In 1982, John Naisbitt quipped that, as a culture, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” Those words seem more relevant now than ever. As Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times recently described, the political climate of this year’s elections has only reinforced the fact that, despite the preponderance of information that resides a mere click away, most people seem caught in an echo chamber that only serves to reinforce their preconceived notions of what’s true and what’s not.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Work hard enough and you can certainly discern which sources prioritize the truth over partisanship and popularity, but that process seems to be growing increasingly difficult. And as Manjoo writes, the main problem is that “when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act like rational, civic-minded automatons. Instead, we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest.” That often means focusing on the sources that tell us what we want to hear rather than on those that might challenge our beliefs.
While human nature hasn’t changed, our ability to cater to those lower impulses has only increased with the prevalence of blogs and social media groups that cater to specific perspectives. If you want to encounter positions that differ from your own, you have to seek them out and that’s not exactly a great recipe for growth.
In Proverbs 27:17, Solomon wrote “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Iron doesn’t sharpen much of anything, however, unless it first comes into conflict with that other piece of metal. Inherent to Solomon’s advice is the idea that some conflict is necessary for individual growth. That process is seldom comfortable, but if we truly want to become better people and better Christians, then we can’t hide from perspectives that differ from our own. That doesn’t mean accepting those views as correct, but it does mean a willingness to wrestle with them rather than simply dismissing them because they seem foreign.
As Christians called to live as salt and light to a world in desperate need of both, we can’t be afraid to grapple with beliefs that differ from our own. Sometimes those conversations will prove instrumental in helping a lost person come to the Lord. Other times, however, God uses the lost to correct his people. Both of those possibilities should excite us rather than frighten us, as the kingdom benefits from either outcome.
For those conversations to bear fruit, though, we must be confident in what we believe going in. The alternative is to get tossed about and potentially blown off course (James 1:6). I think the real reason more Christians–and more people in general–stay away from conversations that might challenge their beliefs is because they aren’t truly confident in what they believe going in. If, on some level, you doubt that what you want to be true actually is, then it’s only natural to fear that which could potentially increase those doubts.
For the Christian, that makes it all the more important to have a solid foundation built on the truth of Scripture (Matthew 7:24-27). We will come across no shortage of ideas and beliefs in this life that sound just true enough to be mistaken for the real thing. For those who know God’s word, that reality only increases our opportunities to help guide others to the Truth and the salvation he offers. Those who don’t, however, are right to be a bit afraid of such difficult conversations.
Scripture is clear that God has called each of us to help others come to know him better, but we can’t do that if we aren’t ready and willing to engage with ideas that differ from out own. That can be a scary prospect if we aren’t prepared for it, though. That’s why it’s vital that we spend time each day in God’s word and in prayer for his Spirit’s guidance when such opportunities arise.
John Milton once wrote “Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” If given the chance, God’s truth will win every time, but he’s chosen to let us be the ones to defend it against the lies of the enemy. Are you ready for that battle?