23 Jan The Cure for News Fatigue
The Cure for News Fatigue
January 24, 2021
Calvary Presbyterian Church
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Is anyone feeling a little burned out on bad news? 2020 was a banner year for bad news that left many of us with “news fatigue” and anxiety over events and circumstances about which we could do absolutely nothing. The novel coronavirus dominated the headlines for much of the year, with every month seeming to bring news that was worse than the month before. Add to that a contentious election cycle, protests and unrest over social issues, and a host of other potential crises — like an invasion of murderous hornets and the government’s revelation of UFO photos — and it’s no wonder we’re feeling a kind of information hangover. Many of us were staying home more due to quarantine and social distancing, which naturally led to us watching more news than normal.
Some of us are old enough to remember when news outlets consisted of three TV channels, a daily newspaper, and the radio. When Walter Cronkite told us, “That’s the way it is” at the end of every evening news broadcast, we had some time to digest what was going on. The 24-hour, multi-platform, social media-curated, constant cycle of news that confronts us today, however, allows us no time to process and seems to pile on with information that’s not only continuous, but controversial. It tends to include a lot of conflicting information that leaves us confused and stressed, often with no tangible way to respond other than to offer an opinion. Neil Postman, in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, called this the “loop of impotence,” or the fact that, “The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.”
Postman, writing in the days before the internet, was already pointing to the problem of “news fatigue” or a general malaise that leaves us feeling depressed, powerless, and distrustful of news sources that often seem sensationalist, superficial, inaccurate, or hopelessly biased. The result is that the more news we consume the more anxiety we feel or, on the flip side, the more desensitized we become to the news itself.
One solution to that anxiety is to simply turn off the news, but that becomes increasingly difficult in a world where we are bombarded with news every time we go into public spaces … in person or online. Another solution might be to only focus on the good news, as people like actor John Krasinski tried to help us do during the pandemic through his “Some Good News” videos. But neither ignorance nor selectivity is a real answer in a world anxious for the kind of news that people can actually act upon.
What we need instead is a mindset that puts the current news within the context of an eternal perspective. The bad and good stuff happening right now has all happened before and will all happen again. Rather than fret or foment yet another opinion about it all, the prophet Isaiah calls us to remember that the only news that really matters is that the God who created the world in which all this news is happening is still at work and will ultimately set everything right.
Isaiah wrote to a people confronted with the reality of exile — people isolated and distanced far from home in circumstances they did not choose, but that were the result of their sinful actions. In the first part of Isaiah 40, God announces through the prophet that a return from exile is on the horizon: a new exodus is coming in which God’s people will be set free and restored. God himself will dwell with them and will feed them and protect them as a shepherd feeds and protects his flock.
This is the news that God’s people needed to hear, and it is the news that puts all other news into perspective. While we worry over news about forces of nature that threaten to overwhelm us, God reminds us that he is the Creator who “has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand” (v. 12). While the daily news focuses on the intrigue between nations, God reminds his people that, to him, “the nations are like a drop from a bucket and are accounted as dust on the scales” (v. 15). They are “as nothing before him; they are accounted as less than nothing and emptiness” (v. 17).
While the news needs us to be constantly concerned about our material safety and wealth, God reminds his people to be careful what they worship and to be mindful of the things over which they fret. These things become “idols” for human beings, but they cannot be compared to the surpassing glory of the God who created all things (vv. 18-20).
The glory and character of God provides us with the best news we could possibly hear. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” Ask the Creator God, the one who “sits above the circle of the earth” and rules over it (vv. 21-22). The natural and human-caused calamities that dominate the news cycle are not news to God. God puts them all into perspective by taking the long view. Those rulers and newsmakers who crowd our screens today are “as nothing” to God, not in the sense that God does not care about them, but in the sense that God sees their impermanence and transience. They are like withered plants that are here today and gone tomorrow (vv. 23-24). No one who makes the news will ever be God’s equal; God is the one who creates them all (vv. 25-26).
These are powerful reminders for the people of God who, like Israel, often get caught up in the news of the day and begin to despair or, worse, begin to be sucked into the world’s idolatry, fear, and intrigue. The resulting news fatigue makes them believe their plight is “hidden from the Lord” and that they have been “disregarded” by God (v. 27). But that’s when God comes shouting once again with the news that should dominate the attention of all God’s people regardless of their circumstances.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (v. 28). It is a repeat of verse12, which is a way of bringing home the point that the God who created the “ends of the earth” allows nothing to escape his notice and will allow nothing to defeat his purposes for his good creation. No matter how bad the news seems to be, God’s purposes will win out.
That’s the reason God himself does not suffer from “news fatigue.” As Isaiah puts it, “He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless” (vv. 28-29). Not only does God know the long view of his purposes in history, the Lord offers power and strength to those who feel the fatigue of bad news in the present. Human beings tend to busy themselves trying to either come up with solutions to every problem or offering their opinions to those who “should” be doing something to fix them. But as the pandemic has vividly reminded us, there are limits to human knowledge and ability. If we trust only in ourselves, we are bound to experience the fatigue of despair when we fail or reach the end of our ideas and capabilities. The energy and idealism of youth can give way to disappointment and exhaustion when the reality sets in that we cannot “fix” the news no matter how hard we try (v. 30).
Rather than fret, fixate, or forego the news, Isaiah invites us to deal with our fatigue in light of the larger reality the Creator God has once again declared to his people. Instead of “waiting” on the news by constantly refreshing our screens or scrolling through social media feeds, Isaiah invites us to “wait for the Lord” (v. 31). That “waiting” does not mean we simply sit around and do nothing, allowing the news to continue to wash over us. To “wait” means to look to God to provide us with perspective, hope, and purpose which we access through prayer, through serving our community, through worship and fellowship, and through being immersed in God’s Word.
How much might our “news fatigue” be mitigated, for example, if we committed to spending at least as much time in prayer as we do scrolling through the news and social media? Many of our phones and devices now tell us precisely how much time we spend online every day. Spending an equal amount of time (or more) listening to God and bringing our fatigue and worries to him would allow us the opportunity to put those things in perspective while renewing our strength to deal with the things we can actually do something about. And the rest? Well, we simply put the rest in God’s hands, knowing that God’s divine purposes will be realized and bear fruit for his kingdom.
Countering the news with a daily discipline of time spent in the presence of God will enable us to pick up a different pace of life. Do you grab your phone to check the news or social media first thing in the morning? That’s a recipe for starting the day with anxiety, rather than mounting up for the day “with wings like eagles” (v. 31). Instead, try beginning the day with Scripture or prayer, meditation or yoga, reading something uplifting or a practice of deep breathing before you even touch your phone or the TV remote. Be intentional about what you allow your thoughts to dwell on. I know parents who use the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out” when telling their children why they are not allowed to watch certain kinds of programs or play certain types of video games. But that’s a phrase we can all benefit from. Rather than binge watching the same old news personalities and outlets, focus on God’s Word to nourish you and strengthen you, to prepare you to run the gauntlet of the day without growing weary or discouraged, and to walk steadily forward without fainting under a load of bad news.
We need to be reminded that as the people of God, we are “good news” people. We are the ones who can offer the truth and the hope that no matter how bad the news seems to be, God is still at work. The bad news will not have the final say. Darkness will not win, white nationalism will not succeed, the coronavirus will not keep us apart forever. God is in our midst, working in and through us to offer love, peace, hope and yes, joy to a world that is desperate to hear the message that God loves them and is working for good in our lives. The cure for news fatigue, in other words, is to begin with the good news first!
Thanks be to God. Amen.