Photo by Jeffrey Workman on Unsplash

“Don’t deprive yourself of peace”: global crises, human limitations, and an all-knowing God

November 21, 2023

Megan James won the 2023 Film Prize Junior New Mexico for the short film “Deprived.” The story is about a young man away from home who is overwhelmed by a steady barrage of crisis news. The Arctic ice is melting. Putin might use nuclear weapons. In Ohio, a train leaked toxic chemicals. With urgent tones, there are reports about Palestinian gunmen, Afghani refugees, and Chinese military build ups.

The main character tries to distract himself by watching game shows and going out for coffee, only to find more of the same, this time about mass shootings. He becomes desperate. He leaves town and goes home to his family where the computer instead shows family photos, where everyone is talking and then playing cards in the living room, and where he’s greeted by the family dog. He heads outdoors for a game of pickup basketball while three small children watch intently. Across the blank black screen you read, “Don’t deprive yourself of peace.”

Most of us can sympathize with the experience described in this Navajo teenager’s film. Megan James depicts our contemporary condition. Amidst the waterfall of news, we need to build moments of peace into our lives. But I think there is another question. How much do we really need to know? Do we really need to know everything, all the time, everywhere, about everyone? don’t think I was designed to be “all-knowing.” That has been God’s job all along. Part of my agreement with God is that the Omniscient knows everything that is going on and I don’t need to, so I can live and move and have my being. We generally consider knowledge a good thing, but the film challenges us to consider the quantity and quality of what we take in. How much do we really need to know?

I am not campaigning for ignorance, but really, is all breaking news actual knowledge? When cable news was transitioning to 24/7, a media staff member at Syracuse University confided to me that there just wasn’t enough news to fill that amount of time. He said that we would have to create news. He was right. What we have now is news and “What do you think about the news?” news. Our only hope is to manage our diet of news. Ignorance would mean not being aware of injustices or the needs of our neighbors.

Another reaction to the urgency presented by a constant news cycle is helplessness. The crisis nature of the news we face is beyond our ability to respond. Our empathy can become numbed when thousands die in Libyan floods while we honor the 3000 who died on 9/11 and remember the 3000 people a day who died from COVID in the United States. Proportionality is lost. When Jesus summarizes the “last days” to the disciples, he refers to various natural disasters, rampant conflict, and deceitful leaders run amok. The last part of the description might be the most telling, “…the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). A feeling of impotence can do that. In the end, we must care about what we value, choosing some things, not everything. Even Jesus did not heal every broken body and soul, and some questioned his lack of compassion.

Amidst the waterfall of news, we need to build moments of peace into our lives. But I think there is another question. How much do we really need to know? Do we really need to know everything, all the time, everywhere, about everyone?

There are other reactions. Anger is common and is easily misplaced in the areas of life we think we can control. Blame is also a choice. How come someone isn’t doing something about this? Could the fact that lawmakers face monumental crises each day and solutions are hard to find be responsible for some of the dysfunction in government?

The last time I felt this way may have been in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the sexual revolution confronted Americans during the evening news and in the morning newspaper before returning to regular programming. In church, the service would often end with a benediction and an appeal to write your congressman, not necessarily in that order. We all doubted the effectiveness, but we felt like we needed to do something.

In Genesis, we read that God instructed the first humans to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent says that if God said such a thing it was because, “…you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging from good to evil” (Genesis 3:5 The Message). Sure enough, they eat and their eyes are opened, but opened to what? What if God’s admonition was not so much about us wanting to be God, the All Knowing One, but rather that too much knowledge, knowing everything that is going on, would make it impossible to live. Could knowledge of every good and evil drive us mad? God did not design us to know everything or to solve every problem, real or created. That is why we entrust our lives to a God who does. There is a difference between being like God and being God.

Psychiatrist Dr. Pooja Lakshmin writes in her recent book “Real Self-Care” that self-care can’t be reduced to a spa day or a walk in the woods. She proposes four approaches to sanity that seem to fit here.

-Set Boundaries: Create boundaries around the amount of news and knowledge you absorb.

-Practice Self-Compassion: When your self-talk becomes destructive, allow yourself times and places to re-center your life.

-Align Your Values: What are the things that matter most to you? Know those well.

-Exercise Power: Use the power you have to respond in some ways, not all, that align with your values.

The flow of knowledge is only going to increase. Don’t deprive yourself of peace. Remember, we were created to trust in a God who has seen it all, knows it all, and loves us so.

Rev. Dr. Paul Bailey retired in 2021 from the Eastwood Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. In addition to over 40 years of pastoral ministry, he was an adjunct instructor in Communications at Onondaga Community College for 15 years.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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