Columnists > Voices

Getting your fix

To news junkies a word of welcome and warning: Get the Good News first

Issue: "Who is Tom Daschle?," Oct. 12, 2002

Greetings, all you news junkies. Did you know that your addiction, over the next few months, is likely to become much worse?

Two factors in particular will make it so. The first is that a national election is now only a month away. The second is that a major war may be launched at almost any moment. Historically, politics and war are the two great drivers for the news media. Disasters-both natural and man-made-also help chase readers to their papers, listeners to their radios, and viewers to their TVs. But political cycles are frequent and predictable, and wars tend to last longer than hurricanes or the sinking of a foreign ferryboat. So read on, and tune in.

Which makes it appropriate for me to ask again here, as I did some years ago: Which did you pick up first this morning-your daily newspaper or your Bible?

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I used to think that was a phony and diversionary question, asked only by pietists eager to show the rest of us how holy they were. But there is some real legitimacy to the test.

The noteworthy Swiss theologian Karl Barth pulled his punches when he answered the question. The serious Christian, he said, should read with a Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. That way, you can see what God is doing in the world, but constantly refine your perspective in the light of God's eternal truth.

I've sometimes argued the same way myself. But the advice has the potential for being dangerous, for it can imply equivalence between the two kinds of revelation.

My father always reminded me that God reveals Himself in two primary ways. One is the Bible. The other is everything else. All God's creation and all God's providence are just as surely an expression of His voice as is the Bible.

But Dad also always stressed that we should never pretend that all those other expressions of God's voice are as clear as the Bible, or that they speak with the same force and authority. Hurricane Lili several weeks ago was a strong expression of God's power-but the meaning of Hurricane Lili was much more ambiguous than are the words of John's Gospel.

So we come back to this morning's choice between the Bible and the newspaper.

At least you are engaging the world-and that is good. You are not splitting up God's scheme of things into the "sacred" and the "secular," and pretending that they can be thought of separately. You understand that this is God's world, and that as a responsible part of it, you need to be about the task of applying His explicit revelation to those expressions that are more ambiguous.

But sometimes, we worldviewish Christians find it far too easy to suppose we are somehow pre-equipped to think Christianly about everything going on around us. We suppose we automatically know the answer to the tough question about going to war with Saddam Hussein. We glibly presume who's right and who's wrong in the Israeli-Palestinian debate. We watch protests against the World Bank and economic globalization, and let our prejudices hurry us along.

We kid ourselves. The "mind of Christ" takes at least a lifetime to form. The broad strokes of a Christian's walk with God may be simple for a new believer to comprehend-but all the details and nuances of application to this sinful and broken and crooked world take the patience of someone assembling a 2,500-piece jigsaw puzzle. And nothing promotes that process better than frequent and regular exposure to God's explicit words in the Bible.

Most of us, for example, would be hard pressed to give a biblical rationale for the so-called "just-war theory." Or if a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier were to approach us and to ask, "Use your Bible to help us settle our differences," most of us would be terrified to try. Any comprehensive awareness of what the Bible says about economic justice is equally shallow for most of us.

Is that because we're better versed in our newspapers than we are in the Bible itself? Too often for me, that's exactly the case. But personal experience from God's saints through all the ages-including David (Psalm 143:8)-suggests that an early start every day with God's Word is key. That is so for at least three reasons:

  1. It is a daily symbolic statement of what is most important.
  2. In practical terms, what you do first tends to get done; what you put off competes with other obligations and tends to get bumped from the schedule.
  3. What you do first tends to define the rest of the day.

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