Our Idolatry of TechnologySeries: Technology and the Christian
First, credit goes to Jeff Wilson (Kleinwood Church of Christ), Daniel Broadwell (Bellaire Church of Christ), Tony Reinke’s book “Twelve Ways Your Phone Is Changing You," for providing much of the seed thoughts for this lesson and upcoming lessons on technology. I am unable to trace all the ways their research and wisdom has impacted these lessons.
Tools, Technology, Babylon, and Idolatry
In the beginning, the world was a dark, watery chaos. But God filled it with light and life. Then God created mankind in his image and gave him tasks. Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” Without human work, the earth would be a wild, chaotic wilderness. But we are to subdue the land. Make the earth work for us. Form, build, and be fruitful for God’s honor. In Genesis, the ideal is Eden. In Revelation, John sees a city built by God: an Eden-like New Jerusalem in a new world where God dwells. This kind of city is the ideal we will always work for, but never complete until Christ comes from heaven.
As we wait for and work towards this ideal with God, it is natural to assume that tools and technology will be apart of this. In Deuteronomy 20:19-20, God told Israel to not make war against trees. But, when they did cut down trees, he knew they’d need to use an axe. Technology is not iPhones - it is anything that applies scientific knowledge for practical purposes. Tools and technology help us live fruitfully - to shape and enjoy creation.
But, with technology comes a danger: just as tools make it easy to do fruitful things that honor God and his original intentions, they also makes it easier for evil to grow. Notice the story of the tower of Babel/Babylon in Genesis 11:1-9. At some point, people figured out you don’t need stone to build stuff, you can shape clay, burn it in an massive oven, and manufacture bricks. They used tar to keep the bricks together and suddenly, building was far easier. They used this brick tech to build a city and a high tower. Notice their goal verse 4: make a name for themselves (not God) so they aren’t scattered (to maintain safety). Notice what God says of this in verse 6: with one language, this is only the beginning of what they will do. Nothing they propose will be impossible for them.
A similar thing happens when Babylon comes to power again. Nebuchadnezzar builds this great city and empire and says, “I have built [Babylon] by my mighty power… for the glory of my majesty,” (Dan. 4:30). Building Babylon may not look like idolatry, but John sees the truth in Revelation when Babylon is built again: the dragon, Satan - raises up a beast. And he uses the beast to draw people into another form of idolatry. People worship what they built for their name, but they are unknowingly worshipping the dragon. But people would be fools to leave Babylon - Babylon holds great wealth and security.
Unfortunately, the Bible shows us that our tools, technology, and what we build can often become what we trust and love above God. For example, people eventually figured out how to mine iron and form it into chariots. Chariots gave nations god-like power over the ancient world. Israel sang a song deriding the nations for trusting horses and chariots (Ps. 20:7), until they became powerful enough to have chariots of their own. Isaiah lamented the chariots, horses, gold, and silver of Israel and paralleled it to idolatry because they trusted their power and liked their tool more than God (Is. 2:7-8).
But like all idols, they fail. Babylon was great, until they couldn’t communicate anymore. Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was the safest place to be, until someone outsmarted them and broke into the city. Chariots gave Egypt power, until the ground was too muddy.
The State of Technology Today
If there was ever a relevant time to pause and ask where technology could be idolatry, it is now. The past hundred years have seen what is probably the most massive and rapid explosion of technology our world has ever seen. More and more, the mantra of Babylon has been revived: “anything is possible.” Can’t tech sometimes make us feel like we have god-like control over our lives and world? When most of us read Ecclesiastes and it says “there is nothing new under the sun” - let’s be honest, don’t we think, “Uhhh, have you heard of what they’re doing with virtual reality and AI?” Just think with me for a moment about the state of our world.
When we woke up today, did we wonder if we would eat? Do you know what blows my mind? People used to not be able to eat any fruit or vegetable at any time of the year. They had to wait for strawberry season. Because of modern agra-science, there is virtually no food we cannot have at any time.
Do we have to pray about our fear of the unknown? No way! We invented news apps and Google for that. Do we need to pray when our family travels? Hardly! They may be in China, but we can see them when we want. Besides, their iPhone tells me their location at all times. Do we need ask God to sustain our life? Isn’t that what we have doctors and modern medicine for? Apple’s most recent watch will notify you if it detects an irregular heart rhythm. And I doubt their watches will only do that within a couple years. Soon, we may not have to worry about communicating in different languages. Google already translates everything we read online. Later, we may be able to wear earpieces that translate everything we hear. Babel is being reversed from the ground up.
Let me be clear: God intended tools and tech to be part of how we interact with the natural resources around us. I like technology and I have no less of it in my home than you do. It is a tool and it can help us be more fruitful. This is not a lesson to bemoan tech or to say it is an idol in of itself. But this is a lesson to show us that we don’t only use tech tools to shape our world, tech tools can reshape us and become an idol we trust instead of God or love more than him. Furthermore, the same tech that makes more good possible also makes more evil possible.
Iron makes tools to work the ground, and spears to kill. Nuclear medicine saves lives; nuclear bombs destroy infinitely more. Screens facilitate Bible studies, and mind-numbing games, and pornography addictions. Social media connects us to share needs after a natural disaster, and allows us to build a virtual idol of ourselves where we beg people to like us. Let’s thank God when tech is used for fruitfulness. This will help us trust God alone. But how should we think about tech that has a damaging influence on our lives?
Biblical Effects of Idolatry
- I am not here to make quick, harsh judgments of you or your family. I am here as a fellow brother and reader of God’s word not to mandate uniform answers but to help us ask wise questions. Today, the question is about technology as a whole — “what is idolatry?”
- We will finish this morning with three things the Bible says happens when idolatry is present. This will be a way for us to ask about where technology - or anything - may have become an idol in our life. If we are engaged in idolatry…
1. We gain a burden (Isaiah 46:1-4).
Isaiah 46:1–2 (NIV11-GK), “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary. They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.” Isaiah paints a picture of these idols - Bel and Nebo - being carried by animals and people. But they have a problem: the images are too heavy for them and the people can’t prevent their idols from going into captivity. Have you ever felt like shopping is a burden? Like there’s something wrong if we don’t check Amazon or other retailers to see what they have? When all is well and I have everything I need, why is it that my bored mind wanders and my fingers twitch for a phone… so I can scroll and see what is new, different, on sale, better.
Do you ever feel like tv shows become a burden? There have been many times when Ashley and I would lament a tv show like it was chore. “Man, we really need to hurry up and watch that. Otherwise we won’t have enough time when the next season comes out.” What about phones? An article by Jacob Weisberg, “We Are Hopelessly Hooked,” states that research shows we check our phones every 4.3 minutes of our awake life. We don’t call these things “gods,” but we can let them run our lives as if they are. Idolatry always requires increasing sacrifices; eventually, the gods required child sacrifice. Have we sacrificed anything at these altars? Creative, fruitful goals? Happy moments with our family? God’s word? God’s people?
But shouldn’t a god carry its people, and not the other way around? Isaiah 46:3–4 (NIV11-GK), “Listen to me… you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” All these material loves will decay and become obsolete. We won’t be able to save them from captivity. We must find a way to set our burdens - our idols - down so the true God can carry us.
2. We feed on what man produces and lose our awe for the true God (Romans 1:19-20).
Romans 1:19–20 (ESV), “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” When we look at the things that God has created, we are supposed to learn about God and be filled with awe and wonder for him. Yet, does technology do that?
When we see a picture of our spouse, child, or grandchild who is a thousand miles away, does that fill us with the same awe and wonder for God as being with those same people in person? What about a picture of the grand canyon? Can we really tell each other that a video of the grand canyon produces the same worship as being there in person? This is one of the problems with being stuck on phones, computers, tvs, and even books at times. We are staring at text, images, and videos of what is produced by man - an image, an idol, a lesser representation of the reality God created for his glory.
Don’t you love trips that take you to where man doesn’t overshadow the Creator? When we see structures of man, it is hard to see more than man. When we like pictures of the sunset on Facebook, its hard to say anything more than “neat.” But when we see the sunset in person, we worship God. Let’s take care that man’s handiwork is not the food of our souls. Psalms 19:1 (ESV), “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
3. We become what we worship (Psalm 115:1-8).
Psalms 115:3–8 (ESV), “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” Idols are poor representations of reality. They look real, but they cannot speak, see, hear, smell, or walk. The huge danger: people who make and trust in idols become like their idols. What is produced by man can be a tool, but when it takes godlike control over our life, we start to lose our senses. We start to become less than human.
Six months after I bought my first iPhone Ashley and I took a cruise with some college friends. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t have access to internet. My phone was useless, so I left it in our room. After 5 days, I felt like I could breath and see the real world for the first time in 6 months. I could see people and talk with them. I could see the world. My mind wasn’t numbed by what someone was doing somewhere else. I talked with real friends over a real dinner that I could smell and taste. I didn’t realize how much my phone was affecting me.
I was fortunate at that time to only have 6 months of iPhone addiction under my belt. It hadn’t rewired my brain to the extent that it would in the years to come. Today, many of us may not know what we would do without our phones. If it has come to that point for us, let’s ask ourselves, who are we without our phones? When we let a device that can run out of battery become such an important part of our identity, what would we be if we let it power down? Better yet, what are we really when the device is on? I’m not an image-bearer of Jehovah, but of tech. Replace “device” with a truck, boat, home improvement project, or seasons of sports. When creation becomes a master - not a tool for innocent enjoyment or for fruitfulness - we become lesser than.
If you feel worn down and burdened by idolatry, take heart. We have a God in heaven who never powers down. Isaiah 40:28–31 (ESV), “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” We have the power to put tools back in their place. Those who wait on the Lord - not for the next show, the next season, the next ding, the next raise, set of clothes, phone, car, or thing - they who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.