First published in the Bridge Magazine, October 2018
I was chatting with someone recently and we got onto politics and elections, and his real fear that if an election came suddenly, he wouldn’t know who to vote for.
Conservative? But the Prime Minister is incompetent – just look at the mess with Brexit. Labour – Corbyn just wants to take the country back to the 1970s. And the other parties are no better.”
Then we switched to the broader political scene – and
that idiot Trump, and Putin – he’s a monster.”
We live in a frightening world. Or do we? Is it really as bad as it seems in the newspapers? When the Queen had her 90th birthday back in 2016, Guardian Columnist Simon Jenkins reflected on why a good news story was getting so much coverage when newspapers generally only give us bad news. And the simple answer is that bad news sells: or in newspaper speak:
If it bleeds, it leads.”
He recalled how an edict once came down from a newspaper owner saying he was fed up with so much bad news, so his staff prepared a spoof front page. ‘It reported:
No crashes at Heathrow”; “Government doing well”;
and in gossip column,
All celebrities slept in their own beds last night”.
Would you buy a newspaper that read like that?
And that’s part of the problem. We live in a frightening world because most of our information about our frightening world comes from newspapers who know that we won’t buy them if they don’t give us a reason to! The Pew Research Centre in the USA studied people’s news preferences over a 20-year period, starting in the late 1980s. What they found is that
people’s interest in the news is much more intense when there’s a perceived treat to their way of life.”
Fear sells! There’s money in crisis. Click here to find all about something horrible and how to avoid it.
The psychologists have probed the consequences of all this. Apparently, the more we’re exposed to news media, the more likely we are to feel our communities are unsafe; that the crime rate is rising (it isn’t!); and that the world is a dangerous place. Most strikingly of all, it makes us completely overestimate the odds of becoming a victim.
So how do we handle fear? Well we could read less news, but that too has its dangers. But what if we could find a place to read from that offers absolute security? Psalm 46 is an ancient prayer written by an unknown Bible author to teach his people how to pray in response to fear:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging…
…The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress….
…He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 1-3, 7, 10)
We love good news, and it’s a helpful buffer to fear. But what we really need in this life is the safety the Lord provides. When we place ourselves in his fortress we can choose not to fear, because we’ll know the absolute security offered by the one who, one day, will call all the nations to be still, and to give an account of their actions before him.
So next time you find yourself afraid because of a news story, why not turn to Psalm 46 and read it through and use it to pray away the fear?