Consider this: Seventy percent of the medicines in use today were developed after World War II. “What we know” is doubling every ten years, and printed materials doubles every 15 years. Additionally, more than 80% of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive today! We live in an age of rapid and often wonderful expansion! And most of this is due to technology.
Far from being a simple term to define “the tech” world, technology is any application of reason, skill and knowledge for a practical purpose. It’s the iPhone, but it’s also the shingles on our house, the bike that gets us to class, and the shoes which shield our feet. Technology is the advancement and application of how we understand ourselves, our surroundings, and our world.
The Archaeology of Technology in Scripture
Technology is carving new boundaries on earth, but it is also exposing hidden terrain in our own heart. The important and ever advancing challenge for the believer is how we use and understand technology in relation to God’s original intent and redemptive purposes. God created man to be inventive, it’s part of the Imago Dei woven into our own DNA. When Adam was tasked to expand the garden God didn’t have to provide a Home Depot DIY class, Adam just figured it out. God’s original intent in giving us creative and inventive minds was that we would use them to expand God’s rule, glory and praise as man expanded the garden. Technology was meant to be created and used in God’s perfect and immediate presence for the direct purpose of benefiting mankind and honoring God.
But in Genesis 3 everything changed. Our hearts malfunctioned. The presence of God was complicated and removed. Our ability to relate peacefully and function corporately was severely damaged. Yet our creative minds still functioned. This means that we live in an moment of tension: having the ability to invent, but lacking the guardrails of God’s immediate presence and sinless hearts. Because of this we need to be aware of ways in which technology is quietly subverting us from God’s redemptive plans.
We live in a world where technological advancements have brought the gospel of Jesus to new frontiers (both digitally and physically!). However we cannot assume that since we have figured out how to use tech well, we have figured out how to use it safely.
In Genesis 3 we see the fall of man. It’s only a paragraph later in Genesis 4 we see man using his hands not to create and glorify, but to hate and kill (Genesis 4:8). Fast forward a couple chapters to Genesis 11 and we see this new technology of bricks aiding the construction of a tower. This Tower of Babel was a direct attempt by the people to usurp God and overthrow any perceived authority he may have had over man. So God scattered them, and confused their language in order to protect technology from the unified corruption of sin. What Babel modeled is really a landmark for how we understand technology. Technology, though intended as a gift from God, is distorted by sin to fight against the will of God and the curse of the fall. It broadly attempts to un-limit what God limited. In subtle ways it tries to remove the barriers of the fall, and in so doing seeks to make finite man into an infinite god (at least in a quasi-acceptable manner).
In thinking on this I have noticed two major ways in which, even Christians, have fallen prey to technological vice. There are two areas in life which have been, and are being permanently rewired by technology in a way which is contrary to what God ultimately intended for his people.
The Removal of Daily Rhythms and Constraints
Societies prior to the Scientific Revolution are often called “enchanted” societies (more on this). This means that in regards to events which happen beyond our perception, society used to assume some sort of divine or supernatural intervention. Post Scientific-Revolution, what was once unobservable became observable. This meant that we were able to see the physical and scientific backdrop of God’s grand design in the universe. But this understanding didn’t lead us back to God in amazement, instead this knowledge blinded us to God’s working as we “explained away” any need for divine intervention in our world.
The sun doesn’t “rise” in the sky, instead we rotate around it. It’s science. However we must not forget that God created the day. Psalm 104 says that God, “made the moon to mark the seasons, the sun knows its time for setting” (vs. 19), and “when the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening” (vs. 24-23). God causes the sun to rise and to set, and this is actually part of the limitation of man: man works until the sun goes away, and then it’s too dark.
Think of modern man in contrast to men in previous centuries. How many times have you worried about doing your homework after dusk because you wouldn’t be able to see? How many times have you panicked on your way to work because it was too dark for you to find your way? For modern man, the existence of light is less a theological revelation and more a mindless act fulfilled by your local energy co-op. Yet God created the rhythms of our earth to limit us, and to cause us to remember that it is he who brings the sun to us each and every day (Matt. 5:45).
The German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of technology as the tool man uses to fight the day. He says, “The day in its creatureliness and wonder is wholly lost to us. We have withdrawn from its power. We no longer allow ourselves to be determined by it. We count up the days and tick them off. We do not accept the day as a gift; we do not live it. Today we do so less than ever, for technology wars against the day.”
We do not wake with sun in our eyes praising the God whose mercies are new every morning, because light has become a byproduct and an entitlement of the modern era. We have flashlights on our key chains and smart phones, why should we be amazed at the morning’s light?
Moreover, how many times do we use neglect God’s darkness of rest and lump work, connectivity, and social interaction into a 24/7 barrage in our own life? It’s easy for me to justify mid-meal emails at home because our connected culture has come to expect immediate responses. We are always connected on our phones to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…etc. We don’t have a set aside time to “log-on.” This means that for most people (myself included) the first action of the morning is to roll over and check your notifications. This subtly begins to orient our heart away from God’s design. It trains us that what is most important to the start of our day is not what is going on in our own hearts, but what is going on in the world around us.
The Removal of the “Unchosenness” of Daily Living
Author Alastair Roberts used the phrase “unchosenness” in describing one of the great realities that technology disrupts in our own life. Real life affords an “unchosenness” which technology can often pervert. Online we can choose who we follow, who follows us, what content we see, and what voices we hear. We have so little opportunities to hear alternate views, and even less to encounter real conflict. The problem this brings is that we can quickly become disheartened by the effort of true community when it takes more effort and time than our digital counterpart. In the real world, and in the church, we are an eclectic and multi-ethnic group who learns, grows and groans together.
One major side effect of this, one I have noted frequently among college students, is that we are frustrated at the amount of work and emotion it takes to make real friends. One author provides a revealing quote saying, “As John Ortberg writes, ‘We try to create first-century community on a twenty-first-century timetable—and it doesn’t work. Maybe the biggest single barrier to deep connectedness for most of us is simply the pace of our lives.’ Similarly, Calvin Miller says, ‘Hurried Christians beget hurried disciples. Hurried disciples become a hurried church—a hassled fellowship of disciples who serve the clock and call it God.’”
Consequently this is also slipping into the cracks of God’s faithful church. Digital church is pristine and clean. Bonhoeffer speaks on this issue when he describes the problem with a Christian “wish dream”: “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.”
Real life is not as sterile as digital life. If we constantly or even predominantly find our discourse, conversation and information via a digital medium we are training our brain to function in a mutant fantasy reality. We lack opportunities for gracious and evangelistic dialogue.
Few of us will actually admit an addiction to technology. But often this is because we have found ways to baptize our selfish reliance as good and pure. How many of us can look at the areas of our schedule and our communities and say that both areas have been untainted by any aspect of technology? All technology has the potential to both distract and dismantle God’s original goal, or it can resubmit and literally “re-technologize” its utility in a Christian context. My next post will deal with a couple ways in which the gospel seeks to reconcile technology (more specifically those who use it) back into God’s great design for our creativity.
A special thanks to the work of Tony Reinke for assembling much of the material used for this post.