God, Google, and Grace
By Daniel Darling
Excerpt from the book iFaith by Daniel Darling.
A Connected Generation
In the waning months of 2008, as a historic new president carefully planned his transition team, he faced an agonizing choice that his 43 predecessors never faced in their 200-plus years of leading the United States. What was the question at hand?
Troop levels in Iraq?
The imploding financial sector?
The right pick for Education Secretary?
No, President Obama wrestled with this question: Do I give up my BlackBerry?
To George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and even Ronald Reagan a blackberry was a semisweet low-hanging fruit. But to President Obama it was a lifeline.
Obama is the first President from the connected generation, accustomed to life attached to small device that allows you to make phone calls, send email, and text people around the globe. Security concerns, privacy acts, and records requirements were the main reasons experts counseled him to throw the BlackBerry in the Potomac.
But the Commander in Chief got his wish—his highly secure, encrypted military issue BlackBerry. He famously said, “They will pry my BlackBerry from my cold, dead hands.”
Now I thought that was a little extreme. But only because I’m an iPhone guy.
Raised on Instant
The President’s predicament is our predicament. We’re members of the always-connected generation, weaned on warped speed, raised on instant: Instant formula. Disposable diapers. Satellite TV. GPS navigation. Online check-in.
In my three decades or so on this earth, life has moved from high-speed to warp speed. We email, IM, Facebook and Twitter. We text, YouTube, MMS, and Skype. Our ever-expanding, never-enough, always-on collection of devices explodes with data traveling at the speed of thought.
When we have a question, we send a digital message. When we want an answer, we demand a real-time reply.
In every area of life, from food to fashion to family life, we want bigger bandwidth, better pictures, faster delivery. We opt for the drive-through, express lane, and self-checkout.
If something is not immediately available at our fingertips, we don’t worry. Because in a month Google or Apple will have an app for it.
God, Google, and Grace
Warning: this isn’t a book that trashes technology and longs for the false idealism of a bygone era when everyone went to diners with 50 cent hamburgers, husbands and wives never argued, the music was always pure, and everyone lived blissfully like the Cleaver family.
We live here, in the twenty-first century. I believe God has a mission for this millennium. Plus, the good old days of the 1950s probably weren’t as Norman Rockwell as we’d like to think.
However, as a card-carrying member of the Instant Generation, I think we need to ask ourselves, 'What effect has our hustling and bustling, hurrying and worrying had on our communication with God?'
In some ways, we really get it. We get—and like—receiving information and communication. And answers. One-on-one.
Before the modern age, the primary method of communication was the simple letter. Even well into the twentieth century, letter-writing was common, as telegraphs and telephones were used by the average person only in an emergency.
And letters were often heartfelt, poignant, and detailed. Writers maximized their limited opportunities to communicate. They approached a letter as if painting a masterpiece, carefully weighing the significance of each word and phrase.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century ushered in the march of progress and the rapid acceleration of communication. As telephone usage increased, letter-writing declined and with it, the careful choice of words.
Fast-forward to the end of the twentieth century and the rapid growth of the Internet. The lost art of letter-writing was revived, but in digital form. Communication across towns, states, and continents became as easy as the click of a button. You might actually argue that people communicate more than they did in previous generations.
Twenty years ago, you would never call a friend in South Africa, unless you had a second job to pay the long-distance fees. Now you can use Skype and not only talk, but actually see the person’s face (which is good or bad, depending on whether or not you’re eating breakfast at the time of the call).
Communication leaps across borders, time zones, and oceans. It seems almost nobody is ever out of reach, unavailable, or offline.
And yet our sense of immediacy can be a handicap. I know, because I see it in myself. Studying for several sermons a week, handling the minutiae of small church life, writing books and articles, and raising a young family often leave me pressed for time. So when the lunch hour arrives, I usually hustle down the hallway to the kitchen, grab a frozen entrée, and aim for a ten-minute lunch.
I find the microwave and plop the thing on the turntable.
I punch two minutes on the keypad and wait.
And wait some more.
If I’m having a really good day and feeling patient, I wait 30 seconds. If nothing happens, I land a well-placed blow to the middle of the microwave door.
Bingo. The light always comes on and the machine roars to life.
But I’m slightly upset because those two minutes seem like two hours. Never mind that generations before had to forage into the wilderness, find an animal, shoot it, dress it, cook it, and eat it.
I’m impatient because I can’t wait two minutes for a Hot Pocket.
My irritation with the microwave is a symptom of our generation. We can be not only be impatient. We also can become demanding, restive.
Impatient with appliances. Demanding with people. Even restive with God.
Our prayer lives function like cosmic Gmail. We fire off message after message and wait uneasily for the “ding” that brings the satisfaction of an instant answer.
Another Prayer Book?
Two things this book is not. It’s not another how-to book on prayer by a guy who spends five hours a day in deep meditation and has this whole “talking with God” thing figured out. That’s admirable but that’s not me. It’s also not a book on how to find the illusive “balance” in life by growing a beard, joining a monastery, and renouncing all interaction with technology.
This book is a journey with some of the real people in the Bible, who didn’t Twitter, text, or tote a BlackBerry or iPad, but who learned how to communicate with God in a powerfully intimate way. Let’s hope their lessons encourage us moderns to rekindle our love with the timeless spiritual disciplines.
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Daniel Darling is the Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in Chicago and is the author numerous books, including Teen People of the Bible, which was nominated for a Gold Medallion Award. Dan’s work has been featured by Focus on the Family, Christianity Today, In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley, and other evangelical publications. He is a contributing writer to Lifeway’s Men’s Devotional, Stand Firm, a columnist for Enrichment Journal, and a blogger for patheos.com
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