Two Lies and a Truth About Technology

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Big Idea: Technology isn’t inherently good or bad. Instead, it requires wisdom.

You have used technology multiple times already today.

If you’re like the average person, you’ve already picked up your phone 150 times or about once every 4 waking minutes. You turned on the tap at some point today and flushed the toilet, both of which are marvels of technology. In fact, somebody has said that indoor plumbing is the greatest invention since the wheel. You’ve certainly used electricity. You’ve cooked food. Maybe you’ve taken an elevator. You’ve used all kinds of tools today. We just used musical technology. It’s almost impossible to consider all the forms of technology that we use in a single day.

Sometimes we think of technology only in Silicon Valley terms. We think of new computer chips, the colonization of Mars, sex robots, artificial intelligence, and high-tech government surveillance. But as somebody’s said, “Things we consider essential today were considered sci-fi less than 50 years ago.” Even if you go to Pioneer Village in Toronto, you’ll find an old blacksmith’s shop, which is also a form of technology. You can’t escape technology. It’s all around us. Tony Reinke defines technology as “applied science and amplified power. It’s art, method, know-how, formulas, and expertise.” It’s really a household term for all the tools we use.

As we wrap up our series on Two Lies and a Truth, I thought it would be good to think about a Christian view of technology. You’ve probably never heard a sermon about technology before. I recently told someone I was going to preach this message, and he looked very surprised.

But it’s important that we think Christianly about technology. Here are two lies that we may be tempted to believe about technology, as well as what the Bible teaches us about technology. Paying attention to these lies and the truth will help us as we live in a very technological world.

Two Lies

Here’s the first lie that you may be tempted to believe.

Lie #1: Technology is inherently evil.

There is a view out there that technology is evil. This is the dystopian view of technology. Some tend to believe that technology is negative, that it’s something that humans have imposed on creation, and that it’s harmful for us.

You see mild versions of this. I really appreciate the writings of Wendell Berry, an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. In the summer of 1963, Berry, then 29 years old, was a professor at New York University. He built a cabin on the site in Kentucky where his great-great-great grandfather once erected a log house. Berry wanted to create an escape where he could “write, read, and contemplate the legacies of his forebearers, and what inheritance he might leave behind.” Berry has put some limits on his use of technology. “The latest technology is not always good for anything except to the producers of the technology,” he writes. Berry is a mild version of the view that technology should be resisted, and as I say, he’s certainly worth reading.

But there are also more extreme versions too. In The New York Times a few years ago, David Brooks wrote:

Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted.

Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.

Technology is destroying the young, he writes. It causes addiction. And many tech companies become “near monopolies that use their market power to invade the private lives of their users and impose unfair conditions on content creators and smaller competitors.”

Surely the people in tech — who generally want to make the world a better place — don’t want to go down this road. It will be interesting to see if they can take the actions necessary to prevent their companies from becoming social pariahs.

That’s why you see some people fighting technology. Again, Tony Reinke writes:

I know that this book would market better as an alarmist, doomsday warning about how Satan hijacked the electrical grid, controls us through our smartphones, and wants to implant us with the digital mark of the beast. I would sell you a vast conspiracy coupled with a theology of a powerless god who doesn’t know what to do. I would put the future of the world in your hands as our only hope. I would focus your attention on the scariest new tech so you would ignore the glories of the vast tech advances that adorn your daily life. I would end with an appendix on how to dig out a bunker for a rural, off-grid commune. And I’d write the whole book with the caps-lock on.

Here’s the thing, though. Technology isn’t evil in itself. In Genesis 1, God created humans and gave them a mandate:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

Genesis 2 unpacks what this looks like a bit more. We’re meant to work the earth and “draw out, work with, and benefit from its inherent potentialities” (Lexham Survey of Theology). Andy Crouch writes that God made us to “imitate his creativity and gracious dominion over the creation … to imitate him by cultivating the initial gift of a well-arranged garden, a world where intelligence, skill and imagination have already begun to make something of the world.” God made us to make something of this world, and that includes developing and using technology.

Tim Challies writes, “Just as God created, we create. God has given human beings the ability to think, to come up with remarkable ideas, to be innovative. Technology is simply the practical result of the creative process.”

God made us to create. Technology is the outworking of God’s mandate and design. He made us to develop technology. It’s wrong to see technology as inherently evil.

Here’s the second lie.

Lie #2: Technology is inherently good.

This is the utopian view. Some people see technology as overwhelmingly positive. One author interviewed a tech inventor, and he asked the inventor what was so great about his technology. ““People want superpowers. We aspire to extend our capacities, to be better—wearable technology can help us achieve that. We also want to account for our weaknesses, to correct bad habits. Wearable technology can help do that too.”

The author (Andy Crouch) then writes:

Since I met Sonny Vu, “superpowers” has become a common, almost inescapable, way of describing the potential benefits of new tech. The founder of a coding academy announced confidently in a blog post, “Coding gives you superpowers!” I downloaded a new application for online meetings and discovered, sure enough, that it wanted to give me “presenting superpowers.” And not long after I spoke with Vu, Fast Company magazine featured an article that could have been taken straight from his pitch deck: “4 Wearables That Give You Superpowers.” The subtitle doubled down on the “super” theme: “Super strength. Super hearing. Super artistry. Super expression. The future of wearables is really a quest for human enhancement.”

Just think about so what about technology offers. It really does allow you to do so much more than would otherwise be possible.

But then the author cautions:

Yet when you look at what happens when we acquire these superpowers, it’s striking not just how much they add to our capacity but how much they inevitably end up taking away…

It is the essence of their design because superpowers are power without effort. And power without effort, it turns out, diminishes us as much as it delights us. Power without effort requires a trade, or a bargain, of sorts: You get superpowers, all right, but only part of you gets to come along for the ride.

Technology promises so much, and it delivers so much, but we all sense that it leaves us disappointed at some point. God made us to use technology, but sometimes our use of technology doesn’t lead us to flourish. In Genesis 11, people built the Tower of Babel, which was a technological achievement, but not one of which God approved.

In a fallen world, everything has been corrupted including technology. That means we need to be careful. Fallen humans can use technology to try to bypass God-given limits. We can make idols of technology and use them as tools of rebellion against God.

You see this in Genesis 4. Genesis 4 is the story of what happens after the Fall. In Genesis 4 you have the development of amazing technology. You have urbanization, the use of textiles, new methods of farming and animal breeding, the development of musical instruments, the invention of tool-making. Genesis 4 is a fascinating chapter describing the development of technology. What’s also interesting is the spread of evil in Genesis 4. You’ve got rampant murder and violence as well. Technology develops, and alongside it evil develops just as fast. This ultimately brings us to Genesis 11, when people used human effort to develop the Tower of Babel and attempt to grasp security and renown apart from God.

As long as you have the development of sin alongside the development of technology, technology won’t give us the answers we need.

We could spend a lot of time talking about some of the downsides of technology:

  • It can diminish parts of our humanity. It can help us get more done, but factory lines and rapid transportation and online meetings and other technologies can actually diminish rather than enhance our humanity.
  • It can be used as an attempt to bypass our God-given limits. Our limits are not a design flaw. It can be good to embrace our limits rather than to try to bypass them and become more than who God created us to be.
  • It can become an idol. Any good thing can become a bad thing when we start to value it more than God.
  • It can be used as a tool of rebellion against God. As in Genesis 11, we can use technology not to act on God’s behalf but to go on our own way apart from God.

So many technologies can be helpful but come with tradeoffs. It’s interesting that as technology has increased, we seem to be struggling with more isolation and loneliness. A friend of mine (Reagan Rose) wrote in a recent article:

It seems we’ve struck a deal with our devices that so much resembles the bargains with the tricksters from the old stories. A genie appears to grant your wish. But once you have what your flesh desired you find you’ve lost something of yourself in the exchange. We wished for peace and quiet, and what we got was loneliness. We wished for the world at our fingertips, but what we got was all the world’s anxieties. We wished to banish boredom and difficulty, but what we got was meaninglessness…

We’ve got the whole world at our fingertips, yet the relationships that give life meaning and purpose seem more distant than ever.

Technology is not inherently evil, but it’s not inherently good either. Neither lie gets at the complete truth.

The Truth

Here’s the truth we need to know about technology: Technology isn’t inherently good or bad. Instead, it requires wisdom. This was true all the way back in Genesis 4, in the Bronze Age, and it’s true now.

That’s where a book like Proverbs comes in. Proverbs 4:5-9 says:

Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.

What we need more than anything else is wisdom. We need wisdom more than technology. In fact, without wisdom, technology is downright dangerous. Wisdom is far more valuable than anything else you can obtain.

A good part of wisdom is knowing who God is, who you are, and then submitting your life to him. Wisdom is knowing Jesus and his gospel and turning to him in repentance and faith, and living your entire life for him. The more that technology advances, the more I would argue that we need both wisdom and relationships in order to thrive.

God has given us a job to do on earth. Technology is a tool, but it can become either a tool for good or for evil. Let me close with these words from Tony Reinke:

Science cannot deliver us. Innovation will never satisfy our hearts. Life’s meaning will never be found in Apple’s latest gadget. The God who speaks allows technology to be what it was meant to be — not a savior, not a gospel, and not the final solution to death. Only Christ is the Creator, the meaning of creation, the goal of creation, and the telos of technology…

Take science too seriously—make it your savior—and it will poison you to the grave. But find your deliverance and joy in the presence of the glorious Savior, and you are in a place to set science free from the serious things of salvation and eternity so that innovation can become the spontaneous and joyous exploration of awe that it was meant to be, the eager study and cultivation of this sandbox we call creation, an intentionally designed gift from the generous Creator we cannot help but worship forever.
Two Lies and a Truth About Technology
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada