When I first had the idea to write an article series on technology and faith, the world was in a very different place. Things have changed very quickly for all of us, and technology has become more central to our lives than ever before. To respect social distancing, many of us have used digital media to stay connected, order groceries, and buy essentials from Amazon or other e-markets. Small businesses have had to close their doors or embrace the digital market model, and Zoom has become the standard online learning platform for colleges and universities. Our economies will likely be transformed in no small way, with many seeming to have adjusted to this ‘new normal’ of life online.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that the systems and tools that brought peace and prosperity to the West are fragile. Despite all of our advancements, we have been humbled by the spread of a tiny viral cell. Societal inequities have also become transparent during this season, with minorities and the poor being hit hardest by the limitations imposed on our lives. We will all find ourselves asking tough questions. Why did God allow these things to happen? Why is there so much injustice and suffering coming to light? How do we respond? Our faith in Christ is being tested in some deep ways. I do not have an answer, either; after all, his ways are not our ways. However, I do think God wants to remind us to put our faith in him, and not in the promise of technological and systemic solutions.
Masters Over Nature?
This is where the Judeo-Christian faith connects with Heidegger’s philosophy of technology. While we can certainly serve God with our technology and ingenuity, the Kingdom is not something we can bring about exclusively via executive function or efficient systems. Technology captivatingly promises to make life better, and convinces us that we have the power to technologize our way to salvation. Spiritual affliction becomes just another malady to cure, a problem to solve, rather than a reason to turn to Christ for our healing. We forget that we need God.
The last article addressed the ‘technological gospel,’ the idea that our technology makes us masters over nature, even our own nature. The power of technology to manipulate reality like this gives us the illusion that we are in control. However, Scripture does not leave room for this perspective. The story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11 shows us that technological innovation may not lead to true human flourishing God intended. When God saw that human beings were scheming to build a tower to the heavens, he confused their language to prevent them from accomplishing their project. In Genesis 11:6-9, when God says, “If, as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” God is not afraid that human beings will supplant him. He knew it would be disastrous for the people of Babel to accomplish their goal because they would be able to accomplish anything their unbridled hearts wanted. This would not be true human flourishing. To stop them, God creates a division between them.
The Heavenly Reality
This story may be a strange one to modern ears, even offensive. However, it was not part of God’s original created order to divide human beings by nations and tongues, but this act of separation prevented the swift self-destruction of the human race. It also shows us that there is an impulse underlying technology to shape reality according to our liking, which stems from a deeper spiritual condition of pride. However, the glory of human kingdoms cannot rival the heavenly reality of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 tells us what the kingdom of God is, and how disciples of this kingdom should live. Jesus is not merely preaching a new morality. He is talking about the coming of God’s kingdom through his arrival in history. He will be Lord, and all things will be under his feet. It is not a human empire, but a heavenly reality that is transforming everything. Worldly systems will be flipped upside down. It will not conform to our expectations. He concludes this sermon with this parable:
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).
Habakkuk 2:18-20 reads,
“Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”
The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
These verses contain a clear message about the idolatry of technology. When the things we create become our Alpha and Omega, they are an idol, hard stop. We become like the things we desire and worship. Jesus knew this, and so he told his disciples, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Likewise, John 15:6 reads, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:6, emphasis added).
The Times They Are-Changin’
Maybe it would help to put on the prophetic Bob Dylan track ‘The Times They Are-Changin‘ and sit back while he exhorts us to take stock of our cultural moment, and step into the thick of the story that is unfolding around us. We are in a time of tumultuous change that continues to demonstrate the inadequacy of human efforts to ‘solve’ the problem. Human hearts are weak in love and care for each other and the world, and our systemic, technological solutions reflect this heart problem. Jesus calls people to live in radical submission to his Lordship, with our habits and desires conforming to his will for humanity. Our lives as Christians are to take shape in service of a greater, deeper, truer vision than any human technology or system can achieve alone. That vision is the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced to us with his coming. And that is why we pray as he prayed,
Our Father, who art in heaven
Your name is Holy
Would your kingdom come
And your will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us
Lead us through times of trial,
Deliver us from evil
For yours is the kingdom, the power,
and the glory.
Cover Photo: Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel