When I was very young, I always thought that everything I heard on the radio or read in the newspapers was true. I grew up and learned to spell (a little) and to think for myself (a lot), and I became aware of grammatical and factual errors in the media. Then I became a missionary and later a mission leader. I was always getting interviewed by news reporters who frequently misquoted me and got the facts wrong. Sometimes they got it backwards—like the time a reporter quoted me as having said that I stopped being Jewish in 1953. I never stopped being Jewish. Since I was born to two Jewish parents, that is a physical impossibility. What I said was that I had become a believer in Jesus that year. The incident reinforced to me what I already knew: that people need to be careful about believing what they read or hear in the news. The media, which is intended to inform, sometimes also misinforms—and even deforms—the real facts.
This happened in my home city of San Francisco. We had experienced drought conditions for several consecutive years, but residents were not conserving water. It took the bureaucrats a couple of years to convince us, but eventually water conservation became a way of life. We stopped watering our lawns and outdoor plants and never washed our cars except at a car wash. Then came the rains.
It rained and rained. Blessed relief? Not exactly! The bureaucratic wheels were already in motion for severe water rationing. The officials could not backtrack on a program they had spent time and money to create. The San Francisco Water District instituted the strictest rationing possible—50 gallons of water a day per person—enough for short soap-and-rinse showers, two toilet flushes a day and very limited use of garbage disposals, dishwashers and washing machines.
That wet spring the media presented the public with statements fed them by the water officials. The ploy was to cite the measured amount of water in the reservoirs to show how bad the shortage was. The reservoirs are only 25% full,” intoned one commentator gloomily. “It’s doubtful that we’ll have 50% capacity in our reservoirs by the end of the rainy season,” proclaimed another.
While California does have a water problem, to report that the reservoirs were only a certain percentage full was misleading. The reservoirs should never be 100% full. Some, used for flood control, are actually drained when full.
Actually, San Francisco has never depended on local rain for much of its water supply. We rely on melted snow from our northern Sierra mountains. That spring those mountain areas had a great deal of snowfall which would turn to runoff. Yet just to keep residents using a minimum of water, the media kept harping about the reservoirs. Perhaps some officials felt it necessary to mislead us for a good purpose.
A major fault of contemporary society is the bureaucratic system that allows a few at the top to decide when it is in the public interest to misrepresent the truth. Officials decide what they will allow us to know, “for our own good.” It happens in every aspect of modern life, the religious as well as the secular.
My next statement may seem harsh, but as one who has been involved in Jewish evangelism for 34 years, I have found that many Jewish religious and community leaders use much the same kind of propaganda against the claims of Jesus. They have decided that for the sake of “tradition” and maintaining Jewish identity, it is not feasible for a Jewish person to believe in Jesus. To protect this stance, they do everything within the power of the Jewish press, the Jewish leadership and ethnological peer pressure to dissuade Jewish people from considering the gospel.
Fortunately, some Jewish people are thinking for themselves and are becoming brave enough to swim against the stream. Those of us who have dared to believe in Jesus have realized that neither our acceptance nor our denial of a given fact—in this case the gospel—dictates its reality. Something is either true or untrue, and no public or private opinion can change that.
Denial of a given truth is merely delusion. I experienced this in my earlier adult years when I worked for a brief time as a pre-need sales manager for a cemetery. The cemetery had all sorts of rules for its employees. If any of the flowers began to wilt, they had to be removed at once. Fallen leaves had to be swept off the lawn as soon as they fell. If a dead branch fell from a tree, it had to be picked up immediately. The grounds always had to be kept green and alive, lest anything remind visitors that the cemetery was a place of death and decay.
In the same way, our media and entertainment industries also protect people from the unpleasant aspects of life and death. They show people dying but seldom suffering in the process. I cannot recall one death scene in a movie or television that depicted the true death rattle or the terror of dying without hope of a life to come. As a minister, I have been present at many deathbeds and can say from firsthand experience that dying without Christ is very terrible, and even for those who know Christ the physical process is often painful. Yet in the movies death is often presented merely as a punctuation to a scene rather than a horror or deprivation, and seldom as the normal, natural and essential part of living that eventually everyone must face.
The Bible does not treat death that casually. But then the Bible is not the public media. Unlike the media, the Bible is not for entertainment. It presents only the truth about life-and-death issues. As God’s Word, the Bible teaches much about death. We read in Hebrews 9:27 that physical death is a transition—the inevitable door through which we all must pass and then be judged.
Orthodox Judaism does recognize this biblical doctrine of God as Judge and a life and a judgment to come, but many individual Jewish people do not. Many do not believe in life after death or in a personal God, let alone one who will call them into account for their sins. Every year during the High Holiday season my people commonly greet one another with, “May your name be written in the Book of Life.” Yet often the greeting is merely cultural and means no more to the giver or receiver than a perfunctory “Hi, happy holiday. Have a nice life.”
As believers in Yeshua, however, we know from Scripture that God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. We know that Yeshua, our great High Priest, has overcome death for us, and that in His death and resurrection He has provided the atonement for sin that spares us from condemnation on that final judgment day. Having committed ourselves to Him, we have the assurance that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Knowing all of that, neither this life nor the inevitable death of the body can hold us captive to fear. No media, no individual and no society can propagandize us into believing that the gospel is not true, because as believers in Yeshua we have experienced its reality.
As we focus on that reality and on eternity’s values, we can share the good news of salvation in Yeshua with others. Then, as they join us in the household of faith, together we can build the kind of society that affirms life and values truth—God’s truth.