Good things make terrible gods. The writer of Ecclesiastes proves such a point as he pursues ultimate meaning in things created under the sun. Pursuing good things such as work, knowledge, relationship, status, money, and pleasure as ultimate things leads the human heart to grieve and ache, crying “Meaningless.”
In the current day, technological devices are good things that are being embraced as ultimate things. We live in an age of constant distraction where, as Sherry Turkle says, “smart phones are now a phantom limb.” One study found that the typical smartphone user checks their smartphone 150 times during the wake day. We are living out evenings with dual screens as 72% of people use their smartphone while watching TV.
In the current day, technological devices are good things that are being embraced as ultimate things.”
The results of our digital addiction are much like those in Ecclesiastes – grief and emptiness. The real face-to-face relationships that God designed us for in his image are being damaged and diminished. Again Turkle notes, “We would rather text than talk. Conversations in real time are more threatening than digital conversation because you can’t control, edit, or delete.”
This loss of face-to-face relational skill surely impacts the cultivation of prayer in our generation where the patience and focus required to pray is devalued and dismissed. Prayer offers no instant response and feedback. John Piper rightly assesses that, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
Other tragic results showing that good things make terrible gods are the increase in cyber-bullying, anxiety, depression, and suicide among young users that have their lives instantly, easily, and toxically defined by a screen. Pornographic addiction along with sexual exploitation are on the rise as evil seeks to trap the addicted.
Where do we turn? We should turn to the end of Ecclesiastes where the conclusion of the matter of life’s meaning is revealed: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12.13)
Each of us needs to begin asking ourselves the questions of stewardship, as one of our elders, Bill Davis, recently asked: “Am I using this device for God’s purposes, or is this device using me for sin’s purposes?” What if we as followers of Christ began to make digital choices as users, as parents, as educators, as friends through the grid of this question: “Will this digital choice or action increase my fear of God and obedience to his commands?”
I am afraid that I often make digital choices based on my comfort, my covetousness, my insecurity, my longing for control. And I often make digital choices as a parent for the same reasons. Thus, we recently hosted a Digital Discipleship seminar in order to help each of us as parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, and peers to learn practical ways that we can encourage being stewards rather than slaves of digital devices rather. You can find the audio of the seminar, along with a PDF of the PowerPoint presentation and a Screen Time Contract, at lmpc.org/digital-discipleship-event/.
Our prayer is that together we will grow in our enjoyment of this good thing created “under the sun.” We pray that the Lord will free us from being enslaved to addiction to these devices and all the accompanying griefs that follow. And we also pray that the Lord will embolden us to take courageous steps as a community to guard our hearts and the hearts of the next generation in the digital sphere.