Our Virtual god: It’s Not All Equal

I remember when I first signed up for facebook – yes, it was that monumental. I had not participated in MySpace and I didn’t really understand what we now freely call “social networks.” I blame my sister for the fact that I participate. She was studying in Scotland and living with a family there, so she often was not available by phone. My mother mentioned that my sister was also using email less because “she’s using facebook.”
With a reluctant sigh, I signed on for something that I deemed a trend. I became a facebook user and found my sister. Apparently facebook was created by the manufacturer of Pringles because it did not stop at just one connection. More than a decade removed from high school and my home town, and nearly a decade removed from college, I became overjoyed at finding a new connection to old friends. I remember being fascinated at the possibility of chatting with friends around the world. For a historical perspective, email became popular when I was in college and our first idea was to send messages to people who lived in the same dorm. We’ve come a long way, baby. Or have we?
After finding connections with almost every name that I could remember (and a few who I couldn’t), I began to notice a dissatisfaction. I had, perhaps incorrectly, expected that having these connections would reinvigorate friendships of years gone by. Not so much. Although it was good to find out what certain people were doing after years of not knowing, their lives were not changing significantly on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Neither was mine. Friends from school were all reaching the same point in life: family, career, stability. And that family and that career required attention. Connecting on facebook did not restore a friendship to the same level as it had been when both parties were single and had nothing more to worry about than whether or not to study for a history test.
Fundamentally we recognize that. Although facebook makes no distinction between friends (unless you bother to categorize them for yourself), we would not say that we have the same connection to all of them. We might even call that impossible. Your pastor is not connected in the same way as your brother, and your close friend is not the same as your coworker who felt obliged to “friend” you.
However, even though we recognize that there are very real differences in our friendships with others, we’re slowly slipping to a point where distinctions are more difficult to distinguish.
When we interact virtually, we have to assign the value to the interaction. Or, as often happens, we simply treat it as information, holding no different value whatsoever. Allow me to use Yahoo, a popular search engine, to illustrate. If I go to their website right now, I can find top stories such as “Message for Pumpkin Thief” (in which a mother posted a note with profanity on her porch) next to an article noting “Japan Returns Chinese Threat.” In terms of space devoted to the information, two countries using phrases like “act of war” is just as important as a clever mother’s curse. What is wrong with this picture?
It’s not all equal; it never has been. But we are so connected to information, and so accustomed to processing data without value, that we can grow more animated about a protest over a jury’s verdict in Florida than the fact that young men in our own cities are being killed without anyone ever being convicted. We would rather virtually join someone else’s cause than fight for our own. The connection, or perceived connection, is often all that we want.
Remember the first connection? No, not the one where I found my sister in cyberspace, but the one where God created Adam and then Eve. Remember that? Or was that the first time you thought of God today? I’ll jump to the front of the confession line and admit that I have had days where I have noticed more in my news feed than I’ve noticed God’s presence. The God we believe is omnipresent – always with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit – is often just one more possible connection we can access for information.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6
That God. Not the God you “like” on facebook in order to get a blessing. Not the post you share to virtually prove that you are unashamed. The God who is with you right now. The one who holds your very life in his hands. The one who has dried every tear and comforted every loss. The one who loves you so much that he sent his son to die for you and your sins. The one who resurrected his son in order to give you life.
It is not all equal. Words and actions hold different weight depending on the nature of the relationship. So I ask you, have you noticed the weight of God’s words lately, or do they show up like a post that you can like or ignore. Pumpkins and war are not the same. Our connections to our friends are not all the same. What have you done with your connection to God?

Our Virtual god: Who Do You Trust?

Right now, how far away are you from a virtual god?

Let me pose the question in another way: as you read this, could you easily access information from around the world, contact people in another country, or watch a story about a life not your own?

Chances are that you can and you will. Our technological advances have made it not only easy, but almost expected that you can reach anyone at any time. The counter to that expectation is that you are always someone who can be reached. We welcome the accessibility of information and connections at our fingertips, but we rarely consider the implications of this change.

Chances are good that if you own a cell phone, it is a smartphone. If it is a smartphone, you have accessed the “smart” features and can connect with your friends, see the forecast, and read this writing all within the palm of your hand. Now, let me ask you this: how often is that phone out of range – sight and sound – in any given day?

Some people can answer that question in hours. Some people answer that question in minutes. Some answer in seconds, if at all. Have you taken your phone with you into the bathroom? Does it go with you in the car? Is the phone within reach while you sleep? Why do we do this, and how did it happen? I will explore that question in future writings, but let me suggest one implication of this new virtual shadow in our lives: it has changed who we trust.

How often do you tell God your thoughts before you virtually tell your friends or followers? When was the last time you posed a question and waited for God’s answer before you posted it? Maybe a better question would be, why do we need God when we have instant access to hundreds of friends?

I have helped to pick up after church services for almost six years. I have found numerous Bibles left behind; I have never found a cell phone. This is not an indictment on any person at the church or any reader who has done the same. I have done it. I have left the house on my way to work, realized that I had forgotten my phone, and turned around to retrieve it. I have trusted that I can make it through my day without my Bible; I have not trusted that I can get through a day without my virtual connections.

If your virtual connections follow you like a shadow you cannot shake, try turning them off for an hour. Maybe a couple of hours. If you’re bold, go big and push through a day without your smartphone. Watch what happens. Evaluate your responses. When your hand starts twitching, have a conversation with God. We have allowed ourselves to forget that we survived before, and we will survive now. Not only will we survive, but I believe it is vital to our health to correct our misplaced trust.

Maybe you will find a day when you can unplug. It can be more difficult than you realize. People have established an expectation that they can reach you, and you have probably obliged their expectation. But if you have given everyone else your attention and your trust, making them come first, let me remind you of this passage:

They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols.” (Deuteronomy 32:21a)

Those words come from God, not a god.

Who has your attention?