Back in January, my husband and I traveled to Southeast Asia for a wedding. When we returned to Chicago O’Hare, U.S. Customs was just starting to ask travelers to disclose if they had been to Wuhan. In the days that followed, some of my husband’s co-workers implied they thought he should be quarantined at home. I even found myself Google searching symptoms and trying to figure out at what point we’d be in the clear, wondering if we should actually be at home. (Before you panic, neither of us ever experienced any symptoms.) Fast-forward six weeks or so, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had devastating effects and is now a household term across the world.
Every month in our volunteer newsletter, our Prevention team shares a current trend that they’ve encountered while teaching at schools and area organizations. In our most recent newsletter, they shared this regarding the coronavirus:
Infodemic: What is that? As the coronavirus spreads, social media platforms have been bombarded with information regarding the outbreak. Unfortunately, much of the information being circulated has been inaccurate, prejudiced, and turned into jokes/memes. This misinformation is causing young people to become very anxious. The WHO has dubbed this the first ever social media “infodemic” and has partnered with many social media platforms to stop the spread of unreliable information.
(In case you think this “infodemic” is only a problem here in the U.S., here’s an article about how it’s spreading in South Africa.)
The coronavirus infodemic is unfortunately another example of how we are so hungry for information that we often don’t stop to check to make sure what we’re reading or hearing is actually true. Over the last few years, I’ve almost daily scrolled by posts shared by my Facebook friends on everything from household cleaning tips to politics that I found to be inaccurate. Some were so convincing that I initially believed them, even with a B.S. in journalism.
This hunger for information has spiritual implications, too. When I was in middle school, I remember one of our youth group leaders encouraged us to “be Bereans.” In the book of Acts in the Bible, Paul and Silas (two of the world’s first Christian missionaries) went to share about Jesus in the town of Berea. Acts 17:11 says that the Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
If I’m honest, I haven’t done this enough. Just like with any other topic I might see on social media, it’s so easy to hear or see something and just believe it without first looking at the source and making sure it lines up with what God says in his Word. In several of Paul’s letters, he warns the first-century church about false teachers – something that we need to still be mindful of today, perhaps even more so.
Sometimes we hear things that are blatantly false, but sometimes a lie is said with just enough truth to make it sound believable. For example, how about the saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle”? (I’ve heard this from more than one well-intentioned fellow believer.) This sounds pretty good, but you won’t find it in the Bible. It’s actually twisted from 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, and he will provide a way out. The truth is that God is the one who can handle anything (Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37, etc.) and it’s only through him that we’re able to overcome life’s storms (Philippians 4:13, Isaiah 40:31, etc.), not because of what we’re able to handle with our limited abilities.
So in conclusion: Be like the Bereans, read your Bible, check your sources… and you should probably wash your hands.