This article is being shared, with permission, from Clarion, “a biweekly magazine aimed at servicing families and congregations in the federation of Canadian Reformed Churches.” You can find an archive of 50 years of past issues, as well as information on how to subscribe, by clicking here.
Google it! How often don’t we use that phrase when discussing a matter? Within moments of saying it, someone will have done exactly that and tell you what they found. There is an amazing amount of information accessible at our fingertips, or, if desired, by means of voice activated searches. With our hand-held devices always connected to the Internet, it only takes moments to produce results.
Truly, we depend on our devices. They are ready to serve us at our beck and call. At the same time, we also seem ready to serve them at their beck and call. Many react instantly when they hear their phone ring or ding to indicate an incoming call or message.
The ubiquity of our devices and their dominance in our lives is evident even when you watch people in a restaurant. In many cases, rather than looking at and talking with their fellow diners, attention is on the phone. A father with children hitting the teenage years recently related how he now understood the concern of parents with teenagers about the obsession with and the attachment to their devices. He thought it was fitting to call this a pandemic, as people are always googling, always watching YouTube videos, always paying attention to everyone’s posting on social media and sharing links to videos and blogs.
While it is concerning that such an inordinate amount of time is spent on electronic devices, the specific concern I wish to address is the way so many turn to Google for direction and guidance on the issues of the day and the issues of life.
As was mentioned, in many discussions someone will say, “Google it.” Usually, you don’t have to say it, for someone has already done it. From Facebook and other social media posts, it is obvious that some spend a great deal of time researching on the internet. Google is the lamp that lights up their path, and they readily share the latest wisdom and insight they have found on their favourite websites or blogs. Others are encouraged to follow the links to read what is found there, watch the latest video, or listen to the latest podcast.
All this searching for answers with Google, however, seems to come at the expense of searching for answers with God.
Not web but Word
Of course, it is not possible to simply type in some words in some search engine and get an answer from God. There is, however, a way to get answers from God by searching his Word. In Psalm 119:9, it is said that a youth can keep his way pure by guarding it according to God’s Word. Later in that same Psalm, it is confessed that God’s word is a lamp for our feet (v. 105). God’s Word, after all, is the essential tool of the Holy Spirit to work and strengthen faith (cf. Romans 10:14–17; 1 Peter 1:23–25; see also LD 25:65, CD I 3; III/IV 6, 17; V 14). Paul writes to Timothy that,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
This emphasis on the Word of God was necessary in Paul’s days. There may not have been social media to distract, confuse, and mislead people, but there were other “media” tugging on their hearts. In his first letter to Timothy, he instructed Timothy to warn people
“[not] to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. . . . Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim 3:4-7).
Just after his words about Scripture being God-breathed in his second letter to Timothy, Paul mentions how there are many competing for the attention of God’s children, eager to scratch itching ears, to tell them what they want to hear (cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4). As God’s children, we should be searching the Scriptures to deal with the issues before us day by day, rather than sites on the web. We need to go to the Bible, not blogs.
Search Scripture carefully
Searching Scripture is not simply a matter of typing in some words in your Bible app, or, if you are old school, using a concordance. To be sure, you can find words fast enough, but words are used in different contexts.
One needs to run a mental scan on what Scripture teaches, keeping in mind where information is found within the unfolding of the history of salvation. You may even have to go to a commentary which goes into considerable detail, or a book that elaborates on an issue at some length.
Wikipedia can be great for an introduction to a topic, but it is not in-depth scholarship. Tweets may sound clever and profound, but they are not the fruit of in-depth reflection on an issue. A person who lives by tweets is in danger of looking like a bird brain when discussing a topic. Speaking of tweets, the Lord addressed that problem through the prophet Isaiah. During the reign of king Ahaz, when people were not listening to God’s Word but following false prophets and teachers who scratched their itching ears, Isaiah prophesied:
“And when they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,’ should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony!” (Isa 8:19–20.)
To apply this to the topic at hand, there is so much nonsense on the web, so much chirping and muttering. We should go to the testimony of God instead.
Searching the Word, turning to God, not Google, is also being true to our spiritual roots in the Reformation. One of the sola statements associated with the Reformation was sola Scriptura – only Scripture. God’s people are people of the Book. When we speak about an issue, we should be able to say, “This is what Scripture says,” and then refer to a relevant passage. If we feel the urge to speak out about a matter, our point should give evidence of having searched God’s Word rather than the Web.
Earlier in this article, mention was made of the way one father referred to the obsession with electronic devices as a pandemic that had hit his family too. Even the slightest exposure to social media makes clear it is not just a problem for teenagers. These devices are a reality of life. The challenge is to let them be our servants rather than us being their slaves. How do we bring that about? I offer a few suggestions.
- It should be recognized how easily devices that can be helpful in running our lives begin to run our lives. Our goods become our gods and enslave us. In this case, it will be evident in how quickly we turn to our devices for answers. We can gauge their hold on our lives by asking ourselves how much time in the day is spent looking down at our devices. How quickly do we ask Google rather than God? Keep in mind that we are speaking here especially for guidance on the issues of the day and of life. Take the time to let one’s fingers run through the pages of Scripture rather than scrolling through web pages. Run to the Bible rather than blogs. Let thinking be governed by our confessions rather than subtly reinforced by computer algorithms that are designed to scratch itching ears.
- When there is some time to fill, rather than seek amusement by watching videos, scrolling randomly, or catching up on what’s posted on the various apps, open a Bible app and read Scripture. This suggestion may be radical, seeing we read Scripture at set times in our schedule. But God’s children are to be people of the Word.
- Consider going on a fast from your device in terms of seeking your guidance, responding only to actual calls or texts. This would automatically result in a fast on forwarding links to Google-sourced “wisdom.” Fill the available time by reflecting on what God’s Word says about the issues.
Not Google but God
Finally, seeing that this article may not reach the eyes of all who might really benefit from it, share this article, and let it be a conversation starter with your family and friends. Then challenge each other to work on ways that a servant in your life does not become your master. When it comes to guidance for our lives and the issues of the day, it should not be wisdom from the Web through Google, but wisdom from the Word of God.