Sifting through the Narrative: Shifting through the chaos of narratives to find the truth

Reading through the local paper and reading various news providers can be tiresome. We live in a time where “Fact-Checking” is a buzzword that is often less about facts and more about protecting a specific narrative or point of view. Often the views deemed fact is not based on what one could call fact but on what should indeed fall under opinion or conjecture. A recent example that I can cite from USA Today’s Politifact, one should find it suspect that it is centered on Politics which is never genuinely unbiased in and of itself. They criticized a Republican candidate, which is more often the case, for speaking about his biblical views of Creation and criticizing the Evolutionary viewpoint, particularly the belief that humans have evolved from ape-like creatures. Now, being a Creationist, I don’t entirely disagree with the view that was being discredited but will state that he failed to differentiate ape from ape-like, i.e., the Evolutionary viewpoint is that modern humans and modern apes evolved from an ape-like parent. Yet, the criticism centered itself on the assumption that there has been that the “missing link” has been found and the science behind Evolution is truly settled. This narrative is commonly utilized in the mainstream. Yet, with a bit of study, one would discover that it is nowhere near being settled science as each of the earlier assumed “missing links” have been debunked, and the timeline is an ever-shifting target.

This is one minor example, yet it is an excellent example for us to think about how things are being presented to us today. As followers of Christ, it is beneficial to seek out ways to better speak about various issues. It is not helpful for us to criticize or speak ill of others who hold views with which we disagree. So, as we look at the narratives of this world, it is good for us to look at the Commandment, “You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.” In Lutheranism, we number this as the Eighth Commandment, but it may be numbered as the Ninth Commandment in other traditions. Many seem to limit this to speaking about lies and lying about other people, yet when we look to Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism, we will find an explanation that makes it much deeper and more in line with how Jesus expanded the breadth of the Commandments to His disciples. When asked in the catechism, “What does this mean?” we find the response, “We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.”

If practiced as such, we would find that there are more significant ways to understand and deepen the discussion. Instead of simply attacking a viewpoint that differs from ours, if we begin to seek to understand we may find points of agreement. We may not find agreement, but we may be able to find respect. Agreement is not necessary for respect. Now I have heard the argument against this when it comes to viewpoints that are racist or highly prejudicial, i.e. Nazis and White Supremacists. In a normal sense, I would disagree, sadly in our age “normal” is a relative term and those criticisms are overused and would require deeper understanding before passing judgment. Particularly since in our current environment, Nazi and White Supremacist have been used to describe views of people that are Jewish, African American, Hispanic, Latino, and Asian which has diminished the value of these terms in a healthy discussion. Most often it would be beneficial to invoke the formerly used Godwin’s Law when these terms are used and disregard Godwin’s own dismissal of it (if it was beneficial to utilize in past discussions prior to it being inconvenient for him and others if utilized to eliminate its overuse in their own arguments, i.e. neither President George W. Bush nor President Donald Trump are not “literally Hitler”). The converse argument made less in the mainstream, but also was not helpful that I can recall of a recent president pertained to President Barack Obama as the anti-Christ. To begin any discussion in such a way is neither helpful nor do they lead us to separating truth from the narrative.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Ephesians 4:25, ESV

So, what are we to do? As we seek to be bearers of the Truth in the world, it is important for us to seek to keep our lives lived in the light. We should seek not to become caught up in the things of this world and be able to discern those things which are of vital interest toward the faith and those which may be left to opinion. We are also called to stand up for the truth even when it be not the most comfortable for us. Unfortunately, this has become confused in our world today as there are those that have become caught up more in the Social Justice Gospel than they are in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the converse is true when it comes to those that have become caught up in a faith that is more based upon holding up a political party or agenda as equal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither are being faithful nor are they seeking of the truth, but each contribute to the issue of the narrative since both sides have a narrative which is utilized to define what one should see as the truth. We are called to have discerning ears and seek to sort out the facts from opinion, i.e. to state that water is a liquid is a fact but to say that it is green or blue may vary as some will see color differently. This is where we should seek to be careful. As Christians, we stand firm in the Truth of the Gospel presented to us in the Word of God, The Holy Bible. We struggle in the words and seek to bring that truth and light out into the world. We should stand fast against those that attempt to limit information. Because we know that the more information presented the easier it is to discern the truth as it rises like cream to the top.

The same is true as one studies and reads the Word of God. It is true that there is deconstruction movement that has arisen to tear down the faith, unfortunately this has created a large amount of writing attempting to discredit the Bible and the Christian faith. Sadly, many of these arguments are based in some of the non-biblical views held by various segments of the Church. Some of the reasons are because of poor theology that has perpetuated the Church for a long time. Others are because they have been influenced by a faith that has been coopted by worldly thinking. This does not help us as some of those narratives are permeating the Christian faith.

So, as followers of Christ the path that we walk is a narrow one that is based upon the Christian faith that we hold to be true not based upon our feelings, which can deceive, but because of what is presented to us in the Word of God. I speak of the struggle of fake news versus real news because of issues that we have run into in recent years which has seemed to gain more and more traction since 2016. We have had limited narratives in the past, but it became most prevalent in recent history as there have been the moves to “protect” people from “misinformation.” Sadly, some of what once had been deemed “misinformation” has proven to be true. As well as some reporting that has been prevented because it did not fit a narrative, i.e. the Russian Collusion, Hunter Biden, and Covid. This has created such a divide within our culture that the only course for unity is to speak into the narrative with a voice of truth in order to challenge the assumptions presented by it and ask the question why.

If we agree or disagree with different viewpoint it is good to ask the question, why do others believe differently and be careful to not to assume that the view you hold is the only “factual” view. Bearing in mind the old adage that with two people there are three views – the first person’s view, the second person’s view, and the truth. In most viewpoints, there is some truth and that is good to bear in mind when beginning any discussion. No one likes to be disrespected and most people believe themselves to be at least somewhat intelligent. To seek to embarrass another by refuting their viewpoint is not helpful in holding a discussion. I believe that the more of us who begin to ask the question, “Why?”, when holding discussions will find that our lives will be enriched as we seek greater understanding. It is not about agreement necessarily, if agreement is found that may be a good thing, but ultimately it is about understanding. Understanding others helps with empathy and develops greater compassion. It seems that compassion may be lacking in our world today as well as empathy.

In the narratives, there is no space for empathy or compassion. The narrative is what defines all for those caught up in them and causes those that are unwilling to look beyond the narrative as enemies and a divide is created. This is the divide we find in our world today, particularly within our nation, and it is growing within the Church. The only way to heal that divide is to be (1) more in the Word, (2) willing to listen to multiple views, and (3) letting the Word shape understanding as it is centered on Christ. As Christians, we are called to be a people of the Word and a people in the Word. As we focus our lives in seeking to be a light, we can stand above the fray and discuss the things that have eternal consequence and seek to be a light in the world. Our lives are called to reflect Christ’s light out and we are meant to be stronger in Christ and not of our own volition. It is a move to an old word, meek. Meek has nothing do with weakness, in fact, it takes greater strength to be meek because it takes greater self-control. A meek person seeks to do more than just do what is best for themselves but will look to what is best for the other. It also calls for a greater sense of humility. It is this humility that moves us to have greater compassion for others and act with greater empathy. This empathy and compassion will also help cut through the narratives as it would be contrary to our nature to look at another as the enemy or seek to deepen divides. As Christians, we are called to see the divide as those who are in Christ and those who we seek to bring into Christ’s fold. We speak only against things which lead away and lead astray as we desire that all believe in the one true God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Let our Lord drive your narrative as we pray and seek for peace.