might be asked to do the unthinkable — to surrender our certainties and have the courage to be formed by God’s word.