Information Overload: Winning the Battle of Faith Over Facts
We want answers. And we want them now.
As it relates to the current pandemic raging around the world, we need to know all the facts: how to prevent its spread, how to treat it, how to balance economic security with health safety. For some of us, our lives and our livelihoods depend on those answers.
As it relates to what’s been touted by both political parties as “the most important election in our nation’s history,” we want to know: what is this candidate’s plan for dealing with the pandemic? With the devastating violence that’s becoming too prevalent in our cities? What words and policies do they offer that might begin to heal these increasingly combative divisions in our society?
These are crucial questions for us as Christian parents to consider. We seek all the knowledge we can find about these and other important topics so that we can make informed decisions. It’s a big part of our role as a parent – trying to make the world a better place for our kids.
Most everyone would agree that the determined pursuit of answers and information is a good thing; in fact, we encourage our kids all the time to seek out answers and to keep pursuing them even when they seem hard to find. But if we’re not careful, we can easily get drawn into worshipping the sneaky idol of information—sneaky because while solid, trustworthy information is absolutely necessary and beneficial, it can give a false sense of security. We might begin to believe that good information is the only thing we need in order to make choices; we fail to appreciate the essential role that faith in our good Father plays in our decision-making process.
Do we trust the world’s answers more than we believe in the ability of God to redeem and work through our confusion? During this uncertain time when answers seem even more important than usual, how can we keep our desire for timely information in perspective?
Recognize that information is only part of the answer. From microbiology to mask mandates, from pandemics to PCR tests, these are days when we are literally learning about things we never knew existed before. In this situation, can too much information be a bad thing? It depends. Is our information trustworthy? In this hyper-charged political climate, even public health has become a casualty of divisive political rhetoric. As parents, we must use discernment when evaluating information, and we must talk to our teens about developing that discernment as well. Encourage your kids to step back from the relentless arguments that populate news feeds. Encourage them to listen to or read both sides when information is needed, doing so with an understanding that while answers are presented in stark, black and white terms on Twitter, the truth might lie somewhere in between.
While truthful information is vital for determining our next steps, we must understand that for the Christian, factual answers are only a part of wisdom. Emily P. Freeman, in her podcast The Next Right Thing, touches on this topic when she talks about how often she prays for clarity in decision-making. That sounds like a reasonable, God-honoring request – after all, we don’t want to make decisions that go against God’s will for us or our kids. But she turns this idea on its head when she questions whether asking for clarity can become just another way of seeking control. “If I always have clarity,” she asks, “why would I need faith?”
It’s a provocative question, one which recognizes that sometimes our pursuit of answers won’t leave us with complete certainty on the best path forward. Our need for God is never more pronounced and urgent than when we find ourselves completely lacking in answers to life’s many difficult questions.
And the difficult questions are everywhere. They seem magnified online, especially on news and information websites. Most parents would agree that due to working from home and virtual school, time spent online during the pandemic is increasing for everyone in the family. Our social media feeds become a sort of Areopagus in Athens – a place where, as Paul discovered on his travels, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). It’s so tempting and easy for us to go online, eager to find out the latest numbers, recommendations, breaking news, and opinions from respected and sometimes not-so-respected commentators. In doing so, are we guilty of worshipping at the altar of “the latest ideas?”
In addressing this insatiable need for the most current news and ideas, Paul points to “The God who made the world and everything in it (who is) the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands”(Acts 17:24). He paints a picture of a God worthy of our undivided worship – creator, sustainer, and redeemer – who transcends any and every moment in human history, moments that only exist because He permits them to. Our frequently narrow and obsessive quest for answers to each and every question can drive us to lose our focus on this most worthy God who holds every answer we will ever need.
Understand that the world’s answers ultimately fail to satisfy or save. We are conditioned to believe that answers to our questions will put a period where a question mark once stood. But how often have we experienced the frequent and sometimes frustrating occurrence of an answer leading to more questions? What happens when we don’t like the answer we receive? These questions themselves point to the limited ability of a simple answer to satisfy our desire for knowledge.
As parents, we simply don’t know all the right answers, and we are not being truthful to our kids when we pretend we do. We must learn to be okay with saying “I don’t know.” We must also point them to the One who does know, the One who is working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Even when trustworthy information eludes us and confusion seems the order of the day, our Father knows the answers to questions we’ve never even considered.
This leads us to the crux of our seemingly insatiable quest for information: why do we do it? What is our need? Are answers really what we’re looking for? In Creation Rediscovered: Finding New Meaning in an Ancient Story, Dr. Jeffrey Leonard addresses the “why questions” asked by Old Testament figures such as Moses, Job, and David. Each, when faced with calamity, rejection, and disaster, call out to God, asking in essence, “Why are you doing this?” Leonard writes that more than an answer, what those faithful followers are really asking for is an intervention. They want the pain to stop more than they want a reasoned explanation for their agony. After all, when you lose the business you’ve worked years to build, or when a spouse’s diagnosis leaves you reeling with shock and grief, a factual explanation is likely to cause more pain and confusion than relief and clarity.
For us as believers, that intervention we’re looking for has already come in the person of Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection offered the ultimate answer to life’s painful questions. “Come to me,” He says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). As we navigate through these confusing days, may we demonstrate to our kids that our faith in Christ’s promise of rest is far more powerful than any ability of the world’s answers to satisfy.