I still do not have my own E-mail address. Frankly, that makes me feel as if I am out of step with American culture. People keep asking me for my E-mail address, and it is a little embarrassing not to have “dot” anything to give “dot” them. If you are not sure what I am talking about, then you must be even further out of step than I am. Let me explain.
The Internet is an international computer network that enables people to send electronic messages to one another. It consists both of private users and large institutions which set up electronic newsgroups, bulletin boards, and other documents users can visit from their personal computers.
I have not learned how to surf the Internet yet, although I hope to be making greater use of the ‘Net in days to come. We have begun discussing what kinds of things we could put on a Tenth Presbyterian Church Home Page, if and when we get one. But in any case, I am not going to let my lack of expertise stop me from beginning to think about the Internet from the biblical point of view. What is the spiritual significance of this technology?
That was a question the children of Israel wrestled with when they were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. If you have ever read the book of Exodus—or if you have seen Charlton Heston's “Ten Commandments”—then you remember how God brought Moses and all his people out of bondage in
Egypt, and how he parted the Red Sea for them, and how he gave them the Ten Commandments.
The other thing God gave his people was a lot of instructions about how to build a tabernacle for worship. And not just instructions. God also gave the children of Israel someone who could follow the instructions. In Exodus 31 (vv. 1-7) we read how God equipped his people with the technological skill to furnish the tabernacle:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship… Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you.”
Now, what did the children of Israel do with that technology? What comes after Exodus 31 is Exodus 32, in which we read the following (vv. 2-4):
Aaron answered [the people], “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
Now, there was nothing wrong with the technology Aaron was using. After all, God himself commanded his people to create beautiful things out of precious metals. The problem was what Aaron was doing with the technology. God intended metalworking to be used for his own glory, not for the fashioning of false gods. Aaron took what God intended to be beautiful and he used it to do something despicable.
We find the same thing throughout human history. Virtually every technological advance has been accompanied by an increase in human capacity for evil. The problem is not with the technology, but with the human heart, which takes the latest technology and uses it for evil purposes as well as good.
Take the printing press, for example. The first thing it was used to produce was the Gutenberg Bible. But just about the second thing they published on printing presses was pornography. Or take nuclear power, which can be used both to generate electric power and to create weapons of mass destruction.
We find the same dynamic at work on the Internet. On the one hand, the Internet can be used in many good and godly ways. The Internet can be used to help families stay in touch with one another, and to help scholars conduct research. The Internet can be used to conduct Bible studies or to have daily devotions. It can be used to encourage missionaries, and especially to bring us instantly up to date about their prayer needs. The Internet can even be used to save a life, as in one recent episode in which emergency surgery was arranged for a child from South America.
On the other hand, the Internet can be twisted and bent in a sin-ward direction. There are plenty of examples of this, everything from violent games to business fraud to data tampering. Professional counselors are starting to see clients who are so immersed in virtual reality that they are having trouble coping with living relationships in the real world.
What makes the Internet particularly dangerous is its privacy. Some sins are like moulds and funguses: they thrive in the dark and secret places. This is especially true of pornography, which is booming on the Internet. One recent report indicates that as many as 90% of Internet chat lines are devoted to sexually explicit subject matter [AFA Journal, May, 1996, p. 12]. In one recent 2-month period, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington hosted a whopping 1.7 million electronic visitors. The Smithsonian Website is really something, with lots to see and do, but it cannot compete with online smut. In just one recent week, the Playboy home page received 6 million electronic “hits.”
The Internet reminds us that the line between blessing and curse is a fine one; it cuts down the middle of the human heart. Some of us are hoping to take greater advantage of the benefits the Internet offers. Others may already have experienced some of its temptations, and need to escape before becoming too entangled in the ‘Net' to get away.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org