The famous saying is true, ‘The first casualty of war is usually the truth.’ But sifting misinformation and weighing conflicting reports are not the only challenge we face in such times. For we all have our own biases. These can prevent us from knowing or identifying the truth. This has recently become apparent to me as the state in Ethiopia clashes with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). I find myself asking: who has reliable facts? Whose information can I trust? Somewhat like in the days of the Old Testament Judges, everyone speaks what is right in their own eyes. A war of propaganda is being waged by many.
In addition to the tumult and tragedy of war, the irresponsible reproduction of information further divides Ethiopia
Division In Ethiopia
With social media and smartphones, information travels faster than ever before. Yet information is also biased, even designed to misrepresent events or people. Thus, in addition to the tumult and tragedy of war, the irresponsible reproduction of information further divides Ethiopia.
It can be very difficult to discern truth and facts from misinformation and lies. Often the latter will contain elements of truth. But our biases and assumptions tend to prevent us from seeing the whole story. In fact, this time reminds me of the game called ‘broken telephone.’ One person tells a story and, as it is retold several times, the story becomes something entirely different. Not only do we receive half truths but we also tend to further alter them in transmission.
The Ultimate Source of Truth
Let me be clear: my adamant search for truth surpasses politics and opinions. It goes to the Bible. Ultimately the Christian must hear from God in his word. We must be wary of inquiring everywhere else in our search for truth if we do not start there.
My adamant search for truth surpasses politics and opinions. It goes to the Bible
In this article I will argue two simple points found in the Bible. These speak directly to the conflict and unrest in Ethiopia.
Firstly, as created humans we are limited in our knowledge and should therefore humble ourselves before the Creator and God. Secondly, God has not promised to tell us everything, but exhorts us to trust his providential ordering of the world. From these points I will draw out four applications for living as Christians amid great turmoil, uncertainty, and increasingly divided countries.
Acknowledge Your Created Human Limits
1. Only God Is Omniscient
First, we don’t know everything. God has set a day when he will reveal all things. But today is not that day. Considering the story of Job, we note that Job didn’t know why he suffered so terribly. God did not explain the reasons behind Job’s suffering. Thus the story of Job shows our limitedness and God’s greatness. The sovereign God is both omniscient and purposeful. But we are weak and our knowledge is limited.
Instead of trying to know all, let’s glorify the God whom we know in Christ Jesus
Instead of trying to know all, let’s glorify the God whom we know in Christ Jesus. More than this, we can know that this God loved us to the point of giving his only Son. As Dane Ortlund writes in Gentle And Lowly, “If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection, and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on your way to heaven.” We can trust even when we don’t know or understand. When we are in the dark.
2. We Are Only Clay In The Potter’s Hands
Secondly, we are only clay (Romans 9:21). God is the potter. He is not accountable to us. Pauls asks, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is moulded say to the moulder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Romans 9:20). We do not determine how God will make his glory known (Romans 9:22-23).
God is the potter. He is not accountable to us
Trying to know everything can be prideful. I fall into this pride trap often. But, God in his providence showed me through his words and the chaos of our world that I am limited in my understanding. There are many things I don’t understand. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “the secret things belong to the Lord while what is revealed belongs to us and to our children so that we can obey him.”
We are limited in our knowledge and understanding. We are not God. And God has not said that we will know everything. But in this, however uncomfortable it is, we have no right to question God. Instead of pursuing personal omniscience, let’s humble ourselves before the Lord. Let’s pray for the grace to walk with him to the extent of understanding he’s given us.
Instead of pursuing personal omniscience, let’s humble ourselves before the Lord
What Should We Do?
Not knowing the truth, however, doesn’t mean Christian citizens have no role to play. Humility does not mean inactivity. Recognising our limits does not excuse sin. Here are four things that we must do.
1. Remember That Everyone Is Made In The Image Of God
For one, let’s view and talk of humans as humans. Man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). If we adhere to schools of thought that man is an evolved animal or merely an economic being, their deaths will mean little. Viewing humans as ‘less than human’ is the first step towards hurting and even killing them.
The only answer to hate that turns on ethnicity and tribe is to acknowledge that every human is made in the image of God
For instance, Hitler’s first step towards the holocaust (Jewish genocide) was convincing people that Jews were sub-human. Similarly, at this point in Ethiopia, many are going further than saying, ‘the Amhara is my enemy,’ ‘the Tigrayan is my enemy,’ or ‘the Oromo is my enemy.’ One can even find calls for eradication on social media sites. The only answer to hate that turns on ethnicity and tribe is to acknowledge that every human is made in the image of God, and has tremendous worth.
2. Act Wisely And With Humility
Second, let’s humble ourselves knowing that we don’t know all the facts. What we hear now might be biased. It may even contain deliberate deceit or careless misinformation. We simply don’t have all the facts. As Proverbs 11:2 says, “when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” In our case, humility is when we know that we are not God. He alone is omniscient. This means many elements of the facts and aspects of the situation in Ethiopia are hidden from us. When we acknowledge this, we gain wisdom.
3. Avoid Careless And Destructive Speech
Third, let’s be aware that undiscerned words bring destruction. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Words spoken without discernment can cause much destruction. They can hurt others and compromise our Christian character. Therefore it may be unwise to speak volumes, both for our current lives and for the age to come (Matthew 12:36).
Words spoken without discernment can cause much destruction.
Undiscerning words do not only hurt individuals. They can also destroy communities. Whatever the strife is, in Ethiopia or elsewhere, it will not be ended by multiplying words. God teaches us to hold our tongues (Proverbs 10:19). “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Therefore we must be very careful, or discerning, with regards to what we share online and say in person. Our words possess immense potential for damage, especially when we don’t possess all the facts.
4. Love Our Enemies
Finally, let’s live a life for the sake of the gospel. As those reconciled to God we should both seek that reconciliation for others and sow peace (2 Corinthians 5:20; James 3:18). Of course, the gospel is about Jesus Christ and we share the gospel with words. However, our actions and words will have a bearing on how people hear what we tell them.
Our Christian ministry and witness can be severely marred by expressions of hatred, tribalism, and loose speech. We may be the only witness to the Christian life that those around us will ever see. Let’s love our enemies with the hope that they will become our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must mourn with those who are suffering and continually pray for them too. Now is a time for both lamentation and love.