Wednesday, 11 December 2013 16:19

Unplugged Sunday

Written by  Rev. Ho Ming Tsui
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Technology & Faith

What is the intersection between ‘being plugged in’ (i.e., the use of technology) and our faith?

To answer this question, we should first acknowledge that technology can be a good thing — a gift given by God for our use. Technology should make our lives better; it should serve us well. But like anything else, technology can be harmful and even destructive to our lives if it becomes more than what it’s meant to be. In the Bible, when something becomes more than what it is, it becomes an idol.

What is an idol? How does someone/something become one in our lives?


Exodus provides a few clues: “You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold…” (20:23)

“You shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them...”(20:5)

* It says that we make idols. Idolatry is directed at manufactured objects (as opposed to the living God of the Bible), and thus anything can be made an idol.?

* Next it teaches us that we bow down to idols. Idolatry involves making symbolic gestures that honour the thing they are directed at.

* Third, we serve idols. Idolatry is like serving someone — it is a master, a king to you.

If you apply this definition to technology, we can see that technology can certainly be an idol for us:

(1) It’s man-made, so it qualifies.

(2) We bow down to it. This is more than a posture of the body, it’s a posture of the heart. We bow down to technology when we define ourselves by it; when we find security in what we think it can do for us; when we allow it to dictate what we do with our lives.

(3) We serve it (e.g., we answer every time it vibrates or makes a sound; we spend hours on end focused on the information that it feeds us).

If an extra-terrestrial came to Earth for the purpose of examining human behavior, what do you think it would conclude? It would observe that human beings spend an extraordinary amount of time on, and derive an enormous of pleasure from immersing themselves in glowing entities. There’s the small glowing entity that constantly beckons us. It’s always near us, calling out to us, and feeding us information. It’s the first thing we hold in the morning and the last thing we look at before we sleep. We find ourselves compulsively drawn toward it and immersed in it. Then there’s the medium-sized glowing entity that we serve constantly. We sit in front of it for hours on end. We feel like a slave to it because it keeps us busy and tired. Our backs feel broken after a long day of serving it. And lastly, there is the largest glowing entity (roughly 42” in size) from which we derive pleasure. We gather together in family units and spend hours in a semi-circle in front of it. We often use the word, “escape” to describe it. It’s a source of pleasure (e.g., men brag about how great theirs are) and an emotional outlet (e.g., women laugh, smile or cry in front of it)

Perhaps this is an exaggeration.

Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s not far from the truth. And that is?the scary part. G.K. Beale famously wrote, “We become what we worship.” Technology can be a good thing and do great things in our lives, but it can also occupy a place in our hearts that it doesn’t deserve. That’s when it can be harmful or even destructive. It can leave us much like technology itself: mechanical, robotic, and numb to life.

So what should our relationship with technology be like? I suggest that we don’t start with modifying our behavior. We start with the heart. Take a look at Luke 5:16: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Jesus teaches us 3 crucial lessons here:

(1) Unplugging must be done frequently (“often withdrew”). Jesus was a busy man. He preached, healed, went to parties, visited the sick, etc. His iPhone calendar would be fuller than yours or mine. But Jesus knew where to draw the line. He would often withdraw.

In today’s context, this means unplugging. It means having the courage to leave that phone behind and be in true solitude. I don’t know how that looks for you, but the principle is to do it frequently.

The danger of technology is not simply in the content that it can deliver; the danger also lies in the behavior that is required by its use. Owning a smart phone, for instance, brings expectations that we should never be?alone.

Have we become a people - a church - that has committed itself to distraction? We are so mastered by our constant urge to answer our email; to look at our smartphones every time they buzz; to check the sports scores or stocks or texts, that our ability to think about, to pray, and savour God’s truth has been nullified.

Is withdrawing from technology (or the internet) the solution?

Paul Miller was paid to be offline for one whole year. He abandoned email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and Google Maps for one year and he recorded his experiences. At the beginning of that year, he anticipated that he would be refreshed and recharged, proving that technology was what was destroying the world. And that’s what happened initially, but as time went on, he discovered something: “I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat.”

Mr. Miller thought that real life was to be found offline, but discovered that it’s more complex than that because the lines are NOT so clearly drawn. Of course, there’s value in connecting face-to-face and in being present offline, but much of the Internet is also relational. What he discovered was that he as lonely offline as he had been online. Unplugging alone wasn’t sufficient. Jesus knew this. It’s vital to unplug frequently, but that’s not getting at the heart of the problem.

(2) Unplugging is difficult (“lonely places”). This is not an easy process. Have you ever thought about why it’s so difficult to unplug? To not check that phone constantly? Mark Bittman, writing in the New York Times, describes taking a break from technology for an entire day. He said,“I woke up nervous, eager for my laptop... I was jumpy, twitchy, uneven.” Have you felt this way before? WHY is that?

The answer is found in the words “lonely place” (another translation: “wilderness/desert”). This doesn’t mean we live as hermits, avoiding human contact. It means that at the end of the day, we find our deepest connection in someone else besides other people.

If we unplug, it’s not easy. We long for connection. For community. For belonging. For security. For strength. When we unplug, we’re turning to God for all these things.

Joseph Carter, writer for Evangelical Outpost, made this observation: “After drinking from the fire hose of information, a day without info tech will seem like a year long drought. But by unplugging the god of Technology you might just find something new in the pause—a still small voice sharing the information that truly matters.”

(3) Unplugging means centering our lives around God? (“prayed”). Prayer is centering our lives around God. It’s finding strength, joy, peace, and hope in God. It’s listening to God’s voice and, discerning his will. It’s “plugging into” God’s power and thus, it’s a means by which we can win the spiritual, unseen battle that we all face. Prayer, at its core, is the practice of seeking the presence of God.

Jesus withdrew to a lonely place to seek the presence of God. That’s what it means to unplug. It is a physical act, but more importantly, it is a spiritual act of worship. Centering our lives around God is the most important thing you can ever do. It’s what you were created to do. It’s what you were redeemed to do.

Rev. Dr. Ho Ming Tsui, English Pastor of Richmond Hill Christian Community Church

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 April 2020 11:34

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