Asking the Spirit to help us focus and trust
It's an old truth of warfare – confusion can work as well as force to rout an enemy. And we are surrounded by confusion.
McMay Coppins writes in The Atlantic about the sinister strategy being deployed by oppressive leaders around the world. Rather than forcibly silencing their enemies (although there is, of course, plenty of that still going on), many of them use social media to sow confusion instead.
They jam the signals. They manufacture interference patterns of fake news, or even semifake news, to overwhelm the truth. "They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise."
C. S. Lewis’s master tempter Screwtape constantly advises his mentee Wormwood to keep his "patient" confused with a diet of truth, half-truth and untruth. His human victim can’t ever be confident of anything much – and will therefore contend for nothing much.
The devil doesn’t have to defeat us. He just needs to sideline us, muttering uselessly about what might be or what likely isn’t – and who can say for sure?
Therapist Michael Sweeney (as reported in The New Yorker) offers his clients a few sharp-edged tactics to cut through the fog. Each evening, he says, write your own headline. What is the most important takeaway from the day?
Alternatively, write a short letter to yourself. What would a wise and true friend say to you about what’s happening?
In the blooming, buzzing confusion of today’s media marketplace, we badly need clarity on life’s big questions to make life’s big decisions – decisions we are in fact making with each hour and dollar.
Make no mistake. We are fighting a war. A war for hearts and minds, for institutions and traditions, for peoples and cultures.
We can’t win if we can’t clearly identify the enemy, the landscape, the situation, the objectives, and the appropriate strategy and tactics. What does it mean to win for Christ in your job, neighbourhood or family?
Beyond Sweeney’s elementary counsels, then, what else can we do?
- Stop: "Get clear," as our Quaker friends say. Still yourself before God so the sediments whirling around and around in your mind can finally settle.
- Pray: "If any of you lacks wisdom," says James 1:5 – and who doesn’t? – "you should ask God."
- Read: We are the most educated generation of Christians ever. So let’s put that to use in carefully selected and carefully considered reading. Information alone won’t guarantee clarity, but lack of information guarantees confusion.
- Consult: Improve our conversation to engage in what our forebears used to call "improving conversation." Talk with good people about things that matter. See what interaction your local church and other Christian organizations (such as The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada) can offer you.
- Focus: I am a professional opinionator, but I increasingly opine about a decreasing breadth of subjects. I have informed views about only a small spectrum of issues, and otherwise my opinions matter little. We are not obliged to have opinions about everything, and usually the best answer is, "I don’t know enough about that to have an opinion."
- Obey: What is, in fact, your calling from God? What are the issues on which your vocation – at home, school, work and leisure – requires you to have clarity? Stick to those.
- Trust: The Supreme Being actually longs to guide you. God can be counted on to give us the clarity we need, even to compensate for our deficiencies if we will prayerfully submit our deliberations to divine wisdom.
Paul warned us all, "If the trumpet sounds an unclear signal, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air" (1 Corinthians 14:8–9, my translation).
The air is thick with a surfeit of confusion. God stands ready to help Christians come to clarity and to speak the truth in love. May the Spirit blow strongly among us in these foggy days.
John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. Illustration: Janice Van Eck. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ChristAndCulture.