English service - February 19, 2023
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
We have been learning recently in English worship what the Bible’s God teaches us about building strong, relationally healthy families. Last month, we focused on parent-child relationships. Today I want to look with you at a part of life today that impacts our families powerfully but also practically every area—technology. Let’s see what we can learn together.
From the God of the Bible, we learn that inside the family is where we are placed to experience the very best of life. Home is not just a place for us to go after work, school, or whatever to refuel and charge back into “the real world” the next day. God designed the family to be the primary place for us to be known, loved, and supported in the continuing work of growing as human beings. As Andy Crouch writes in his book, The Tech-Wise Family, (p. 38), “Family is for the forming of persons.”
So when we look at the way technology is impacting our lives today, we need to keep our eyes on how it influences our continuing formation into healthy, thriving human beings. It seems that many comments we hear about tech are either very positive or very negative. “Can’t imagine my life without my smartphone. Love it and can’t wait for the next upgrade!” Or “I wish none of this had every been invented. It’s the work of the Devil and is leading society over a cliff!”
But when we look at the Bible carefully, I think we get a less black-and-white—and more interesting—picture. God does not say that technology is either bad or even neutral. It is made possible by His “very good” creation (v. 31). But tech does come with a cost. Like the other really good parts of life, it can easily be misused. When that happens, it can do more damage than good. So part of our calling as Christians is to use technology—like every other thing we have—for the glory of God. That means, for one thing, using tech in ways God is happy with. Let’s go back to the text and see a little more what that means. In v. 27, we read, “So God created man in his own likeness. He created him in the likeness of God. He created them as male and female.” People are made in God’s likeness, or as some translations have it, “in His image.”
Andy Crouch explains (pp. 47-48):
Technology is the latest . . . example of the fruit our image bearing was meant to produce.
But technology is only very good if it can help us become the persons we were meant to be. . . .
Without a doubt, compared to human beings just one century ago, we are more globally connected, better informed about many aspects of the world, in certain respects more productive, and—thanks to GPS and Google Maps—certainly less lost. But are we more patient, kind, forgiving, fearless, committed, creative than they were?
. . . In countless ways our lives are easier than our grandparents’. But in what really matters—for example, wisdom and courage—it seems very hard to argue that our lives are overall better. . . . But this is exactly what we would expect if the things that really matter in becoming a person have nothing to do with how easy our life is—and if they have a great deal to do with how we handle the difficulty that comes our way.
We all use technology daily and have little choice to simply set it aside and live without it. But, as Crouch says (p. 12), “. . . If we don’t learn to put technology . . . in its proper place, we will miss out on many of the best parts of life in a family.” We can think we have our devices and then discover that they have us. We may have bought them thinking they would connect us to people but then realized that they are a big part of why we feel separated and lonely.
As we keep reading, we learn more of what it means for us as humans to live as people created “in God’s image.” Verse 28 says:
God blessed them. He said to them, “Have children and increase your numbers. Fill the earth and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the waters and the birds of the air. Rule over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Part of living as people made in the image of God is to be creative, as He is. He demonstrates His character spectacularly in creating the entire world. God also calls people to create—to form culture. Part of this is making things of beauty.
We see examples throughout the Bible of people using tools (“tech”) in creative ways. When we get to the story of Moses, we read about a man named Bezalel. He is chosen to use his skills to craft materials into instruments for worship and lead others in doing the same (Exodus 31:3 and 35:10,25). These are high-tech products of this age, which show the creativity God has given His people.
I recently heard about a man from Nagano Prefecture named Mr. Horiuchi. After retiring, he wanted to learn to paint pictures. So he taught himself how to produce pictures using not paints and brushes or even computer graphics software. He used what he already had--Microsoft Excel. It may sound strange to use software designed for things like spreadsheets in order to paint pictures, but look at what Mr. Horiuchi created. Pretty good, don’t you think? He’s an example of the creative spirit in the heart of human beings all over the world because we were all made by the God who loves to create.
Being made in the likeness, or image, of God also means having the capacity to make things that work. In v. 28 of today’s reading, the Lord tells the first person, about nature, “bring it under your control.” It doesn’t mean we can just use nature in any way we want, for example destroying it so we can make a pile of money. In fact, if we are going to keep nature under our control, we have to learn to use it in sustainable ways. Inventing things that work is necessary for us to follow the command to bring the earth under our control. In order to do that, we need to use tools, including technology.
What kinds of things does God want people to make who were created in His likeness and bear that likeness today? Well, not surprisingly, good things. God in His essence and nature is good, so it is fitting that we read in 1:31a, “God saw everything he had made. And it was very good.” That includes electrons and all the materials we use to make things like the computer, projector, and camera that are helping live stream this worship service. In Ephesians 2:10, we read how we as God’s handiwork are designed and intended to honor and glorify Him. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (New International Version). Those good works include making technology to use in good ways for things pleasing and honoring to God.
We have already seen the example of creating instruments used in worship. An instrument like this has value far beyond a device that simply makes a task easier and more convenient. I heard someone introduce a straw that can filter water to a very high level of purity. Giving that to someone who lives in a country without the blessing of clean water is a wonderful way that people are using the creative spirit God has given in tech-oriented ways that please Him greatly.
God Himself gives us an example of inventing a product that meets very practical and more spiritual needs. In Genesis 3, after the first two people eat the forbidden fruit and begin to feel ashamed of being naked, God invents the first clothes of animal skins for them to help them cover themselves. Animals have to be killed, and their blood shed, to make this possible, it seems. Many Bible scholars see here God setting up the system of animal sacrifices used especially in the Old Testament. But this also appears to be a way of pointing ahead to the sacrifice which Christ will make on the cross. He sheds His blood and gives His life as a sacrifice which covers the sin of human beings. In this early version of the gospel, we see God using goods He has made to bring salvation, life, to people who are willing to receive it. That message and offer are still there for us today.
These are some good examples of using tech to glorify God. But we know that today technology is often used in ways that make living for God more difficult or actively lead us away from Him. We can end up worshiping tech in place of God. In the Bible we see people using the high-tech goods of Genesis 11 days, bricks and mortar, to build the Tower of Babel. They do not want to honor God but apparently are trying to reach heaven on their own efforts rather than obeying what He tells them to do. Later, after leaving Egypt, some of God’s people use their skills at using tools, as we heard about earlier, but this time it is to make a golden calf to worship.
So how can we use technology in the creative and constructive ways that please God and show His goodness? Here are some questions that Andy Crouch suggests, which can help guide us in answering that question.
Are we using this technology in ways that. . .
A. bring people together or separate us?
Technology is in its proper place when it helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance, like celebrities, whom we will never meet.
Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations. It’s out of its proper place when it prevents us from talking and listening to one another. (pp. 14-15)
B. make us wiser or more foolish?
C. build in us character and virtues, such as courage, or leave us as unformed, undeveloped human beings?
D. help us do productive work or just lead to more toil? The work of culture-building (Genesis 1:28) was given to humans before sin entered the world. Only after that was the curse of having to “toil” (Genesis 3:17) for a living given.
E. lead to greater health or damage it?
F. help us appreciate the natural world, which we are a part of and responsible for using sustainably, or make it more difficult to connect with nature?
G. lead us to actively create things or passively consume things?
H. make us better people, or just make our lives easier?
I. lead us closer to God, or make it more difficult to know Him?
Before closing, I would like to give a list of very practical thoughts that Andy Crouch presents as ways his family handles the challenges of technology in their life together. Case by case, these may be things that we also can do to use technology in ways that reflect the image of God and lead us to grow in relationship with Him and others. He says:
A. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement. We choose not to have a TV until children reach age 10. We do keep musical instruments in the living room and tables for crafts and board games. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship. I choose to sit in a place where I cannot see a screen—especially when there is a person with me who deserves my full attention.
B. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
C. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone. Spouses have each other’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
D. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together. These habits of Sabbath, or sabbatical rest, act as a protection from addiction.
E. We eat home-cooked meals, often by candlelight.
F. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our (most significant) moments. We hope to die in one another’s arms.
Now, with these thoughts in mind, as we look for ways that we feel God is leading us to apply them to our own lives, let’s pray.
Creating, sustaining, loving God, help us to make growing in wisdom and character the goals that our family members work toward together. Help us to love friendship and conversation, especially with you, more than we love distraction and entertainment. Help us to use with creativity and care the gifts of imagination, ability, and opportunity, which you in your goodness have placed in our hands. In these ways, help us to be pleasing to you and so live for your glory. In Christ’s name, amen.
Crouch, A. (2017). The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting
Technology in Its Proper Place. Baker Books.
Great big story. 2018. The Michelangelo of Microsoft Excel. Retrieved February 9, 2023 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrwBc6PwAcY
Romig, J. (July 12, 2020). “A Theology of Technology: Does God Like My Smartphone?” Ockenga Culture Series. Cornerstone’s Congregational Church. Westford, Massachusetts. Retrieved February 9, 2023 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk_n34xGhBI