I’ve just started reading Tony Reinke’s book, and it’s definitely the sort of thing we need more of — trying to analyze new gifts of God through an explicitly biblical lens. And what is needed on this topic is a broad ranging discussion on the phenomena of the iPhone, social media, blogging, et cetera.
So in that spirit, I may write a bit more in the coming days and weeks on this topic, but in the interest of leading by example, let me throw one initial thought out interacting with Tony’s first chapter on distraction.
Tony is careful in this chapter not to assume that there weren’t distractions available to the sons of Adam before the advent of the iPhone. He quotes Blaise Pascal as a helpful (Christian) interlocutor to demonstrate that the problem of distraction is as old as dirt, as old as sin — but actually, to put it that way is to raise my question.
As old as dirt… Hmmm. Think about what God did when He created the world. He created the universe and filled it with (arguably) millions upon millions of, well, distractions. Imagine being Adam and Eve on that first day of human life in the universe. It’s hard not to imagine them running from one thing to the next, excitedly: Look! and Look! and, Over here! Look! And so on, until they were ready for lunch.
So my first thought is that we need to be careful not to construct a theology of distraction that would seem to say that God was in any way doing us any harm by creating a universe with billions of glorious and extraordinary things. From starfish to solar eclipses to centipedes to raindrops to electricity — God created and placed man into a world teeming with glorious distractions. In some ways, the glorious gift of the iPhone is that we now have reminders and notifications of this glory throughout the day. Ding! Somebody just shared a video of a hippopotamus. Ding! Look at this super nova. Ding! Watch a cute toddler dancing in his high chair.
My point is not that we can’t sin with those distractions — we can and we do. But as we grow in wisdom in this area, we want to be careful to frame the problems clearly and not accidentally back ourselves into a corner where we are implicitly rejecting or subtly resenting God’s good work of creation. I don’t think Tony wants to do that at all, but this is an area of emphasis that seems to me to need more development.
Related to this: why did God create a world with so many distractions? Apparently, the myriad of glories shouting His praises all day long, all night long is a very good thing. And what is that? There are no doubt many reasons, but at least one certain reason is because we need to be reminded to worship our Maker constantly. We need reminders, notifications: Ding! Look what your Father made! Ding! Look how creative and good and loving your Father is! Hey, I’m talking to you! Praise Him!
In other words, part of our theology of distraction needs to include our regular need to be distracted from our lethargy, our apathy, our ingratitude, our boring mental ruts. There’s an old demon that lurks in the hearts of the sons of Adam that often appears as an angel of light under the name asceticism — seeing this world as getting in the way of communion with God, getting in the way of spirituality, getting in the way of holiness. A common assumption is that holiness means stripping away this world and all of its distractions (glories?) and somehow finding God in a naked back alley of this universe. But of course no such back alley exists. Even in a dark cave, you cannot get away from His presence in the rocks, in the stalactites, in the earth worms, in the bats, in your body.
So our task is not to escape this world full of glorious distraction. Our task is, as Augustine would put it, to rightly order our loves. The problem with our distractions is not out there in the world or in the phone in your hand that connects you to the bursting world. The problem is in our hearts, where the vestiges of a conquered alien kingdom still rise up from time to time, raging against God and His Christ, seeking to subvert the glorious order of the panoply of creation. Since our first parents, our rebellion has been to want to be gods, to order our own realities, to create our own meaning, and therefore in our rebellion, we do not worship our Father, our Maker. We turn the created world into sophisticated mirrors, and we worship ourselves as graven images.
Of course we do not begin with full blown pagan temples; we begin with disordered loves, giving too much time, money, or attention to one thing when love of God and obedience to Him requires a different set of priorities, a different ordering of our time, resources, and attention. That is a problem, and it is a problem of sinful distractions.
But the answer to that is the gospel of Jesus proclaimed from the rooftops, written on the doorposts of our homes, and gossiped about like the greatest rumor in the world — Christ saves distracted sinners. In other words, the answer to our sinful distractions is not a distractionless existence, but rather it is turning away from one way of being sinfully distracted from the glory of God and all the disobedience that entails to a new life of holy distraction by the glory of God and a new obedience to His will. Having been interrupted by the gospel, everything in this world becomes a notification, a reminder of our Father’s love, of the goodness of our Father. It teaches us about His character, His law, His wisdom. It shouts from the street corners, invites us like highway billboards, like a google reminder: Your sins are forgiven, Christ has won, love your wife and kids, work hard with all your might, the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever.
And it seems to me that blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and yes, even Youtube, however much they have been abused by sinful man, have great potential and have already begun to join in this song of creation, this rambunctious and boisterous chatter, like millions of noisy birds in a million exotic rainforests, tweeting their Maker’s praise. What a helpful, welcome, and glorious distraction.