It has always been hard to know what or who to believe.
We all have our tendencies to believe the best of some people and the worst of others. This works for groups as well. If it is a group we like, we look for the best examples and omit the rest.
If it is a group we do not like, we look for the worst examples and omit the rest. Perhaps that is overstating it a little, but we all have our prejudices.
We also play the game, “I know you are but what am I?” when our group or part is attacked. It is never enough to admit the wrong and make changes for the better. What tends to happen is something like, well, that is not as bad as what you did. This is typical when we play the game of blaming each other rather than addressing the problem.
I am one who believes that, in spite of what we may hear, there are many good people making sincere and productive efforts to make changes for the better. There are many people, maybe even most, who get up every day and try to solve problems, knowing that there are others who are simply looking to escape responsibility by casting blame or complaining.
The book of Numbers in the Old Testament tells of the trouble Israel had going through the wilderness. It all begins well enough, but when we get to chapter 11 the people began to complain about their misfortunes, which are not enumerated and somewhat puzzling given their rescue and freedom.
The real trouble, however, began with a minority called, “the rabble” (11:4). After that we read of one rebellious event after another, none of which were started by a majority.
We read of an incident in the New Testament when Paul was in Thessalonica. He preached and convinced some people to believe. There were some who became jealous of Paul’s success and gathered a crowd of rabble to cause trouble. When they could not find Paul, they attacked an innocent man. (Acts 17:1-9).
It only takes a few who have an agenda, or just want to cause trouble, to drag the rest of us through one mess after another. There is often just enough legitimate aggravation along with just enough distorted truth for the “rabble” to get a hearing and turn a problem into a crisis.
It is no secret that we now have technology available that will continue to feed what we want to believe about ourselves and about others. This is a time for wisdom, critical thinking, and learning to trust faithful witnesses while rejecting others. We have become so overwhelmed with some agendas (in many cases quite legitimate) that it is possible to become incapable of hearing anything but what we want to hear.
In “The Magician’s Nephew”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it... . Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. . . He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.”
It is one thing to be part of the rabble that stirs things up. It is quite another to be part of that much larger group that is quite willing to share exaggerated, unverified, or patently false or out of context “news.” Proverbs 14:5 says, “A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.”
The Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 56-120), who lived in a time when truth-telling might get one killed says this in the opening chapter of “Histories,”
“Truth suffered in more ways than one. To an understandable ignorance of policy, which now lay outside public control, was in due course added a passion for flattery, or else a hatred of autocrats. Thus neither school bothered about posterity, for the one was bitterly alienated and the other deeply committed. But whereas the reader can easily discount the bias of the time-serving historian, detraction and spite find a ready audience. Adulation bears the ugly taint of subservience, but malice gives the false impression of being independent. . . But partiality and hatred towards any man are equally inappropriate in a writer who claims to be honest and reliable.” (Histories, Book 1:1).
We need faithful witnesses and cautious eyes and ears today — always have.