Offering reliable and trustworthy information

There have been some serious floods in our area a few weeks ago due to heavy rainfall. Luckily the small village where we live is on a hill, so we escaped damage, but many towns around us have been flooded as rivers rose too high.

This weekend, we were confronted with an unexpected result of the flooding: our drink water has been contaminated as the sewer system couldn’t handle this much water. We can’t consume our water without boiling it first.

It’s a bit of a hassle that makes you appreciate the necessity of clean drinking water, that first and foremost. But it also made me ponder the importance of reliability.

I’ve always trusted our drinking water, trusted that it was safe, healthy and good for me. After this, that trust is somewhat damaged, although the water company did a great job in being open and honest and warning everyone about what’s going on.

How reliable and trustworthy is the information we offer to our students?

I was doing sermon prep recently on a sermon on Revelation 21, the description of the new Jerusalem. In a comment I was using, the writer reveled how the ‘pearly gates’ were a symbol of the pain and suffering of Jesus. That’s because a pearl is created when a grain of sand irritates a mollusk; it’s basically the result of pain and suffering. A great analogy that he explained in detail.

Except it’s wrong.

Scientists don’t know exactly how pearls are created, but the theory of the sand in a shell has been largely rejected. And there goes the beautiful analogy of the pearly gates as a symbol for Jesus’ pain and suffering. It doesn’t make these gates any less beautiful and it doesn’t diminish Jesus’ suffering. It just makes it less likely that one has anything to do with the other.

Now if you had used this explanation in your sermon, most students wouldn’t think twice, if they remembered it at all. But little Johnny happened to be paying attention when you told this and he grew up to be a biologist. Of course he found out that your beautiful analogy was nonsense. And now his trust in what you told him, everything you have told him over the years, has been damaged.

A bit extreme? Maybe. Except that I’m married to a scientist who has on more than one occasion been able to refute the ‘scientific facts’ a pastor was sharing. Every time a pastor starts using science as evidence, my husband cringes because way too often these so called facts will not be correct.

Our students’ trust that what we say is reliable is a fragile and valuable thing that we should take seriously. Check your facts. Make sure what you share and teach is theologically sound and scientifically right. Consult real experts when in doubt. And don’t blindly trust your commentaries either, make sure to cross-reference and double check.

Let’s offer our students trustworthy and reliable information that will make them thirsty for the Living Water that can never be contaminated.

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