Breaking from Breaking News
The category of breaking news has grabbed our eyes to report such matters as the latest celebrity gossip and the latest tweet of a politician. Though sometimes the breaking news is of tragedy (because tragedy sells) in some land far away or even some other state. A flood. A shooting. An injustice. An outrage.
As pastors and Christian leaders often the expectation is to have an opinion commentary about every event on the cable news, the top of the Drudge Report, or on our Facebook/Twitter feed.
We may think our situation is unique, but C.S. Lewis' comments from the last century sound unusually prescient on this phenomena. Though speaking of a newspaper, one could imagine him talking about information on a screen when he wrote in a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths:
"It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning."1
Why did C.S. Lewis see this as an "evil"? He continued:
"I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know)."2
National and world news that is far away can often distract us from our local community, our neighbors and our family.
How much do we know of the problems of the local community that we could address? How many of us are coaches or school board members rather than congressmen? How much do we know of the burdens and sorrows of our neighbors? How much time have spent commenting on what may be genuine tragedies in the world thousands of miles away, that we have almost no ability to solve, compared to the neighbor who faces a terminal diagnosis, in body and soul, or the directionless high school graduate, or the desperate mother who would give untold riches for a bit of sleep? How much time do we spend on the questions of our children and spouse about what we are doing in their daily lives?
The difference between the local and national is also a matter of how well we fulfill our call to declare the gospel. In the few minutes it takes a fellow stay-at-home mom to help another mom get a nap, an opportunity to invite her to a local bible study presents itself. In the few dollars for lunch from a church elder to talk about the future of a high schooler, comes an opportunity to talk about vocation and the work that builds into eternity. To be the listening ear of a neighbor to the fears of an immortal soul in a mortal body, an opportunity to refer to the one who conquered death is near. Our local sorrows present us with a chance to speak eternity into a world of vapor, that is passing away in a way national and global ones do not.
In being distracted by the breaking news and sorrows of the day, Lewis concludes, is a problem with virtue-signaling. Well, he didn't say that, but he did comment:
"A great many people...do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don't think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we're doing it, I think we're meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise."3
Which is more important to us, to be seen as virtuous in being outraged or grieved at the right news events, or to point to the virtue of our Savior and enjoy His blessings? It seems particularly relevant that when Jesus was asked about current events in His day, He turned the conversation around to be personal and eternal: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5)
Brothers, we are not called to be news pundits. We are called to heralds and witnesses. Our best service is not commentary on the news of the day. We are not failures if we do not have a "hot take" or "worldview analysis" for each news item. But we are failures if we fail to speak of the good news that transcends our trivial present, and extends to eternity. In that, we can do more than worry and be in sorrow: We can glorify and enjoy our God. Don't let the breaking news of the day be an excuse to neglect the good news and our neighbor who needs to hear it.
1. C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, vol. 2 (New York: HarperCollins e-books; HarperSanFrancisco, 2004-2007), 747-748.
2. Ibid., p. 748
Rev. Jared Nelson is the pastor of New Life Presbyterian (PCA) in Aliquippa, PA.