The Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma was prophetic. Granted it is ironic that Netflix produced a movie that bashed addictive media that removes people from reality. (The pot calling the kettle black?) Nevertheless, the central message of this film came true: The more we give our hearts over to the algorithms of social media, the more we will be led into our own silos of extreme disinformation.
Like Jim Carrey in the movie The Truman Show, we are stuck in a fake world. But the bubble we live in is a digital one. And it is designed to keep us from wanting to leave. So much of what we see online plays on our fear of the unknown. And as we keep clicking, the world seems to get darker and scarier. We might have started reading or watching something that was true and benign. But if we keep clicking, the algorithms are designed to lead us to more and more extreme ideas, which means if we don’t stop, we will end up consuming conspiracies.
None of us wants to be duped by conspiracies. But how are we supposed to find the truth when everyone claims to be an authority and everyone is calling “the other side” the real conspirators? How can we distinguish between what’s true and what’s a lie?
Truth is reality
In his great book Live No Lies, John Mark Comer defines truth as reality:
“The best definition I know of truth is ‘reality, or that which corresponds to reality.’ . . . The chair I’m sitting on is reality. The air I’m breathing is reality. Jesus is reality. And the best definition of ‘reality’ I know of is ‘what you run into when you’re wrong.’ If you say, ‘I believe I can fly!’ and you walk off the top of a ten-story building, reality is what you hit a few seconds later. Hence, the cliché ‘a dose of reality.’”
So how do you distinguish what is true and what is false in this world? Well, when you watch, hear, or read something that makes you anxious or afraid, step away from the screen for a moment, take a walk, and see if what you are consuming matches reality.
Now this is not foolproof. Anything on the internet can feel like reality. Every website looks legit. Every video looks like real footage. Everyone says that the science or the facts back up their side. And not everything we see online can be immediately tested with reality. So even if we detach from all the contrasting opinions, it can still be hard to see and experience what is reality.
Maybe these words from the prophet Isaiah can help us:
This is what the LORD says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:
“Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread. (Isaiah 8:11-13)
In other words, the Lord told the prophet Isaiah that not everything that people say is true. Not everything is a catastrophe. Not everything in the world is scary and controversial. And even when there are real challenges, we don’t need to fear. God is still in control. We are to “fear” God above everything else. We are to be in awe of his power and righteousness and trust his unfailing love.
Build your life on the Rock
I wish I had a chart that clearly diagramed what’s true (reality) and what’s fake (unreality). Then I wouldn’t be so confused and conflicted about so much that I’m seeing online. But I don’t have such a chart. (Although I do believe detaching from our screens and experiencing the world will take us pretty far in finding the truth, there still is a chance that I’m being tricked or that I’m going to get into trouble.)
In such a world, Jesus gives us clear advice. He tells us to hear his words and “put them into practice” (Matthew 7:24). Hear that we were made by God, that we have been saved by God, and that he has a plan for our lives. Hear that he wants us to live holy lives of love and integrity, trusting in God’s provision. And when we hear these words and put them into practice, Jesus says our lives will be built on the Rock. The rains will come, and the waters will rise, and the wind will beat on us. But if we build our lives on Jesus and his words, we will not fall.
Let’s do what we can to face reality humbly, as far as we can tell. And let’s build our lives on the truth of God’s Word so that we can stand no matter what the future holds.