On a dark and stormy night in 1938, millions of Americans huddled around their radios, listening to a broadcast that would forever change the way we think about truth and the power of storytelling.
The program was called “The War of the Worlds,” and it was a fictional drama about a Martian invasion of Earth.
But for some listeners who tuned in late and missed the introduction, the show was all too real.
As the program progressed, panic and hysteria spread across the nation, with many people believing that the United States was actually under attack. People fled their homes, packed their belongings, and begged for salvation.
The illusion of truth had taken hold, and even though the broadcast was a work of fiction, listeners were convinced that it was real.
The War of the Worlds radio broadcast was a landmark moment in the history of media and psychology. It demonstrated the power of storytelling to shape our beliefs and perceptions, and it highlighted the dangers of the illusion of truth effect.
The broadcast sparked a national conversation about the responsibilities of media outlets and the importance of critical thinking, and it remains a cautionary tale to this day.
First identified by Villanova University in a 1977 study, the illusion of truth effect is what happens when people hear false information enough that they begin to believe it. Unfortunately, 2 Chronicles 7:14 has suffered this fate in America as people repeatedly quote and teach the passage without its original context.
What then is an appropriate application of 2 Chronicles 7:14 for Christians in today’s world?
The Original Audience
God promised to bless Israel if they loved and obeyed him in several places in the Old Testament. One of the most well-known passages is Deuteronomy 28, where Moses lists both blessings and curses that would come upon Israel depending on whether they obeyed or disobeyed God’s commands.
Here are some specific verses from Deuteronomy 28 that talk about God’s promise to bless Israel:
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God.
“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2,7-9).
Other passages in the Old Testament that talk about God’s promise to bless Israel include Leviticus 26:3-13 and Psalm 81:10-16.
These promises were given specifically to the nation of Israel, as part of God’s covenant with them.
While Christians are certainly referred to as God’s people in the New Testament, we are not a nation in the same way that Israel was. The promises and blessings that God gave to Israel were specifically tailored to their unique situation and history.
Furthermore, the blessings and curses that God promised to Israel in these passages were tied to specific physical blessings and hardships that would come upon them in the Promised Land. While God indeed blesses and provides for his people today, it would be inappropriate to apply these promises to Christians in America (or any other country) in a literal, physical sense.
Christians, on the other hand, are also called to love and obey God, but our salvation and standing before God are not based on our ability to keep the Law or earn blessings through obedience.
The New Testament emphasizes that our salvation and relationship with God are based on faith in Jesus Christ, rather than obedience to the Mosaic Law or the specific promises given to Israel.
When interpreting Scripture, it is important to distinguish between the cultural and historical context of a passage and its universal principles.
The cultural and historical context refers to the specific circumstances, customs, and beliefs of the original audience for whom the passage was written. This context is important because it helps us understand the intended meaning of the passage within its historical and cultural setting.
However, universal principles are those principles in any passage of Scripture that can apply to both the original audience and all Christians of all time, even if their immediate situations are different and require different forms of personal application. These universal principles are timeless truths that transcend cultural and historical contexts and are relevant to all believers of all ages.
For example, in Genesis 2:16-17, God tells Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Does this mean that if anyone eats of that specific tree today, they will die, and those of us who don’t eat of the tree will not die? Does it mean that if I find a beautiful garden with a fruit tree in the middle, I will sin if I eat its fruit?
Of course not! Most people would not seriously interpret those verses in that way. But we derive universal principles from that passage that are applicable to us today. First, we recognize that God has given each of us a free will to choose good or evil. Second, we know that sin results in death, so we should strive to do what is good and right.
Interpreting Scripture requires careful attention to the cultural and historical context of a passage as well as an intention to search for universal principles that apply to all believers. This is how we gain a deeper understanding of God’s Word and its relevance to our lives today.
These are the universal principles in 2 Chronicles 7:14 (and its surrounding context):
- God answers prayer
- God keeps his promises
- God is pleased when people humble themselves, pray, turn from sin, and seek him
- God has unique plans and purposes for his people Israel
How should we respond to this passage of Scripture? Here are a few ideas:
- We should praise God because he answers prayer and keeps his promises
- We should rest in the goodness of God knowing that he never changes and will answer our prayers and keep his promises to us
- We should exemplify humility rather than pride
- We should pray
- We should turn from our sin
- We should seek God
As for the healing of the land? That refers to favourable weather and healthy crops for Israel and their physical land. That promise is not for us in any sense.
Some of the most adamant “literal interpreters” of Scripture will spiritualize this passage every single time.
While the promises of blessing and prosperity given to Israel in the Old Testament are a reminder of God’s faithfulness and love for his people, they cannot be applied directly to Christians in America or any other nation today. Our relationship with God is based on faith in Jesus Christ and not on our nationality or ability to keep the Law.
Therefore, while we still see the importance of obeying God, praying to him, and seeking his face, we should not promote 2 Chronicles 7:14 as a recipe for spiritual healing and nationwide revival.
Doing so merely adds us to the number of countless people who have perpetrated an illusion of truth.