There’s no denying it: smartphones are, well, smart. Nifty and immensely helpful gadgets, they seem to do everything we need: connect us to our peeps, answer all our questions, and guide us to our destinations. We grab them when we wake up, and fall asleep with them in our hands. (See infographic, below). We drive with them, keep track of our kids with them, and work better with them. As a nation, we have become addicted to the kind of personal technology that helps us live life, lose weight, look smart, and keep up with the daily grind – yet still fits in our pocket. There really isn’t much a smartphone can’t do – and we like that – a lot!
For those of Judeo-Christian backgrounds, however, the smartphone explosion looks uncannily like a scripture passage in Deuteronomy 6. It reads:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
It doesn’t take a rabbi or a theologian to see that the kind of interaction we have with our smartphones today is the kind of interaction God designed for us to have with Him. Wearable technology – the kind you “bind upon your hand” – is becoming the newest trend. GoogleGlass ™ looks eerily like the above statement about “frontlets between your eyes.” 89% of us are checking our smartphones at least several times a day.*
Are smartphones replacing God?
In a world where God’s voice seems quiet, the noise of our smartphones gives us a shortcut. In the name of God, we use technology to connect with top religious thinkers of our day. Many of us subscribe to daily prophetic words or horoscopes that seem to give personal guidance. We can now be “friends” with well-known speakers and leaders in our spheres. Suddenly, like the tower of Babel, it seems we are all speaking the same language, building some great things, and achieving the impossible. We’re all on the same page, and it’s exhilarating and fun.
What is really happening? In a manner of speaking, we smart humans are playing God. Once again, we are trying to manufacture things that God intends to come directly from Him, such as wisdom and love. Bluntly, this is the sin of idolatry. Our hunger for loving connection seems filled on Facebook. We satiate our need for wisdom by following trends and hashtags on Twitter. (In fact, #love and #wisdom are two of the more popular “trending” hashtags on Twitter.) Yet the picture God gives us in Deuteronomy is meant to be a picture of what our relationship with Him should look like: constant contact with our King.
The downside is that despite all of our “following,” we wake up one morning, smartphone in hand, realizing that we no longer hear from God. We’re not following Him. Sure, we know what He’s talking about and can even regurgitate it; after all, we’re retweeting thoughts from the best religious leaders of all time. But the truth is, we aren’t hearing Him for ourselves anymore. We’ve lost contact with the trendsetter Himself by following all these others. This makes God sad.
How do I know this? The same God who calls Himself Lord of Jews and Gentiles states in the Ten Commandments that “You shall have no other God before Me.” (Exodus 20:1). By His own admission, He is a jealous God. To the Christian, Jesus says a day is coming when people will say to Him, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your Name, and done many wonders in Your Name? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Serious words, to be sure. Most of us brush them off in self-justification, thinking that we are not “lawless” and consoling ourselves that we really do love and serve God. As a fellow believer, I’d like to suggest that we take a second look:
* Statistics prove that 35% of Americans surveyed reach for their smartphones before anything else in the morning – even coffee! What do you reach for first, your phone or the Words of God?
* 44% of millennials say they have “fallen asleep with their phone in hand.”
* 55% of men and 37% of women use smartphones while eating. Worse, nearly half of all men check their phones mid-conversation (49%; for women it’s 32%).
We’re not angels in church either: smartphone usage during religious services is one of the top two pet peeves for survey respondents, second only to movie theatre interruptions.
Take a look at this infographic, based on a research study done in 2015 by Bank of America. (For the full report, click here.)
The Naked Truth
When we become too immersed in the things of this world, our spiritual eyes and ears are restrained. Like the disciples on the Emmaus road, all our reasoning and conversations cause us to miss the visitation of the Lord. In Luke’s gospel, when the disciples walked with Jesus after the resurrection, “they did not know Him.” (Luke 24:16; see especially the context in verses 13-31). This, after following Him for three years!
If communication, love, and wisdom are that important to us, why do we neglect the God who is the source of all three?
For Judeo-Christian believers (which represent over 70% of our American population), the challenge is going to be to put down our simulated intelligence and return to the true source of wisdom. Believe it or not, we don’t miss anything when we spend time with God. Those who seek God first automatically become the trendsetters, because He reveals in prayer today what will be “trending” tomorrow. (See Amos 3:7).
When you tap into God’s love and wisdom before picking up your phone, you find out later that others are confirming what He has already told you. You become an insider and thought leader in your own right. Best of all, you know that you know Him and He knows you. You’re doing, not just hearing. You’re living a life of faith that others will want to follow.
c. Deborah Perkins / His Inscriptions
*Bank of America 2015 "Trends in Consumer Mobility Report"
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.