Evaluating and Selecting News Sources, Especially in the Internet Age.

December 30, 2014

[This is slightly redacted copy of notes from a lecture I gave on April 4, 2013 to a group of researchers/analysts who write for theTrumpet.com. I am publishing it here by request of some Redditors on /r/geopolitics. Without the slide show, it is not as compelling, but most of the info still makes sense.—Jeremiah Jacques]

Take a look at these three headlines:

“Obama Begins Inauguration Festivities With Ceremonial Drone Flyover”

“Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad To Obama.”

“Kim Jong-Un Named Sexiest Man Alive For 2012”

Those are silly, right? They are obviously satirical headlines from the always-provocative Onion News.

It’s satire, and the articles they write are totally fictitious. Yet, major news sources—I mean news giants—fell for all three of those stores. The last one prompted the 10th largest newspaper in the world, China’s People’s Daily, to publish a 55-page write-up chock full of photos of the rugged, chiseled leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

Every year mainstream news sources continue to stumble across Onion stories and believe them to be legitimate… and it’s a huge embarrassment for those who are duped.

I don’t think that any of us fall for Onion “news,” but we do need to be aware of the biases, the agendas, the weaknesses, and flat-out deceit that many publications are prone to.

Back in 1,000 BC, King Solomon said, “of making many books there is no end.” And that was before Guttenberg invented the printing press, and long before Al Gore invented the Internet!

In this astounding age of knowledge explosion, pretty much anyone can get free a WordPress or Tumblr account, come up with a fetching name, and call themselves a “news source.” There are torrents of information out there. It was awareness of that deluge that prompted Mitch Kapor to famously say, “getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.”

The 24-hour internet news cycle gives us instant access to news all over the globe. We can find news produced by non-traditional sources such as Internet news agencies that represent minority perspectives.

We can zip over to Google translate and get the general gist of news written in any language from any country.

We can even find news produced by citizen journalists.

With all these choices, come new challenges. With news from distinct perspectives so easily accessible, how do we ensure that the news we find is not just telling us what we want to hear?

How do we achieve balance in the contemporary news environment?

How do you know if an article is telling the full story?

Even for well-established, vetted, mainstream sources, biases, mistakes, and agendas are the rule, rather than the exception.

So, today, let’s discuss how to evaluate and select news sources, especially in this internet age.

Information and knowledge are powerful tools. Wielding them properly is a heavy responsibility, especially for those writing news. We can do great good with these tools. Or, we can cause great damage and present stumbling blocks if improperly used. Even truth, if presented in the wrong way or wrong time can be damaging.

Follow the Money

In evaluating news sources, the “follow the money rule” is always helpful. Where do the funds to produce the news for that source come from? Knowing that can tell you a lot about the perspective which underlies the news stories. Will a media outlet owned by Disney (such as ABC) do an objective story about the Disney company or its products? Maybe, but it’s unlikely. ABC generally avoids all real criticism of Disney and its products because Disney funds them.

Finding out who owns or funds a certain publication can take some digging, but it can help you understand a publication’s slant, and help you to be on guard for its biases.

The very choice of what to focus on in news stories, and which stories to stay quiet about, reveals the bias of the producer. … Think about the American Mainstream media’s coverage of the “Fast and Furious” story. The Solyndra story. The Benghazi embarrassment. The U.S.’s mainstream liberal media very often will systematically suppress news stories that could injure the ruling administration. The reason why goes back to their funding.

The area where the question of money is perhaps most pertinent for us is with State-owned or state-funded news sources.


Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.40.41 PMState media or state-owned media is media for mass communication, which is ultimately controlled and/or funded by a certain country. These news outlets may be the only media outlet in the country, as is the case in North Korea, Burma, and Laos. Or they may exist in competition with privately controlled media, as is the case in China, Iran, Russia, Qatar, etc.

The CONTENT produced by state-owned media is usually quite prescriptive—telling the audience what to think—especially since it’s under no pressure to attract high ratings or generate advertising revenue (the way a private company would be).

Within countries that have high levels of government interference in the media (North Korea, Iran, China, Russia), the state press is often used for propaganda purposes:

  • To promote the ruling government in a favorable light,
  • To act as a mouthpiece to advocate a regime’s ideology.
  • To vilify opposition to the government (whether that’s domestic opposition, or opposition from other countries).

Generally, state ownership of the media is found in poor, autocratic non-democratic countries with highly interventionist governments. And these governments usually have some interest in controlling the flow of information.

If a State-owned news agency —like RT (Russia Today), Xinhua or Fars —is announcing something on behalf of the Russian, Chinese, or Iranian government, there would be little question of the credibility. But the important thing is to remember that the rulers of those nations are always pulling the strings behind the scenes for these publications. I still use these sources from time to time, but if I take a fact from one of them, I try to always s write “from the state-owned new site RT” or something like that – as a flag to readers to take anything they say with a grain of salt.

The coverage for state-owned sites can be accurate, but you also have to look at what they do not report on. These publications are generally heavily censored, so you won’t find, for example, any anti-China stories on Xinhua, or any anti-Iran articles on Fars.


One of Putin’s former advisers called RT “the best Russian propaganda machine targeted at the outside world.” The Guardian described one of RT’s campaigns as an “ambitious attempt to create a new post-Soviet global propaganda empire.”

Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera claims that it is editorially independent, though much of its funding comes from the Qatar government. In 2010, U.S. Department of State internal communications, released by WikiLeaks, showed that the Qatar government manipulates Al Jazeera coverage to suit political interests. Anyone familiar with their reporting knows that while it is professional and generally credible, it is usually has a pro-Islamic tinge.

Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)— The KCNA published a story a couple of months ago about a unicorn lair that Korean archaeologists found in Pyongyang. This was a red flag to lots of analysts because UNICORNS ARE VERY RARE.

Of course, they actually don’t exists at all.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.41.18 PMThe KCNA is an extreme, (as are most examples from North Korea)…but it demonstrates the dangers of State-owned News agencies.

As the sole news agency of North Korea, KCNA daily reports news for ALL the North Korean news organizations including newspapers, radio and television broadcasts within the country…

It reports only good news about the country, which is intended to delude its people into thinking they live in the only good nation on the planet. And also in order to project a positive image abroad, so there’s never really mention of the oppression and rampant starvation… Only the unicorns, and the wisdom of their supreme leaders. Some of the KCNA’s coverage is legitimate, but stories like this one reveal that it is first and foremost a ludicrous propaganda machine.

When we are using state-owned or state-funded news sources, we have to use them with an extra measure of caution.

Journalistic Integrity

Another thing to consider with privately owned publications (back in the free world) is its degree of journalistic integrity.

There is a three-level continuum of journalistic seriousness, running from up-market sources all the way to sensationalist or “yellow” publications.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.45.56 PM

(1) Yellow journalism is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news, and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. A lot of these are the publications you see in the grocery store checkout line, that have the headlines in 92-point font, talking about celebrities who got fat, or got divorced, or adopted an alien baby… that kind of thing.

I don’t think any of us would be tempted to base an analysis on an article from the National Inquirer or World Weekly News, but there are lots of right-wing conspiracy theorist sources that are every bit as sensationalist, and usually much more difficult to identify as Sensationalist.

These are often deliberately obtuse, appealing to emotions, intentionally controversial, intentionally omitting facts, and acting to obtain attention.

New York Post is a legitimate publication, but it panders. It is sensationalist. It recently stirred up controversy for publishing picture of a man pushed in front of a train, just before he was killed.

(2) Middle-market sources constitute the second level on the continuum. They attempt to cater to readers who want some entertainment but also coverage of important news events.

Examples include the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail and Daily Express. And in the U.S., the New York Daily News, USA Today, and the Chicago Sun-Times.

(3) Upmarket newspapers, the third level, generally cover hard news. These are for people who are fairly serious about the news they consume.


Another consideration for any publication or news source is its political or ideological slant.

Most mainstream media in the Western World leans to the left, toward liberalism. Some lean toward the right, and we have to be mindful of where a given source falls on this continuum.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.46.06 PM


Infowars is an example of a news source that is right-wing, but is all the way on the left of the previous spectrum (sensationalist journalism). There is some good reporting there from time to time, but so much of it is just built on speculation that its credibility is negligible.

The 9/11 Test

One test I use for non-mainstream news sites is to determine whether or not the publishers believe that the 9/11 attack was an inside job by the U.S. government. If they do, then they’re obviously bonkers.

Infowars, which I mentioned above, is an example of a right-wing source that fails the test. But there are lots of radical leftists, like Michael Moore for example, that also fail it.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 2.44.56 PM

It’s a curious theory because it started out on the political left but has broadened into a no-man’s land, where extreme left meets extreme right—fusing radical leftist 1960’s-Countercultural-distrust with the far right don’t-tread-on-me distrust.

The main reason I mention this is because among our readers, we have some conspiracy theorists. A mind that is on the far right can be every bit as delusional as one on the far left. (I once encountered a source saying the moon now orbiting earth is not the original moon, but a replacement moon that NASA built after they accidentally blew up the original moon). It’s a lot of wasted effort, a lot of embarrassing deception, and it can get really sad, once a person delves into these extremes of paranoia.

A poll by Public Policy Polling found that 28% of American voters believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government. 6% think Osama bin Laden is still alive. 21% believe a UFO crashed at Roswell in 1947. 7% of voters think the moon landing was fake.

So, we just have to remember that a fair number of people gravitate to bizarre theories, and when we quote from or link to a certain website, it will be viewed by some readers as an endorsement by our publication of that website. By our actions, we are communicating to some readers that we trust this source and think that they report the news in a relatively honest way.

World Socialist Web Site (WSWS):

One other news source that fails the 9/11 test is World Socialist Website. This is an interesting source because, even though the writers are linked with a bunch of crazy ultra leftists, they’re good at watching and reporting on the rise of Germany.

It is an unashamedly Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyite source, and has a strong socialist bias, but if you need coverage about what they call the “capitalists pigs” of Imperial Germany, then it can be pretty valuable. We just have to anticipate the socialist prism that they view everything through, and not be corrupted by it.

Wikipedia Test

Another test I use sometimes is the Wikipedia Test.

This is mostly helpful with newer publications from African and Middle Eastern nations. Some of these sources are legitimate and very useful, but others are not. I remember there was one article that quoted Russian officials talking about something pretty monumental (I don’t remember what anymore). We were surprised that no other news organizations had picked up on the quote. We tried to get to the bottom of it, and it turned out the newspaper had copied the entire article from a crazy conspiracy theory blog.

So, a simple test to conduct on a news source that you have never heard of before is to go to Wikipedia, and look them up. If they don’t have a Wikipedia entry, then they’re probably a small weird site that cannot be trusted.

If they do have a Wikipedia entry, it certainly doesn’t mean they are trustworthy, but it can probably tell you a bit about who they are in order to understand their biases.

The Google Test

That brings me to a very simple tool we can use when evaluating any somewhat dubious story… and that is the Google Test.

I quoted the wise Solomon above, and here’s another bit of wisdom he authored: “In a multitude of counsel, there is safety.”

If a story or a source looks doubtful, do a quick search to see who else has written about it. If you can gather independently obtained material from multiple reliable sources, then you’ve got a story. And it’s good whenever possible to cite these sources to make our articles more powerful.

If only one source has written about a news event, maybe it’s just a brand new development, but approach it with care. use Twitter to see who else is discussing it. Consult with the Fact Checkers if you’d like help ascertaining the veracity, and we will be happy to help.

The Google test will help you see if an article is credible, and it will also help you to buttress your article with more authoritative and credible voices.

But for some stories, a multitude of sources will not be available… That brings me to….


German-Foreign-Policy,com is an incredibly useful site. It’s so mysterious—enshrouded in a cloak of secrecy. It is inherently leftist and critical of Germany’s rise… Its mission is to alert the world to the “hegemonial tactics and strategies of the united Germany.”

It really fulfills this mission.

It’s interesting that some of the sites we use are so left-leaning, yet they have a mission similar to the Trumpet…. I take solace in knowing that the Trumpet doesn’t have loyalty to any given side. We know that we are an apolitical or a metapolitical publication. But there’s something also potentially dangerous about groping for whatever meets what we are looking for.

But we don’t have to be afraid about what some might call groping around for what we already know is true… This really gets at the heart of the Trumpet’s unique analysis…


ZeroHedge has a range of economic, market, banking, and political news and opinions. It often publishes very good charts and graphs. It publishes items from multiple sources concerning US, UK, Europe, China, and other areas. Some pieces are too technical for general use, but many of them are very clear and valuable.

We must approach it with caution, though, because of its robust enthusiasm for the Austrian school of economic thought, and for its anti-Israel bias.

World Net Daily

WND: Liberals call it “Conspiracy theorist central,” and usually that’s a fair assessment. We should not use this site in normal circumstances.

World Net Daily sometimes gets mired in verbosity concerning marginal topics that cannot be ‘proven’ to the satisfaction of mainstream readers. (Example: Mr. Obama’s birth records).

Nevertheless, it can be a good starting point, but I don’t think it is wise for us to link to WND or to quote from them because of the conspiratorial nature of the analysis.

One thing to remember, as a side note, is that some conspiracy ‘theories’ are true, or contain elements of truth. But if the target audience does not find the source or the information credible it is of little use. As I mentioned earlier, using, and citing sources with extreme views can undermine the credibility of the publisher and it can create problems for readers. Mr. Armstrong’s advice about the ‘trunk of the tree’ applies to this.


Debka is an Israeli source that has useful articles about Israel, Mideast, Iran, and related issues. They have been known to over-hype’ some issues, and their speculations have been incorrect from time to time. But it is generally a valuable source.

Sources Considered to be more ‘Mainstream’

So, that all deals with assessing the merits and credibility of fringier, more obscure sources. Now, I want to push through to more mainstream sources. Most of these will be on that UPMARKET portion of that first spectrum (and that’s in your handout there, too)

The Christina Science Monitor

Despite its name, the Monitor is not a religious-themed paper, and it does not promote the doctrine of its patron church (Church of Christ, Scientist). It does include one daily religious article, but the rest of the reporting and analysis does not, in my evaluation, have a religious leaning. It is a solid source, and I recommend it.

The Telegraph


The Telegraph is among the finest sources you’ll find for hard news and views from and about the UK, Europe, Middle East and the world. They, like every site, have their own philosophy and editorial viewpoints.

But it is a solid and valuable source. Our editor in chief has singled the Telegraph out as one of his favorite publications to learn news from.


USA Today is comprised mostly of syndicated, generic stories from news agencies. There is very little analysis. It leans toward the middle market. The target audience is people without any deep understanding of news. You could call it the “6 o’Clock News” equivalent of a newspaper. I’d rather read an ideologically bent publication, something with strong ideological leanings like the New York Times… You know that the Times will at least have to withstand the scrutiny of well-educated people.

USA today, by contrast, seems catered to those saying “Hey look, I get a free newspaper with my continental breakfast today! That’s cool! Look here… there’s a squirrel that can water ski in Florida” It’s audience has little concern for what they’re fed.

The USA Today carries plenty of fine stories, but I wouldn’t go there for analysis.

Fox News

Fox News is less “conservative” than it is “republican.” There is a great stigma associated with it among many people. Many who consider themselves moderate or liberal get instantly bristled by it. Beware of the way people recoil away when if we cite it. We should almost always try to balance it out with another source. If we quote it alone, people will assume an ideological slant.

Also, Fox News is made up of about 2/3 Catholic correspondents and producers, although those are American Catholics, (which are sort of disowned by the hardline European ilk of Roman Catholics). But, if we “follow the money,” we still have to be aware of the overarching, pro-Vatican slant.

Financial Times

The Financial Times has a slight slant to the political left, but it is a highly credible source. The focus is mostly on Europe and on Economy. It has some of the best editorial content available on the planet.

New York Times 

Once you filter out the leftist bilge, and just look at the journalistic quality, the NYT is an exceptional news source. The have a whole cast of Pulitzer prize-winning journalists, and the writing is just phenomenal.

If a NYT article is on a subject prone to liberal distortion, such as National Health Care, Gun Control, Abortion, Homosexual “Marriage, then it is generally not a good source to use.

But, if it’s about something like the Syrian crises, where bipartisanship doesn’t really factor in, it’s great. The NYT is a lot like NPR. (National Public Radio)… It has a blatant Leftist agenda, but really clear and sound analysis when it comes to subjects that are not prone to political distortion.

Wall Street Journal

The WSJ leans slightly to the right, but it’s one of the finest Newspapers on the planet. As is the case with the FT and NYT, it is so reputable and so professional that it would never be questioned as a news source by liberals or conservatives… (unlike FOX News (questioned by liberals) or Huffington Post (questioned by conservatives).

One Final Source

Before discussing one final source, I want to remind you of the “FOLLOW THE MONEY” consideration mentioned earlier.

One of the main pitfalls of web-based publications is that—unlike traditional newspapers which need large circulations to operate profitably—websites often serve small audiences, whose members have similar interests and/or attitudes. They can afford to be less balanced in the information they provide. So we need to be careful not to only visit sites that repeat what we already think. (Discussion of confirmation bias).

This is a key way to screen your news: Does this publication have a big economic stake in being credible?

If the publication is discovered to be peddling weird conspiracy theories without backing, do they have much to lose? Consider the Debka file for example. Their audience doesn’t necessarily want hard cold facts as much as they want something that will support their beliefs.

For a source as ideologically biased as the NYT, if they get facts wrong, it is a devastating blow to their credibility. So it means the NYT’s facts are very solid. They know that they are being tyrannically scrutinized by the political right, so they have to be above reproach when it comes to factually credible.


Stratfor is great because —if you FOLLOW THE MONEY—then you see that they have a big economic stake in their predictions coming true. They don’t care about ideology. They are not being funded by any government or company, but just by subscribers who need to know what will happen in the world (for purposes of investment, security, journalism, and so on). So Stratfor wants to be a source that analysts point to as saying they accurately predict the future. That’s where their dollars come from.

They are human, so there are some biases, but their bread and butter is getting facts right, and being a neutral observer. They don’t editorialize. They don’t judge, saying this is good or bad. They just say, in the light of history (and/or geography), this is how things usually happen.

If there is any bias in Stratfor, it is for the importance of geography (which is unlike any other publication I know of).

Our editor in chief has said that Stratfor is the most valuable modern news source Trumpet writers can use…

Spiritual Tools, and the TAKEAWAY

News collection and interpretation can be a little bit like Bible study: “Here a little, there a little. . . . .”   All of the relevant pieces have to be collected and fitted together properly. In Proverbs 18:17, King Solomon said “The first to state his case seems right, until his opponent begins to cross-examine him.”

So, we have to beware the sound of one hand clapping, and make sure we hear both sides.

We have to remember that our thinking is conditioned and colored by our culture and upbringing. We should work to expand our scope, both geographically—so that we see the whole world and the whole universe—and chronologically—so that we see all the way back into pre-history with just the Word and God, and all the way forward into post-prophecy, during that time of endless expansion of God’s government and family. If we strive vigilantly to expand our scope both geographically and chronologically, we will cultivate a global, even a universe vision. That’s what we need for proper Trumpet analysis.


TAKEAWAY: Sources and articles must be evaluated on an individual basis to ensure the accuracy of information is being spread. (And it all has to be viewed prayerfully through lens of prophecy). … If we will do this, can be sure that we are drinking from that gushing fire hydrant of information in a productive way.

I’d like to end with a quote by Benjamin Franklin that I found on the internet, which really demonstrates what we’re up against.


“The greatest thing about the internet is that you can quote something and just totally make up the source.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Area Grandfather Upset that Obama ‘Appointed Loretta Lynn’

November 23, 2014

Grumpy Old Man

BAYOU LA BATRE, AL—Saying it was a “miscarriage of judgment,” and another sign of the country’s wayward direction, local grandfather Vern Owenby confirmed Tuesday that he has been outraged by President Barack Obama’s decision to appoint Loretta Lynch, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, to be the next attorney general of the United States. “I like her music and her records as much as the next guy, but she don’t know jack squat about running a nation,” said the 71-year-old amusement park attendant. “Knowing about country music don’t mean she knows about leading a country,” the visibly frustrated Owenby asserted. “First, we had that Schwarzenegger fella running the show in California, then the wrestler guy up in Minnesota, and now this country-western singer lady,” the septuagenarian said. “To turn this great nation around, we need to keep the entertainers out of politics, and get more serious politicians like Ronnie Reagan back into the important jobs.” Owenby added that he took some consolation in knowing that the new Attorney General would be white, unlike her predecessor Eric Holder.

The Songs of Hong Kong

November 7, 2014


Early on in their protests, the demonstrators of Hong Kong adopted a song from the democratic Western world to be the unofficial anthem of their movement.

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!

When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums

There is a life about to start

When tomorrow comes!

So goes the chorus of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” The song was written more than 30 years ago for Les Misérables, a musical about the revolutionary period of France. The protesters of Hong Kong—mostly young students—made it their anthem because they saw parallels between the students in Les Mis who fought for revolution, and their own struggle.

“‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ describes the exact situation in Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for Occupy Central, the main group behind the demonstrations, said. “Beijing is not listening to the voice of the people and we are trying to get our message out but no one is listening.”

What is that message? The Hong Kong protesters want full democracy for their 2017 election. The election is for Hong Kong’s top civil position of chief executive.

On August 31, China announced that the people of Hong Kong can vote in that election—but only for candidates preapproved by Beijing. This announcement is what triggered the protests, with demonstrators decrying it as “fake” Chinese-style democracy. They demand an unrestricted choice of candidates.

Back in 1997, when the British handed back Hong Kong to China, the Chinese promised Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy” for 50 years. Now residents say that the freedom that distinguishes Hong Kong from the rest of China is rapidly disintegrating.

At their peak, the protests drew tens of thousands to the streets. They congested many of the city’s major traffic arteries, and sparked occasional skirmishes between demonstrators and police, who sometimes used pepper spray, batons and tear gas on the crowds. Some analysts believed the protests could spread into the rest of China, and viewed them as a legitimate threat to China’s ruling Communist Party.

But as the weeks have gone by, the number of protesters has been falling. Both Hong Kong and Beijing have said the students’ demands are impossible. On October 21, Hong Kong officials finally held a round of talks with students, and promised to deliver a report to Beijing about their demands. But no change resulted from the talks, and little is expected even if more discussions are held.

At present, it looks like the struggle of the Hong Kong students may be more accurately described by the lyrics of a different song from the Western world. It was written by Sonny Curtis in 1958, and is called “I Fought the Law”:

I’m breakin’ rocks in the hot sun

I fought the law and the law won

I fought the law and the law won

I needed money ’cause I had none

I fought the law and the law won

I fought the law and the law won

The protests are not yet over, but China’s refusal to make any real concessions, or to even to give the protesters any real recognition affirms that in Hong Kong, Beijing is the law—unyielding and uncompromising. The students of Hong Kong sang the song of angry men, and some are singing it still. But, despite their songs, efforts and struggle, it looks like the law won.


By Jeremiah Jacques (this first appeared on theTrumpet.com)

Remember #BringBackOurGirls?

June 19, 2014

No one ever brought them back, or even tried to.


(A political cartoon by Jeremiah Jacques).

What Putin Wants in Ukraine

June 10, 2014

A political cartoon by Jeremiah Jacques:


Monster Snapping Turtle Caught in Oklahoma

May 14, 2014


EDMOND—Dave Harrell of Edmond, Oklahoma caught an alligator snapping turtle in Lake Eufaula on Sunday that looks like the guy you have to defeat before advancing to the next level of Super Mario Brothers.

Harrell says he was fishing for catfish when he snagged the prehistoric-looking creature. It is believed to weigh over 100 pounds. Harrell and his companion, Audey Clark, snapped some photos of it and then let him go.

For more information, read this, and happy swimming this summer.



This Too Shall Pass

July 24, 2013

What do you think would make you happier in the long term: winning the lottery, or permanently losing use of your legs in an accident? The answer may surprise you.

By Jeremiah Jacques


Many years ago, a young sultan ruled over a tract of territory along the shores of the Red Sea. Each time a burst of prosperity came his way, the sultan’s spirits soared to the loftiest altitudes of pride, extravagance and self-importance. But during times of adversity, he almost always fell to the depths of discouragement. His temper never knew a medium. The sultan was frustrated by complications that entered into his life as a result of the swings in his temperament, but he wasn’t sure how to pinpoint the problem, and much less to remedy it.

One day, news came to this sultan of a ruler in a nearby kingdom who was said to have boundless wisdom: Solomon, king of Israel.

Accounts of Solomon’s bewildering wisdom made the sultan eager to seek his counsel. He traveled to Jerusalem and was granted an audience with the king. He explained his erratic nature and provided Solomon with examples of the wide oscillations in his mood.

Solomon listened.

“Return to me in one month’s time. I’ll be able to help you then.”

The sultan went back to his palace, feeling elated, proud and immortal. After the prescribed duration had passed, he returned to Jerusalem and entered Solomon’s court. The king handed him a small box and told him to open it. Inside was a ring with this Hebrew phrase etched onto its surface: Gam zeh ya’avor, or This too shall pass.

“This proverb will serve as a constant reminder that all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary,” Solomon said. “Wear it, remember it, and live by it.”

Some have attributed the well-known proverb, not to Solomon, but to medieval Persian Sufi poets, early Turkish writers or others. The account of King Solomon and the sultan isn’t recorded in the Holy Bible, but only passed down by Jewish oral tradition, so it isn’t possible to dogmatically say the Israelite king was its author. However, in his book This Too Shall Pass, Avi Solomon points to discoveries of ancient rings and amulets bearing the Hebrew version of the phrase as substantiation of the Jewish claims. Still, some versions of the Jewish account depict Solomon not as authoring the proverb, but as receiving it from another.

Regardless of the phrase’s origins, its wisdom and value are beyond debate. It is not just applicable to the wildly intemperate sultan in the account, but to every person alive. Abraham Lincoln once praised the succinct brilliance of the proverb, saying, “How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction.”

Consolation in the Depths of Affliction

When a person is in the middle of a trial, there is a tendency to think it will last indefinitely. We have a nearly impossible time occupying a certain moment—especially an emotionally difficult moment—and conceiving of a future in which we feel differently than we do at that moment. Yet, every one of us can reflect back on trials that seemed hopelessly dark at one point, but eventually mellowed, softened and brightened up. Time goes on, winter gives way to spring, and as King Solomon definitely said,  “the sun also rises” (Ecclesiastes 1:5, American King James translation).

If we can remember that adversity will pass, we can weather life’s storms in a way that speeds and facilitates our growth.

But what about profoundly traumatizing events? Does the sun also rise on these? Will the “this” pass even when it involves soul-grinding suffering?

In his book Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert says that even in the most extreme trials we generally bounce back. “Rather than being the fragile flowers that a century of psychologists have made us out to be, most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma,” he wrote.

Gilbert cites studies that tracked people who’d suffered the loss of loved ones or had been paralyzed from the waist down in accidents. The researchers discovered that after just one year passes, almost all people—whether they had permanently lost use of their legs or a loved one—return to their baseline pre-loss levels of happiness. “Although more than half the people in the United States will experience a trauma, such as rape, physical assault, or natural disaster in their lifetimes, only a small fraction will ever develop any post-traumatic pathology.”

This doesn’t mean the suffering from all traumas and tribulations always completely dissipates. The scarring from some experiences is deep, and may leave us with long-term vulnerabilities. But in most cases, we are tougher than we think, and we have some say in how long and to what degree we remain injured.

In the first century, some members of the Church in Corinth believed their trials were abnormal and were more than they could stand. The Apostle Paul wrote to them, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not [allow] you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Man has an astonishing capacity for resiliency. In the thick of a trial, we often feel like it’s more than we can bear. But relying on God for help means we can bear and escape it, and build godly character in the process. When suffering comes, we should strive to understand its depth and learn from it. When the time is right, we should let it pass like water flowing over a rock.

Caution: Conquests, Too, Will Pass

As tough as it can be to remember, during the throes of hardship, that it will pass, it’s usually even harder to keep in mind that times of abundance are subject to change.

In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul lists nine character traits that every follower of Christ must strive to embody and display. Among these is temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). Merriam-Webster’s defines temperance as “moderation in action, thought or feeling.”

We can be joyous when conquests come our way. In fact, joy is a godly trait that Paul lists in that same letter. But we should remain grounded in gratitude toward God, and wary of riding an emotional high.

One of the studies that Dr. Gilbert cited in his book tracked happiness levels of people who won the lottery. Unsurprisingly, there’s a big surge in the levels of happiness the winners report in the months just after the fortune befalls them. But the elation is short lived. In fact, after one year passes, the data shows that the lottery winners and the paralyzed people were equally happy with their lives.

People often allow times of prosperity to inflate their egos and fill them with hubris. This stifles growth, and may compel a person to burn interpersonal bridges, or to take the prosperity for granted.

Remaining mindful of the impermanence of prosperous physical circumstances doesn’t mean we should limit our exposure to life, like some kind of monk or stoic. We can drink deeply from the wells of life, but must remember that times of prosperity are not guaranteed to last. That will help us to avoid arrogance and extravagance—and the suffering that comes with them.

This Shall NOT Pass

King Solomon said when a person’s life ends, he “shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15). You might make arrangements for all of the material things you’ve collected to be crammed into your coffin when you die, but it won’t matter. Only one thing will remain after this life ends.

“[T]he spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This verse describes the spirit in man, which is the depository of memory and character. (You can learn more about this spirit from our free booklet What Science Can’t Discover About the Human Mind.) When someone dies, this spirit returns to God, who keeps it “on file” until the time of judgment described in Revelation 20:12-15 and other passages.

The only thing that remains after death is the character a person built during life.

How is that character built? In the way the person responds to all experiences, both high and low, in this life.

If a person built righteous character with God’s help, it will never pass.

The Bible foretells a time when sorrow, pain and even death will pass (e.g. Revelation 21:4; 20:14). The entire surface of the Earth, and all the material things of this physical life, will pass away and be replaced by a “new earth” (Matthew 24:35; Revelation 21:1; Psalm 102:25-26).

Life is experience. It is rife with victories and disappointments, prosperity and trials. We can allow them to shove us all over the emotional spectrum, letting prosperity rush us into extravagance, and allowing adversity to hurry us into grief. Or we can view our experiences with a wider view, remembering that this physical life is so fleeting, and that the only thing that will never pass is godly character. With this truth firmly in mind, we can learn to temper our reactions. We can learn to speed our development of temperance and other traits of godly character. We can learn that this too shall pass.

The Great Guthrie Shipwreck of 2012

May 29, 2012

Laskey, Tonya, Gabrielle & I took my sailboat out on Lake Guthrie yesterday for the craft’s maiden voyage. As a hat tip to the company present, the boat’s name (just for the day) was “The Beautiful Ton-Rielle.”

As you can see from this video, our first launch attempt was a smashing success:

As the boat was capsizing, I heard the bleak words of the Old Testament’s Job groaning bitterly in my head: As for man born of woman, his days are short and fiiiiiiiiilllled with trouble!

In the video you can hear Gabrielle’s deep concern about our maritime misfortunes. The good news is that, after this initial spill, we had an uninterrupted day of blissful, incident-free sailing and fun.

On the way home, to commemorate our adventures and to celebrate our success in having become rugged sailors, we got these tattoos:

Uh-oh, I don't think Firefox spellchecks these captions, and the spelling of Mississippi looks questionable...

“Gin & Tonic,” the yarest wayfaring damsels this side of the Mississippi

In a burst of creative splendor, Laskey fashioned a pipe out of a mushroom and a chopstick.

Sailor Jerry and Lil’ Skip

I didn't know we were smiling for this one.

Gloria, our server from the China Palace, was so impressed with Laskey’s pipe that she agreed to join us for a few pictures.

After dinner, the skies began contorting and darkening —like a yoga master in a tanning bed. The air was surcharged with ionic energy that we could feel tingling on our palms…. This picture renders just a fraction of the vanilla sky’s fey glory:

Vanilla Sky

When we got back to my place, we grabbed a guitar, climbed up onto the roof, and watched the electrical storm scorch the firmaments spectacularly. (I was too busy playing “I Love a Rainy Night” to take any pictures of that).

It was a gooooooooooooooooooood Memorial Day.