"Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.'" (Genesis 11:4 ESV)
"And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? ... we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." (Acts 2:8-11 ESV)
IN THE GARDEN. In Eden (Gen 3) the man and woman chose knowledge over obedience. At the tower of Babel (Gen 11) man sought to construct a universal human connectedness. In our day we seem to have almost achieved universal access to knowledge and universal connectedness in community. At our fingertips are unlimited resources of information and almost instantaneous connection with anyone in the world. Most students of the Bible would see that God has thus far thwarted such universal knowledge and connectedness. I recently read this quote from C. H. Spurgeon: "Universal knowledge is for God alone." And, it would appear from the Bible, universal connectedness of community (at least, a righteous connectedness) will only be achieved in the new heaven and earth. The New Testament teaches us that we build the good and holy community not through technology nor sociology but through proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus. There we find truth, hope, grace, forgiveness. At this point we have neither the wisdom nor the goodness nor the capacity for unlimited information and connection. The cartoon below highlights one aspect of the problem...
DATA IS NOT WISDOM, and connection is not community. With an unlimited source of data-points a person can arrange those dots into a configuration that supports almost any worldview, or conspiracy. We are not at this stage equipped to handle such knowledge well and it is inevitable that we will smuggle in our own presuppositions and desires, and then call them "knowledge" (or "science"). And as to connectivity, spending time on social media or podcasts or news-feeds should soon convince us that we are like 20-watt bulbs trying to plug into a megawatt power line. I think we're just not equipped to do it well -- we don't know enough; we're not wise enough, and we're not good enough to handle such a brave new world.
BRAVE NEW WORLD. I wonder, is God withdrawing (in a sense) to let us try to build our own self-designed world? With unlimited knowledge, unlimited reach (at 5G no less), and a world community all configured to our own human specifications? Would that not lead to the end-time scenario of Revelation 13? I really don't know, but I do know that much of our national conversation now is on emotional overload and the data itself is being managed.
A SAFE PLACE. Take for example my own Bible reading blog, the URL of which was blocked from being posted on Facebook. Apparently, because I wrote in support of God's plan for marriage my site was blocked. Sometimes people ask me in a PM (personal message, which you would think might be private) for the web address, but the digital filter (or algorithm or whatever), kicks in and even blocks spelling that out in a personal message. Which means -- I know I'm slow on the uptake here -- which means all of my FB personal messages are running through a digital filter somewhere. That's a bit scary. What if they decide to flag or block the name "Jesus Christ"? Add to that their new notification that the company sent out that their priority is to make FB a "safe place." Which is good, but I think it means that if anyone does not feel safe with the content of a post (threatened by its ideology perhaps), then it will be removed. Well, that kind of puts the handwriting on the wall for many Christians who might post unpopular opinions.
APPLICATION. We should be content to seat ourselves by the gentle stream of truth (Psalm 1) and beware the overpowering flood of waters (Psalm 46). We need to read books more, and consume popular media less. We need a few reliable sources of information, and to think critically and deeply. We need to be slower to respond (James 1:19-20). We need more prayer and less posting. We need face-to-face interaction with a few real people. We don't have to abandon our laptops or phones, but perhaps we need to back up a click in our use of technology, for example, and talk more in person, write more letters, talk by phone rather than text, etc. One move that I am contemplating will be to exit most social media by the end of this year. I've already cut back on news sources, columns, and articles I read. I'm setting in place my own throttle and filters -- not to build an echo chamber, but to construct a stream (rather than a flood) of reliable information, in order to access knowledge which best lines up with reality. And I will maintain a more limited connectivity (i.e., numbers of people) with a circle of folks I can relate to more genuinely. (Social media says I have over one thousand friends, which is an exaggeration to be sure! But if you want to stay in touch in the future make sure I have your address and email.) I will be doing this in order to glorify God in my own thinking and in the relationships that matter. As the Scripture says, "...whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Image credit: Painting is "The Tower of Babel" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563).