Every society relies on various forms of technology. From customary farm tools, to the universal needle and thread – right down to the plethora of digital applications today. Human society has always had to invent and rely on technology. Scripture even identifies Tubal-Cain, one of Cain’s descendants, as the originator of bronze and iron work (Genesis 4:22).
Modern technology is a complex force with immense capacity to help humans flourish.
In addition to the centuries, our use of technology cuts across different spheres of life. Agriculture, manufacturing, education, home management, business, and a host of others. While technology has grown sophisticated – and digital – over the past few decades, every variant still serves the same basic purpose. This is to apply our knowledge of the physical universe in helping us get something done.
Technology: Good Servant, Bad Master
Modern technology is a complex force with immense capacity to help humans flourish. But what happens when this force engulfs us? The proverbial adage of fire being a good servant but a bad master applies to technology – especially its modern forms. Electronic technologies possess such a power to suck us into a digital realm where we become oblivious to the flesh and blood creatures sitting right next to us. Indeed, we can get so absorbed in Facebook that we forget our neighbour’s name. Or we become so engrossed in email that we neglect to pray.
How can we resist immersion in the virtual world where the only virtues are efficiency and speed?
The real question is this. How can we resist immersion in the virtual world of technology where the only virtues are efficiency and speed? And how can we adopt technology without becoming enslaved to it?
The False Gospel of ‘Technicism’
One of the follies of our modern world is to assume technology can create a paradise on earth. Writing in their classic book The Transforming Vision, Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton identify ‘Technicism’ as an idol of the modern secular world. By this term they mean relying on technology to solve all human problems. Technicism is the confidence that technology will make us ‘omnipotent’ – all-powerful – and even immortal. It also involves the notion that technological development will usher us into a secular paradise. As I discussed in another article, the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther depicts this hope.
Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Technicism denies this and instead affirms that we can renew our fallen world through technological prowess and progress.
One of the follies of our modern world is to assume technology can create a paradise on earth.
How Not To Be Enslaved By Technology
The root problem of our world is the corruption of the human heart. This is the result of our rebellion against God’s rule and authority right after creation (Genesis 2:17; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19). We need God to renew our hearts through his Spirit (John 3:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Technology cannot change human nature; it can only express it. So looking to technological innovation for renewal is a false gospel.
1. Nurture Your Relationship With The Triune God
Walking daily with God will keep us from being enslaved to the false promises of technology. As we nurture a relationship of faith and love through Christ (John 15:4), we place our hearts right where they belong: in the hands of God. Tools are just that: tools. They can only be used to the glory of the God who rules as king over everything. And when we seek God’s kingdom like Jesus asked us to (Matthew 6:33), even digital technology is subjected to that divine administration.
Walking daily with God will keep us from being enslaved to the false promises of technology
2. Remember, God is at the Heart of Everything
A thriving relationship with God will also enable us to preserve a God-orientation in the midst of our daily activities. For these inevitably include the use of technology. So we can make use of technology without becoming controlled by it. We can be conscious of the God who sits within yet transcends the soft and hard edges of our created universe.
He is at the movies and on the street, on assembly lines and beneath the neon lights. The presence of God is limitless
Reflecting on such a stance, the Lutheran pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke observed, “Whether I sit in front of the set or behind the steering wheel, I am in the presence of God. He is not only in pulpits and on altars. His word is not just in sermons and hymns, but it is mixed into the most everyday things. He is at the movies and on the street, on assembly lines and beneath the neon lights. The presence of God is limitless. It is the heart of everything.”
3. Use Technology – It’s a Helpful Tool
Caution must not give way to fear. We are in the world yet not of it. And we need not disdain technology as Satan’s plaything. Over the past few months, in view of global restrictions on physical gatherings, not a few churches have resorted to online services via Facebook and YouTube. Many have conducted meetings over Zoom. Thus, we should embrace digital tools as products of God’s common grace. Remember that God pronounced that original creation good (Genesis 1:31).
We are in the world yet not of it. And we need not disdain technology as Satan’s plaything.
4. Set Wise Boundaries
However, it is wise to set barriers. These will vary from person to person. They might also differ depending on your stage of life. My four-year old son loves using the smartphone. So my wife and I have had to take some precautions. Whenever he is using the smartphone we restrict the amount of time and disable the internet connection.
Go off social media and stop using particular apps, for instance, when studying for an exam. Turn to God first every morning rather than your Facebook and Twitter timelines. Maybe avoid Instagram on Sundays, or for certain hours in the day, so that you can spend quality time with God and family. Does sleeping in the same room as your phone encourage over-dependence on it? Consider keeping it off and away while you sleep.
Could the mounted screen be keeping us from meaningful conversations with our spouses and children?
You may want to set specific times when you limit certain apps on your phone. Job made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman (Job 31:1). We need to adapt that in avoiding certain sites likely to trigger lust, greed, envy and hate. How about avoiding violent video games or sensual music?
Perhaps we are even addicted to older technologies like our Plasma TVs or SUVs. Could the mounted screen be keeping us from meaningful conversations with our spouses and children? Is the car-induced sedentary lifestyle we have adopted making us susceptible to a host of lifestyle ailments?
Steward Technology, Worship God
A life of holiness compels us to bring everything, including technology, to God’s altar and under his lordship. As Thielicke again reminds us about television, “Does my craving for it seduce me into giving myself without restraint to this wonder of technical ability? Is every thought, all peace of mind, every idea, thus to be sacrificed? Or do I maintain control over myself? Even this quite everyday relationship to television has to do with my obedience to God. Do I utilise technology in his name or do I play fast and loose with his gifts?”
The wise use of technology is not merely a matter of prudence or efficiency. It is about stewardship and worship
Thus the wise use of technology is not merely a matter of prudence or efficiency. It is about stewardship and worship. As stewards, we are accountable to God for our time, energy and money (1 Peter 4:11). And as worshippers, we owe our devotion and reverence not to the latest invention from Silicon Valley, but to Christ who is Lord of all.
Technology will not remake our world. It is a part of the good but fallen creation. Hence it is vain to pin our hopes on it. Instead we must look to the God who allows us to develop technology – and much else beside it – and hope in his final redemption through Jesus Christ.