Don’t Believe Everything You Hear (or read or see or…)

Note: this is a post I wrote for the Salem First Baptist Church (AR) website in March, 2016 (a few updates added). I am reprinting it because it remains relevant.

State Farm released a commercial that was meant to be funny, but in reality made a very good point. Click on the link and watch it…we’ll wait.

People believe what they see and read, whether on the internet or TV, because we’ve all been conditioned by the media to accept reports at face value. And it seems that the more outlandish the claim the more we believe it. It’s almost impossible to distinguish truth from falsity in our modern society (maybe President Trump is right about all the “fake news”). Case in point, which one of these two “facts” is true?

  • Alaska is not only the most northern and western of the 50 United States, but it is also the most eastern.
  • Heroin, which is one of the most potentially addictive substances ever chemically devised, was used as a cough suppressant and sold over the counter until about 1910.

Okay I would usually make you wait until the end of the article to learn the truth, but I’ll tell you now that both are true (read the article from Business Insider here). But I could have told you almost anything and you probably would have believed it. People don’t usually research what other people tell them (especially those who have some semblance of authority). Most of us take what is said at face value.

At this point you may be saying something like, “I don’t believe everything I see or hear. I weigh the evidence and then make a decision.” If that’s true you’re an odd duck. Check out what the research says about everyone else.

According to a study by Daniel Gilbert, our brains are wired to quickly interpret what we see or hear which leads to a belief in the truth of what we have just seen or heard. This means that when you read something, you are wired to believe it unless there is some alternate information that causes you to question the original assumption. This research was confirmed by Stephen Lewandowsky and others. Actually, Lewandowsky made it personal when he said that people are generally too lazy to do the research and choose to believe what they are told because it’s just easier than doing any fact checking.

The famous Milgram experiment was an original proof (conducted in 1963) that people will generally believe what they are told, especially when the instructor seems to be a person of authority. In that study, people pressed a button to shock another person because someone in a lab coat told them to do so.

What does all of this mean and why does it matter?

Though we are given wise instruction like Proverbs 14:15, in which Solomon says, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps”, many times we take the easy road and just go along. Psychology sounds so reasonable and it offers help for people who are hurting. It seems that the aims are noble and secular psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors may truly want to provide healing and comfort. Unfortunately, man’s systems all end up providing the same thing…no answer.

We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 of whom Luke said, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And when it comes to psychology we really need to heed John’s warning in I John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” What is pleasing to the ear is not always right, and what seems harmless and helpful could end up being that most subtle of beasts – a serpent.

“Trust not in princes” as it says in Psalm 146:3, and ‘lean not unto your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5. The powerful and authoritative, and even you, are not good judges of what is true and correct in a given situation. But when it comes to your wellbeing, whether that be spiritual or physical, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” Psalm 62:8.

God is your perfect counselor. What was one of the names given to Christ in Isaiah 9:6, “…and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” What is the Holy Spirit called in John 14:16, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;”. By the way, the word “Comforter” in the King James can also be interpreted as “Counselor”.

This is an exhortation to the Christian, but especially, in this context, a warning to whoever reads these posts. As we walk through the problems that plague us all at one time or another, I pray that you will test what I say to you against what God says in His Word.

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