Editorial: How much information is enough?


The first time I lit a firecracker, it did not go well.

I was really young and was with another boy in my neighborhood. The adult at his house—his mom, aunt or grandmother—gave us Black Cats. I’d seen fireworks before, but I’d never lit one.

She handed me a single Black Cat and told me once I lit the wick and saw a little glow at the end of the wick, “Throw it.”

Simple enough.

I touched the flame to the end of the wick, saw a momentary glow … and then nothing. No smoke, no spark, no glow, nothing.

Puzzled, I held the Black Cat between my fingers, waiting.

Then it suddenly exploded.

I gotta tell you: That hurt!

How much information was enough? More than I was given.

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Needing to know more

Whether on a global scale or a personal scale, we are looking for more information.

Globally, nations are scrambling to understand and prepare for the novel coronavirus—COVID-19—that first appeared in China near the end of December. In just a couple of months, the virus has spread to about 40 countries and infected more than 80,000 people … as far as we know. The virus’ rapid spread makes it difficult to stay on top of the latest information.

Researchers are trying to determine how serious—or deadly—this new virus is. Part of what is confounding researchers is the differing information they are getting from China. Despite not knowing just how serious COVID-19 is, on Feb. 25 the Centers for Disease Control warned Americans to prepare for “significant disruption” to their lives similar to the quarantine of the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province.

On a national level, there is the upcoming presidential election.

For some voters, knowing Bernie Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist is all the information they need not to vote for him. For other voters, just the name “Donald Trump” is enough information not to vote for him. But is that really enough information?

For something as important as a presidential election, voters need more than a two-word political designation or a last name to make a wise decision at the ballot. Indeed, most voters—knowing they need to know more—are paying attention to candidates’ past records, their policy positions and their debate performances.

On a state level, there are the outworkings in Texas Baptist life of the recent closures and changes at Hardin-Simmons University.

During the last two weeks, much digital ink has been spilled about what information may or may not have gone into the decision to close Logsdon Seminary. We still are asking questions and still are seeking answers. We don’t believe we’ve received enough information yet, despite how much and what information the HSU board of trustees had before making its decision.

I mention this last ongoing story not to belabor it but to acknowledge that the question about how much information is enough is in the air globally, nationally and closer to home.

Speaking of closer to home, how much information is enough for us to make decisions in our own community, our church, our home, our personal lives? When will we be satisfied with what we know?

Oh, and I guess I should point out that the only reason we ought to care about how much information we have—and its quality—is because at the end of the day we have to do something with it.

An old story about seeking information

There’s an old story about the people of Israel. They were in the desert, and they were complaining about the standard of living. They didn’t have enough to eat, and what there was to eat wasn’t to their liking. They didn’t like the quality of the water, what water they could find. They complained to no end and just wanted to go back to Egypt.

One day, they were gathered at the border to the Promised Land, and God told Moses to send 12 of their leaders to scope it out. The 12 went and came back with a report. Ten of them said the land was full of promise, indeed, but the people living there couldn’t be defeated. The other two, with the same information, said, “We can take ’em because God will give it to us.”

The people went with the majority, the 10. In fact, they were so taken by the 10 that they were ready to stone the minority.

With that, God decided to wipe out the people, but Moses intervened. Instead of destroying them, God said: “Well, since you like the desert so much, you’ll never leave it. You’ll be stuck in it until you die. You won’t enter the Promised Land. I’ll leave that to your kids.”

Right off, the 10 scared leaders died of a plague.

With that information, the people got up the next morning and said, “We’re ready to take the Promised Land now,” and they went up the hill to take it.

Moses said, “That’s not going to go well for you.”

And sure enough, it didn’t.

It’s not the information but the source

The people had all the information they needed, but it wasn’t enough for them. Despite seeing plagues visited on the Egyptians, despite God delivering them out of slavery in Egypt, despite their safe crossing of the sea and seeing God wipe out the Egyptian army, despite God providing for them every step of the way in the desert, despite God’s commandments and laws and instructions, the people weren’t satisfied with the information they had. Somehow, it wasn’t enough.

More importantly, they weren’t satisfied with its source. So, they took matters into their own hands, and not just once. And despite knowing how their dissatisfaction—also read “rebellion”—resulted in stiff consequences, they still didn’t seem to have enough information.

How much information was enough? The people didn’t need more information. They needed to trust the God they knew.

Likewise, our problem isn’t a lack of information. Our problem is we need to trust the God we know.

The information we know from the start

Before I touched the flame to the end of the wick, I needed to know at least two more things than I was told.

I needed cautionary information. I needed to know that sometimes the wick burns on the inside where you can’t see it.

I also needed practical information. I needed to know a dud on the ground is better than an explosion in your hand.

How much information is enough? I don’t know, but I do know if I’d known just a little bit more, I’d be telling a different story.

I also know what my gut told me from the very start: Don’t mess with that firecracker.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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