Media coverage and COVID-19

Preparing to write for the rubric “All Around Us” requires searching the papers, scrolling through blogs, flipping through periodicals, and watching the news to identify that which would be edifying to reflect on and write about. As I did this over the last few months, there has been one event that has dominated the news: the spread of COVID-19. The title of this rubric is “All Around Us,” and unquestionably over the course of the past few months what has been “all around us”—what seems like the only thing to be “all around us”—is news and analysis concerning this coronavirus. The purpose of this article is not to reflect on any particular subject related to COVID-19. Many are the themes that could profitably be explored from current events relating to the spread of and response to this virus: the place of and submission to God-ordained authority, the lessons God is teaching His people, the certain sign of the coming of Jesus Christ, and many others beside. Rather, the intent of this article is to reflect generally on the overwhelming nature of the media coverage of this coronavirus. In the course of this article, I will explain why this is, from a biblical perspective, worthy of our attention.

What has occurred in the news with COVID-19 is the predictable response of the media to significant national events. Any major event—a presidential elec­tion, a mass shooting, a devastating natural disaster— receives immediate and incessant media coverage from the national and local outlets pushed out over many different mediums: television, Internet, social media, radio, print. Journalists examine, analyze, and report on the event from every imaginable perspective. And then, after a while, the coverage of the major event dies off, only for intense coverage to be resurrected again with the next noteworthy story. There is, however, something unique about the coverage of COVID-19, it seems to me. I write as a thirty-four-year old. Never in my adult life has one event so dominated the media like that of this coronavirus. I can only imagine the number of articles, sound bites, news clips, and posts that have been published concerning COVID-19.

This is not surprising though. The effects of COVID-19 touch every sphere of society: political, so­cial, economic, and religious. Due to the executive or­ders of government officials, the pandemic has radically altered the daily lives of every citizen of the country. Schools are shut down. Jobs have been lost. The econ­omy is plummeting. Gathering and visiting are prohib­ited. Sickness and death have touched many families. And a pandemic is not a “here today, gone tomorrow” reality. For good reason, therefore, media coverage con­tinues to be centered on this coronavirus, and such will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

But we live in unprecedented times as it relates to the ability to consume this media. And therein lies the concern, and the reason this is worthy of our reflection as Christians. What is unique today is not the constant and drawn-out coverage of major national and world events. What is unique today is our ability to access that media coverage in any amount, at whatever time, and in any form. Consider the stark contrast between the days of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the times we are living in during the outbreak of COVID-19. A person’s knowledge of all things related to the Spanish flu pandemic would have been limited to what was re­ported in the daily newspapers and weekly periodicals. That is it. One could read about the pandemic only so much. Today is fundamentally different. There is no limit to consuming media related to this coronavirus. Literally sunup to sundown one could read and listen to media on COVID-19 and not even come close to con­suming it all.

It is this unlimited access on a whole range of plat­forms to the flood of coverage that poses real dangers to Christians individually and in their lives together as bodies of believers. Let us consider a few noteworthy points in this regard.

In the first place, undisciplined media consumption can result in poor stewardship of our God-given time. In this connection we consider the careful balance be­tween being informed and being overtaken by the desire to know what is going on in the world. We must be informed citizens and Christians, men and women who understand the times we live in as viewed through the lens of Scripture. Ignorance concerning COVID-19 and the major developments arising out of it could possibly result, for example, in a Christian’s failure to submit to and honor the God-ordained authorities, or in a failure longingly to hope for the coming of our Savior as we see a clear sign of His return. It is imperative to be informed as Christians. It requires, however, sanctified wisdom to know when enough is enough, so that, as we are constantly flooded with media coverage, we do not abuse but redeem the time God has given us. May God give us such wisdom.

Second, it is good for us to remember that one’s me­dia consumption regarding COVID-19 potentially influ­ences one’s godly or ungodly response to the pandemic. Consider the fact that there is a wide range of responses to these events that would be categorized as out of har­mony with the will of God. Do you battle anxiety on account of potentially getting COVID-19 or because of the financial hardship that was caused by the shutdown of the economy? One must be wise in what media is consumed if that is the case. Constantly examining the spread of the virus or incessantly examining the eco­nomic fallout in the news will not help to alleviate such worry, but only serve to heighten the concern as one’s mind is more and more fixated on the cause of anxi­ety. Do you fight against anger and bitterness toward the God-ordained elected officials because of their ex­ecutive orders that limit private activity and shut down work life? Again, a discerning consumption of media is required in this instance. Repeatedly turning to the articles and watching the news clips that ridicule the governors and point out the problems with their man­dates will not serve to put down and put out that anger and bitterness, but only fuel such sinful responses. The examples in this regard could be multiplied. And often­times the one who struggles with these sinful responses is not cognizant of how what is consumed affects his/ her heart. All of this is to say how important it is to be discerning and careful regarding what and how much media is consumed.

In this regard, we must also remember the positive truth, which is this: think upon the things of God! Philippians 4:8 speaks to the point: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are hon­est, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (emphasis added). In the face of the constant barrage of information con­cerning COVID-19 that we have experienced and may continue to experience, we are reminded of just how im­portant it is continually to set our mind upon God and His truth. As we read the articles and watch the news, we must consciously do so through the lens of the truth, so that our response is more and more one of living unto God in and through the circumstances of COVID-19.

Last, the sheer amount of information that has been reported on this coronavirus has created a potentially

divisive atmosphere. I suppose this is true concerning any event. However, I believe this is heightened on ac­count of how the life of the believer and the church is directly affected by COVID-19. The situation is one in which every person is able to “site their source” to sup­port their position on everything related to COVID-19, such as the seriousness of the virus or the proper re­sponse to it. COVID-19 is potentially very polarizing, and we know that the Devil will use any and all means to drive believers apart. And so we are reminded again of that in which our unity lies: not in our outlook on the spreading virus, but in the cross of Jesus Christ and the truth of the gospel! May God preserve us in this unity through these uncertain times.