Which would you like first? The good news or the bad? Well, the good news is that there are teachings, that have been tried and tested over 3,000 years, about fake news that we can learn from. The bad news is that if fake news existed then, and is still around today, it’s probably going to be around for quite a while longer. Sadly, we can’t expect fake news to disappear anytime soon, so maybe learning how to deal with it will be helpful.
David appears in the Bible and lived over 3,000 years ago. His exploits are recorded in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, that were written about 1,000 B.C. David was a shepherd, then a soldier, on the run for many years and finally King of Israel. Throughout his life he wrote Psalms, songs and poetry expressing exactly how he felt. He was candid, and no saint either.
Once the temple in Jerusalem was built, David’s Psalms, and those written by many others, were compiled and edited into the earliest versions of the book of Psalms that we find in our bibles today. Reading them gives a sense of the issues facing David and his countrymen. Fake news and social networks were as challenging then as they are today.
A good example is found in Psalm 4:2 “How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations? How long will you continue your lies?”
David’s reputation is ruined and he faces groundless accusations and lies. Listen to what he asks God to do to help him in Psalm 5:6,9-10 “You will destroy those who tell lies. The Lord detests murderers and deceivers.”, “My enemies cannot speak a truthful word. Their deepest desire is to destroy others. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with flattery. O God, declare them guilty. Let them be caught in their own traps. Drive them away because of their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.”
In these verses we hear David highlight that who we join ourselves with is important. Relationships and the groups that we form can corrupt us and turn us against people and issues. Doesn’t this sound like a warning against certain facebook groups, and from following those people that seem to share the most scathing memes?
Psalm 1:1 “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.”
Manipulation not communication
In Psalm 12:1-4 we read of people who are lying to themselves, hide the truth and eventually lose all sense of what the truth is. What a warning for us to not lose impartiality and accountability. “Help, O Lord, for the godly are fast disappearing! The faithful have vanished from the earth! Neighbors lie to each other, speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts. May the Lord cut off their flattering lips and silence their boastful tongues. They say, “We will lie to our hearts’ content. Our lips are our own—who can stop us?””
This addiction to hearing nice things is highlighted again in Isaiah 30:10 as a warning to the people “They tell the seers, “Stop seeing visions!” They tell the prophets, “Don’t tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies.” Our society is not the first that has wanted to be placated.
A smear campaign
At this point, David is King, but his son Absalom has got his eye on the crown and wants to depose him. In 2 Samuel 15: 1-6 we read what happens:
After this, Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. He got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe. Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and kissed them. Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.
It’s certainly possible that Psalm 4 could have been David’s response to this:
“Answer me when I call to you, O God who declares me innocent. Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
How long will you people ruin my reputation? How long will you make groundless accusations? How long will you continue your lies? You can be sure of this: The Lord set apart the godly for himself. The Lord will answer when I call to him.
Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent. Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the Lord.
Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, Lord. You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.”
The third section offers great advice for us as we face lies: think, wait, remain silent, sleep and trust in God.
Here we see people and kings plotting together to overthrow God, declaring that they can achieve freedom without God. Psalm 2:1-3 “Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. “Let us break their chains,” they cry, “and free ourselves from slavery to God.””
A shrinking minority
We may feel that we are the only ones who can see the truth and that fake news has blinded everyone else. Again, David has been in this situation and we can find empathy, comfort and advice in Psalm 3:
“O Lord, I have so many enemies; so many are against me. So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!”
But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain.
I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side.
Arise, O Lord! Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked! Victory comes from you, O Lord. May you bless your people.”
Some final advice on dealing with fake news
We can trust God to bring about justice. Psalm 5: 10 “O God, declare them guilty. Let them be caught in their own traps. Drive them away because of their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.”
Know that very often those that spread fake news bring about their own downfall. Psalm 7: 15 “They dig a deep pit to trap others, then fall into it themselves.”
Finally, as individuals in communities we can choose to serve God and pay true homage to him. He promises us a safe refuge, the nations as our inheritance and joy. This is good news. Psalm 2: 7-12:
“The king proclaims the Lord’s decree: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.’”
Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him!”
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