By Jonathan Smith
Technology is everywhere. Its impact on our lives is undeniable. Its effects are overwhelming. Its challenges are universal. Adults struggle with knowing what’s real online and what isn’t real. Parents struggle to use technology effectively, while children seem to always know how to use it well. Youth struggle with boundaries. Screen addictions are as common as drug and alcohol addictions.
Technology influences our lives on many levels. From the devices themselves to the services we connect to with those devices, we are constantly surrounded. Apple is currently being sued because the iPhone it created is so good and its users are so weak that they can’t put it down. In other words, Apple made a product and got us hooked on it; therefore, Apple needs to find a way to make it less addicting.
The Real Problem
The irony here is we don’t tell the drug dealer to make the drugs less addicting; we focus on rehab for the addict and removing the drugs. We don’t tell McDonald’s to make less tasty french fries; we tell the person to restrain and eat less. Somehow we’ve missed that focus with technology—we tend to blame the devices and services and not focus on the individual and the individual’s heart.
Whether it is technology, drugs, or food, the Bible has answers and the church of Jesus Christ is uniquely positioned to reach those in need. If our goal is to bring the lost to Jesus and to help believers become more like Christ, are we equipping ourselves to apply Biblical solutions to modern problems like technology?
Technology, in all its forms, did not catch the Bible or God by surprise. No one in Heaven started scrambling to rewrite the Bible when Facebook came online. The Bible is sufficient, today, tomorrow, and 100 years from now. Whatever the next great leap in technology is, the Bible will still apply. If we believe that, why are we looking anywhere else for solutions to screen addictions, online bullying, pornography, sextortion, or any other trial?
The Real Solution
While it is easy to focus on the technology, the Bible tells us to look at the heart. Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Applying that to today, you could say, “Out of the heart the fingers type, the video is posted, the device is picked up, the game is played, or the technology is used.”
Churches and followers of Jesus should desire to use the Bible to help others—with any struggle of this life. Sometimes that happens through a formal counseling program at an office at a set time each week. Most times that happens through mentoring and discipleship at the grocery store or local coffee shop. Mom-to-mom groups, women’s and men’s small groups, and Bible studies are ways we should be using the Bible to help others, whether in a formal or an informal setting.
We have to address the heart before we can address the behavior. Taking the phone away, the internet away, or the french fries away is addressing the behavior. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us deal with the behavior through changes to the heart. Ephesians 4:20–24 talks about putting off, changing, and putting on. We can put off and put on behavior, but it is the change of the heart that must take place—and is the hardest part.
We also have to try not to compartmentalize the Christian life. The Bible applies online and offline. Let’s look at pride. The Bible says in Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Can pride in the online world lead to a fall in the real world? The reverse is also true. What about gossip? The Bible talks a lot about spreading gossip, listening to gossip, and responding to gossip. The Bible doesn’t say there is any difference between spreading, listening to, and responding to gossip if it is online than if it’s offline. The mechanism doesn’t matter; the heart, which drives the action and the response, matters.
What about popularity? We tend to think of this as a youth problem, but it is also very much an adult challenge. A lot of the research about online behavior and screen addictions shows the desire to be popular is so strong that separation anxiety is created when the user is disconnected from his device or social media contacts. Can you put your device down for a day? Here is what 2 Peter 2:18–19 (NIV) says, with a few minor edits,
For they mouth empty, boastful words [or post them online] and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh [popularity], they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. [It is hard to get out, giving up your device or Facebook is difficult, and those around you are one of the reasons.] They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity [You get anxious when you put your technology down.]—“for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” [Has your technology mastered you or have you mastered it?]
It is important to recognize whose problem this is. Is it Apple’s problem? Is it Facebook’s problem? Is it the internet’s problem? If our goal is to become more like Christ, why are we asking Apple, Facebook, or any other technology to also become more like Christ? Matthew 5:16 was written to people, not corporations or technology. It says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Ask yourself these questions as a filter before you post or interact with technology in any way:
How does my use of technology help people glorify God?
Is the content shining God’s light in a dark world?
The Real Opportunity
Churches should take advantage of the needs in this area to reach out to their communities. Helping parents and youth use technology and social media responsibly is a great way to spread the gospel to your community without investing in buildings or outreach programs. Parents want to know about technology tools like filtering to help keep their kids safe. Parents also want help in closing the technology gap between themselves and their kids. Teaching on these topics can help adults in their own use of technology, as well as help young people develop good tech habits as they grow into adulthood.
Jonathan Smith is director of technology at Faith Church in Lafayette, Ind. He is the author of #RUHooked, a resource for parents and teens on social media and screen addictions.