In a day and age where technology is becoming more and more of a part of our lives and shaping who we are, how are we as Christians called to respond? How are we to remain faithful to God and how are we to raise our children? Over the next few weeks, I’d like to consider these questions in our reflections.
Over the past few weeks, there have been a few incidents that brought my attention to the role of technology and how it has been shaping people’s lives. The first was a mission trip to New Brunswick. Our team consisted of men between the ages of 17 to 65. We were also ministering to students who were middle school aged. One of the early issues we spoke about was the idea that we are called not just to minister, but to minister incarnationally. This is a term that we used to describe what Jesus did. Jesus put on flesh and blood. He walked the earth. He talked with people. He had conversations. He had meals.
The second event was a conversation I had with several people about how the younger generation seems to be less athletic than generations past. (Note: this is a purely unscientific observation). A college pastor friend commented how it seems as if most of his college students were not as coordinated or as competitive as in the past. Most of his students were gamers- (read: video gamers), and not athletes.
These incidents have made me think a little bit into one of the perhaps unintended effects of modern technology. There is an increasing disconnect between the mind and the body. On one hand, we have a great amount of information at our fingertips. We are perhaps the most connected generation at this point in history. An international call used to cost a great deal of money. Today it requires only a few touches of a screen for so little. It used to cost the price of an airplane ticket to play a game with someone in Asia. Now it simply requires an Internet connection.
What has resulted is an ease of access to entertainment and communication. But it has raised the cost of personal embodied interaction. To use an example from baseball, it’s one thing to push a button to hit a virtual ball with a virtual bat. It’s an entirely different experience to see the glare of the sun, deal with the humidity and heat in the air and make your body’s muscles contract as you feel the vibration of the bat hitting the ball. It takes repeated practice to make your body respond to a situation.
What does this have to do with our spiritual lives? The issue at hand is that we can disconnect our spiritual experience from our body. It’s one thing to have access to millions of worship songs and sermons online. It’s a different experience to sit in a sanctuary and sing with brothers and sisters and hear God’s word delivered to you in person.
It’s one thing seeing a movie and watching a character change and mature within two hours. It’s an entirely different thing to walk with someone spiritually as they wrestle with issues in their lives for years. If you watch a movie, you can fast forward to the scenes that you like. If you sit with a person who is wrestling with sin and their trust in the Lord, it takes hours, even years of praying, having conversations, pleading before something happens.
It’s one thing to watch an inspiring movie of how a person gave their life for Jesus from the comfort of an air-conditioned room. It’s an entirely different thing for a person to feel the physical experience of exhaustion as they try to share the gospel.
In other words, there is no replacement, no short cut, and no fast forward button in the path of following Jesus. This is not to say that videos and easy access to these things are bad. They are tools for us to see the potential of what a future looks like. But there is no replacement for the real thing. Wisdom is not the same thing as information.
What does this mean for us? It means that we must reevaluate what we think is spiritual growth. The Christian life is not a simple inspiring video of a testimony. The Christian life is not an inspiring melody of a worship song. The Christian life is a life where you are united with Christ in every area of your life. We must be aware of the short cut mindset that technology often ingrains in us. Pain and difficulty are the ways that God refines us. The comfort from entertainment is not the same as the comfort from God. To the older members of our church, we must remind the younger people that they have bodies too. Let us model to the younger members the long-term process of refinement. If we struggle with addictions to phones or entertainment let us repent and turn back to Christ for our hope. To the younger members of our church, seek to grow. Be embodied in the here and now. God is speaking to you through the things going on in your life right now. Don’t miss it.
The Gospel teaches us that God came in the flesh. Jesus actually grew in wisdom and obedience (see Luke 2:40 and Hebrews 5:8). Jesus walked on the earth. He felt physical exhaustion. He knew what it was like to be hungry and thirsty. God physically bled and experienced death on a cross. But this wasn’t just an example for us to follow. He did it to rescue us. Christ came to rescue us from our foolish actions and our rebellion against Him. He came to make us more fully human. This is the declared message of the gospel. Let us grow more and more in believing it.