In late March of 1913, huge portions of the Midwest were inundated with floods. Houses and property were damaged, and hundreds of people lost their lives. The east side of Columbus Ohio, however, was largely free from flood waters and destruction. Late in the afternoon of March 26th, a man was seen running through the center of town. Curious, a young boy fell into a run behind him to see where he was going and soon others joined. A crowd began to gather to see what was going on and one of the runners shouted as he passed, “The dam broke!” Panic ensued.  

The Columbus Dispatch carried the story the next day, March 27th, and described the scene like this, “Never before in the history of Columbus was there such a scene of panic, even consternation. Through alleys, down streets, down stairways, out of windows, people hurried, tumbled ran, shouted and fairly fought each other in their almost mad rush.”

Eventually, the crowd realized that the dam hadn’t broken, and they were fine. The story goes that they all walked quietly back into town, and mutually agreed to never mention the incident again.  

Do you ever feel like we are living in the middle of that story? We’re caught up in a panic because everyone around us is running full speed out of town, convinced that the dam has broken. While it might be tempting to lay the blame for our culture-wide alarm at the feet of certain individuals or groups, I’d like to focus on one form of media that intentionally and systematically forms and deforms our spiritual lives: the news. Let me be clear, I’m NOT talking about the content itself. Whether you watch Fox News or MSNBC, the effect on your spiritual life will be the same. Let’s talk about a couple of the key problems with the news.


Think about what you are opening yourself up to whenever you watch, read, or digest “the news” through TV or online. Of all the events taking place on God’s earth over the past 24 hours, some editor has selected a handful of events to qualify as newsworthy. The stories chosen are often the most horrific and unsettling and are presented to keep our eyes glued to the screen. “Their headlines don’t constitute an ultimate account of reality so much as some first hunches as to what might matter by mortals prey to the same prejudices, errors and frailties as the rest of us, hunches plucked out of a pool of several billion potential events that daily befall our species.” 

We are meant to live according to an ultimate account of reality, but daily immersion into the disjointed and selective world of the news skews our perception.

And perception provides the basis for emotion. This is why one philosopher said this about the news, “Two emotions with which we're likely to become extremely well acquainted the longer we spend with the news are fear and anger.”3 Pastorally, fear and anger are an ever-present reality in those we shepherd who spend regular time with the news. They view the world as a dangerous and hateful place, and they often fear their fellow citizens. Why? Because they have been discipled into this perception by constant emotional engagement with the curated reality of the news.  


As we give ourselves to this distorted perception, we end up devoting more of our time and attention to the news to “stay up to date.” We dread falling behind or lacking awareness of the latest event deemed newsworthy by our editorial overlords. We constantly check the news. We mindlessly swipe open our phones first thing in the morning to get the top stories of the day. We watch an hour-long news show in the evening and listen to a current events podcast on a run or in the car. These habits add up to the giving away of one of our most precious resources: attention. “What we attend to reveals and shapes our loves, so if our attention is fixed on the thin stratum of the daily news, then we are guilty of a kind of idolatry, of misdirecting our love and even our worship.”

Notice that what we give our attention to does two things simultaneously. It reveals and shapes our love. Most Christians can recognize the first. I watch the news each night because I love something about the experience. My values lead to action and therefore, my actions reveal my values. But many of us don’t realize what the news is doing to us. Our loves are being shaped and formed by what we give our attention to. The Psalmist makes this point in Psalm 115:4-8 regarding idols (emphasis mine).  

Their idols are silver and gold, 
the work of human hands. 
They have mouths, but do not speak; 
eyes, but do not see. 
They have ears, but do not hear; 
noses, but do not smell. 
They have hands, but do not feel; 
feet, but do not walk; 
and they do not make a sound in their throat. 
Those who make them become like them; 
so do all who trust in them. 

Israel became spiritually blind and deaf, just like their idols. We need to ponder how time and attention to the news will shape us. What sort of people will we become? In the quote above Jeffrey Bilbro uses the word “thin” to describe the daily news.

The news lacks perspective and depth in its analysis of events and people. It sees on a surface level and lacks the distance that time provides to truly grasp the heart of the matter.

With the attention span of a goldfish, it moves on to the next “breaking story.” Constant exposure to this form of media will shape you into a “thin” person who lacks perspective and the ability to think deeply about a subject. You will get angry and then quickly move on. The “thinning” of your soul that will take place will harm your spiritual life.


If there’s one verse I remember from my teenage youth group years it’s Proverbs 13:20. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” For a youth group and Christian school kid, this meant to be careful who you kept as your closest friends. You didn’t want to be influenced by the wrong crowd. Instead, you wanted to find the other teens who would help your spiritual life. As teenagers, I think we all assumed that the problem of ungodly influences was unique to us and maybe college students. Once we reached adulthood, we figured we would move past the possibility of being a “companion of fools.” None of us could have imagined how much our future spiritual lives would hinge on what influences shape us. 

Of course, Proverbs 13:20 isn’t the only verse in Proverbs to deal with the influences around you. The first 9 chapters form a two-pronged introduction to wisdom. First, they try to make the case that you should want wisdom. They depict wisdom as a beautiful woman, as more valuable than a fine set of jewels, and as possessing long life and honor. The author of Proverbs knows that humans are fundamentally creatures of desire and that he must address this aspect of our humanity. He wants us to want wisdom.  

Second, these chapters lay the general groundwork for our understanding of wisdom and the most fundamental steps to pursue it. And it’s here that we discover that wisdom is found in the right source.

Wisdom comes as we give our time and attention to the right influences.

 The entire book of Proverbs is a gift from a father to a son, begging him to allow the words of his parents to be the primary influence in his life (1:8). Repeatedly the exhortation is to pursue wisdom by listening. Open yourself up to the guidance of the wise and this will increase your understanding. Here are a few examples: 

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning” (1:5).  

“Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster” (1:33).  

“Receive my words…” (2:1).  

“Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight” (4:1).  

“My son, be attentive to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding” (5:1).  

Right in the middle of these first 9 chapters, we find a key insight into why we must pursue wisdom by paying careful attention to the influences that shape us. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” To guard and keep your heart is to recognize the damage that can be done through pervasive wrong influences. Constant exposure will shape and form your heart away from wisdom.  

Don’t get caught up in the culture-wide fascination with staying up to date on current events through the news. Take a deep breath as you watch everyone else run by and turn your attention to wisdom. Here are a couple of resources to help you recognize the dangers and watch or read the news with care:

The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton 

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News by Jeffrey Bilbro 

The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken 


[1] Accessed 5/2/23 

[2 ] De Botton, Alain. The News: A User’s Manual (Vintage Books, New York. 2014) p. 72. 

[3] De Botton, Alain. The News: A User’s Manual, p. 9.  

[4] Bilbro, Jeffrey. Reading the Times, (Inter-Varsity, Downers Grove, IL. 2021) p. 15.