Alexa… Amen

We bowed our heads to pray and instead of saying, “God…” What came out was, “Alexa.”

We looked up from our prayer and kinda smirked, kinda laughed. But for me, there was a tear, a start of a separation. I wondered if something more profound and problematic was behind that slip. 

We pray to our all-knowing, ever-present, appendage. We, at least, certainly rely daily on our Internet technology. Even our presence and personality is mediated through this ever-present medium. We rely on it for strokes to our ego and many rely on it for titillation.  

Is the Internet a false god?

To answer that, let’s consider some characteristics of false gods. So, what are some charactristics of false gods or idolatry? 

The New City Catechism says, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.” If someone is looking to something as a god or as an idol it might be because they see that person or thing as providing pleasure, validation, or as being all-knowing and having the answer. And so, that thing or person is trusted and relied on.

But, the thing with idolatry is that it cannot finally fulfill. Like Satan, the great spinner of the truth, all idols promise but don’t finally deliver. For example, the Internet will overwhelm us with information, even knowledge, but can never give wisdom. The Internet can in some ways give sexual pleasure but never romantic intimacy or true relationship. The Internet will give truth but it will be riddled with lies. It will always be hard to sort out what is what.

I’m not saying the Internet (or Alexa, or Siri, or any other technologically tethered and tethering device[1]) is actually a false god or demonic. But, the Internet does have the characteristic, or at least many of the characteristics, of a false god. 

It seems that the Internet, and its various connected technology, could be morally neutral. But how could that be when it has so many idol-like characteristics?

Chariots seem to be a parallel.

How so?

In the past, the Israelites wrongly trusted in chariots, but they are not in and of themselves wrong.

So, look at Isaiah 31:1, for example:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the LORD![2]

Horses and chariots are not inherently evil. But unduly relying on them is.

It seems to me that the Internet and all its connected technology is not in and of itself evil. The Internet is not an idol. It seems, though, that the Internet can be idolized. Just as a chariot will forever be something different than an idol that one bows down to as a god but can still be trusted in place of God. That seems to be a very accurate parallel with the Internet. That is, the Internet is a chariot of sorts. It’s not bad in itself.

A chariot could be used for transportation and is effective at getting you from one place to another. And it can give you an upper hand in battle. It is true that the horse is mighty (Job 39:19). That is, however, just where the danger comes in. It gives you an upper hand. Thus, people trusted in it, and not God.

Friends, that is the same promise of the Internet. It gives us the upper hand. It gives us information. Of course, in and of itself, there is nothing inherently wrong about the Internet. But latent in the Internet, as latent in the chariot, is an insidious temptation (or rather temptations).

The Israelites heard the whisper then that if they just have enough chariots then they will be victorious, then they will have peace, then they will… and we hear the same whisper now even if the promise is made with different words. That, we should realize, is the same whisper, or whisperer (“ssssss…”), in the beginning when it all fell apart.

So, may we say with the psalmist:

Some trust in the Internet and some in technology,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (see Ps. 20:7).

Yes, we may use Internet and technology but may we never place our trust in those things. It is the LORD who saves (Prov. 21:31). Technology is no savior though it often boasts great things (Ezek. 17:15, 17). The LORD of might and magnificence is the One who is to be reckoned with (1 Sam. 17:45; 2 Chron. 32:8; Ps. 33:16-22; Hos. 1:7; 14:3;).

It is interesting that Deuteronomy 17:16 says that the king “must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses.” Why would God give this command? Because God didn’t want people to trust in horses. God knew horses were good, but no God. He didn’t want His people to be misled.

So, God at one time said, do not acquire many horses. Is the application for us to not acquire many iPhones? Or perhaps God is saying: “Acquire not fast internet”? That’s probably not the takeaway for us. 

What should we do though if we are tempted[3] to place undue trust in the Internet and it’s accompanying technology? What is the cure? What is God calling us to do to kill what, for some of us, has become essentially an idol (Col. 3:5)?

Could God be calling us to abstinence? Not out of legalism but out of a desire for purity and renewed trust in the true God? Could Internet abstinence be this generations equivalent of breaking down the altars (Deut. 7:5; 12:3)? 

It certainly doesn’t appear wise to take this approach.[4] How, then, could we possibly reach people? But, could that not highlight our very need for Internet abstinence?

We should not trust in ourselves and our savvy use of the Internet. Just as Israel was not to trust in chariots, as money is the root of all kinds of evil and some in the past have taken a vow of poverty, could Internet abstinence be the right and free choice for some people?[5]

I’m at least convinced that I need to go on an extended Internet fast.[6]

#internetabstinence

___________

[1] It’s ironic that a synonym of device is “trick.”

[2] See also Isaiah 30:2; 36:6.

[3] Notice that temptation to sin and idolatry is so destructive and damning that we must take extreme precautions to avoid it (see Matt. 5:29; 18:9).

[4] Of course, it also didn’t appear wise for Israel to trust the LORD instead of chariots but it was wise (Ps. 33:16-22; 147:10-11).

[5] Awhile back, I read The Benedict Option, some of it resounded with me but some of it seemed very wrong, we are to retreat in some ways, it seemed to me, or at least some of us are, but not in cultural engagement or engagement with people. It seems clear to me though that the way, or the means, by which we engage people should change. I now feel that way, at least for me, is to leave most of the Internet behind.

[6] I’m not fasting all of the Internet (or I wouldn’t be able to post this) but I am heavily restricting my Internet using. 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: