I still remember my first smartphone. I was beyond excited to get in on the fledgling technology, and so I purchased a Windows “Pocket PC” off of eBay. I was too frugal to pay for data or texting, but whenever I had Wifi – watch out! Today, it is quite comical to pull that original brick phone out and compare it to the sleek, light smartphones of today. My, how we have arrived! It seems that our cell phones can do just about anything these days, from scanning our retinas to replacing our digital cameras. Where would we be without these amazing pieces of technology in our pockets?
When surveyed a few years ago, millennials answered that having their own smartphone was more important than having access to a car (Zipcar, Inc. February 2013). Smartphones have become a rite of passage for our teenagers, and they have become an indispensable part of how we work and even do ministry. Technology truly is wonderful… until it blows up in our face.
During the last month, Samsung has dominated technology news as they have gone from hero to villain with the release of their new Galaxy Note 7. Many had eagerly anticipated the release of this phone because it would be packed with unique and cutting-edge features. The Galaxy Note would sport a flexible edge-to-edge screen (the first to be built with Gorilla Glass 5), a built-in stylus, the fastest battery charging on the market, and a waterproof rating of IP68. The new Note could even scan your eye’s iris to add an extra biometric ID layer – the most advanced security available on a smartphone.
The Verge initially said, “The glorious Galaxy Note is what happens when a company isn’t afraid to go crazy.” Some even touted it as the greatest smartphone ever. And then, when it finally went on the market, it started to blow up (and not in the good, “that phone is really flying off the shelves” type of way). The Galaxy Note literally started to combust on some people, precipitating one of the largest recalls in smartphone history.
The simple truth is – our technology can never deliver on what it promises. When we use words like “glorious” to describe our technology, we reveal our propensity to worship it, and we set ourselves up for failure. Even if your smartphone never blows up, or bends, and even if it lasts you for several years, it never brings ultimate meaning to life in the way that only God’s lovingkindness can.
John Calvin said it so well when he wrote in The Institutes:
…Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols…Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.”
While Calvin obviously didn’t have a smartphone, I am sure he would agree that our technology is an “empty appearance” that many have set up as a god. Idolatry is the natural bent of our crooked heart, and the only remedy is a fixation with something far more brilliant than a retina display. We, and our teenagers, need to be reminded that “God’s steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). God’s beauty is so dazzling, that only a glimpse of His backside glory is enough to change our entire countenance and impact others (Exodus 34). The truth that God saw me wallowing in my sin, choking on its fumes, and yet He decided to sacrifice His Only Son in my stead – the truth that He chose me to receive His rich and free grace – that and that alone is dazzling.
Even as many anticipate their shiny new iPhone 7, let us keep things in perspective. The best that technology can do is serve as a tool to glorify God. For all the frittering that we do on our devices, there are real ways to use them to love God and love others. This blog is a perfect example! And so, with every tweet, post, ‘like,’ and text, let us keep our eyes on the One who will never blow up in our face or fail us – the One who always delivers what He promises, the only One who is truly Glorious.