Give Me an Answer… Now!
Among the lessons we are learning with each large-scale tragedy in the digital age, is that our insatiable appetite for “news,” for answers, for solutions can and does lead to some fairly shoddy journalism. In a world where traditional news sources must compete with social media and public journalism, the only thing worse than not getting the story right is not getting the story first. And so we see predictable results like the ones that have been on display since the bombing in Boston on Monday (and which will no doubt continue with today’s tragedy in Texas). We have a suspect… No, wait, we don’t… The suspect is of x ethnicity… No, wait, that was inaccurate… There were x number of people killed… No, wait, that’s not exactly true… And on and on it goes.
On one level, I suppose the proliferation of reporting errors around these kinds of events could be reduced to something as simple as market economics. There is money to be made in getting the first compelling photo, in breaking the story, in getting the scoop, so the race is on. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon—the clock was always ticking on newspaper writers and editors back when the Internet was only a rumour on the distant horizon. But the clock ticks quite a bit faster in the digital age. When everyone instinctively stampedes online expecting answers within minutes of something happening, the pressure to get information out—now!—is enormous. In a news media industry already reeling from the pressures of a digital world where anyone with a smart phone is a “journalist,” it can be very costly indeed to get the story second.
But I think there is something deeper at work than economics. I think that as human beings, we have a hunger for quick, easy answers. Especially when things happen that are horrible and destabilizing and inexplicable, we want someone to tell us why this happened and what is being done to ensure that it won’t happen again (even if this possibility is largely a fiction we are pleased to console ourselves with). We want fast, clean, reliable narratives of darkness and light, bad guys and good guys, terrorists and freedom fighters. Don’t give us complexity or tell us to wait or, God forbid, tell us that you don’t have any leads! We want to see a picture on a screen of a sinister looking monster so that we can locate all of our fear and anxiety and rage somewhere and move on with life.
And, in the digital age, we want all of this now! We are impatient and restless consumers. We have statuses to update, links and images to share. We want to see pictures, hear inspirational stories, watch moving video clips about freedom and the American spirit… We want to know if there’s a T-shirt we can buy or something we can “like” to demonstrate that we are appropriately grieved before we move on. Just tell us who did this and assure us that they are feeling the full weight of justice. And be quick about it. We’ve watched plenty of crime dramas on TV, and we know that the most it can take to figure something like this out is about 48 minutes or so? Give or take? Pass the popcorn. I think Dancing with the Stars is about to start….
We like our quick and easy answers, whether we are talking about coping with a large-scale tragedy or, say, the life of faith. Complexity doesn’t sell very well, on TV or in church. We like our stories simple, easily digestible, and involving little commitment or personal investment on our part. Just tell me what I need to believe in order to go to heaven when I die… Just tell me how Jesus can help me be a good social activist… Just tell me how much to give… what to think… where to sign. Just tell me that I’m with the good guys and that the bad guys will be defeated.
Of course, on one level, the gospel is simple. And we are convinced that Jesus will “win” in the end. But underneath the broad umbrella of our conviction that God is making all things new through the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, there is plenty that we don’t know or understand. How could we? We are limited, finite creatures who cannot but see everything through the lens of our own selfishness and sin. And, quite apart from the matter of basic human limitation, it seems that God has so ordered his world as to require patience and humility from his creatures. We are in the middle of an unfolding story—a story of which we are not the authors, and whose final chapters have yet to be written.
We can and must be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). But I think we must be suspicious of answers that are too quick and too easy. The world is a complicated place and the God we follow has a history of surprising those who seemed most certain they possessed the right answers. Our hope is always in the character and promise of the one we follow, not in the quality of our answers and the speed with which we arrive at them.