Of what use, then, were the erection in churches of so many crosses of wood and stone, silver and gold, if this doctrine were faithfully and honestly preached—viz. Christ died that he might bear our curse upon the tree, that he might expiate our sins by the sacrifice of his body, wash them in his blood, and, in short, reconcile us to God the Father? From this one doctrine the people would learn more than from a thousand crosses of wood and stone. As for crosses of gold and silver, it may be true that the avaricious give their eyes and minds to them more eagerly than to any heavenly instructor.
Institutes, Calvin, I.11.7
Technology has remade our experience of the world. No longer must a message be carried by a man, hundreds or even thousands of miles, that could take days, weeks, even months. I can send a message and immediately my recipient has it. A decision can be made and a course of action taken in a matter of seconds. Before I can even reflect upon a message, an action is taken. An action must be taken.
“Pending” is an offensive word to the modern world. We want nothing to ‘pend’. When our internet slows down and we have pending downloads we become agitated at the delay as if some cosmic force were against us. And so our world doubles upon itself, seeking the ever elusive improvement – digging, drilling, crawling, even groping after advancement. Advancing to what, no one knows; improving to become what, there is no answer. Yet onward we forge, erecting new world without a telos.
There are many days where I am caught reflecting on how incredible it is that a piece of metal and glass can emit light (which can be dimmed or brightened) and form definite shapes that change at the command of a touch. It is quite baffling, to say the least. And then there are days, where, sitting in church, the projector stops working and no one in church can sing the song, because no one knows the song. And then it strikes me – this world is vastly different then before.
We raise crosses in our churches as symbols, we say, to remind us of Christ’s suffering. But sometimes I wonder if it’s to remind us that we are Christians and not heathens, that we should forget so quickly. Or other times I wonder if we raise them because without them people might dare think we worship an invisible God who does not dwell in temples made by human hands. We say, “it is good”, yet we have not reflected as to why it might be good, or even a more troubling question, why it might be bad.
Behind all of the additions, enhancements, improvements, even ‘features’ lies a very troubling assumption – the inventions of man are indifferent to us. I bring this to attention because it is so fundamental to our thinking that it is nearly an axiom – to doubt it is nearly to doubt the existence of the Sun: one can postulate, but never assert there is no Sun.
What are we to make of what may be considered the greatest invention in human history: the printing press. Created by a Christian man for the purpose of spreading bibles throughout the world, the next most significant invention would have been the harnessing of electricity. But can one dare consider that such an object might cause as much woe as it has caused good?
Let us consider a very elementary verse:
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2 (NIV)
Now, one might think simply that the use of “atoning sacrifice” in place of “propitiation” is an exegetical issue (which it is), but this is not the primary problem at work here. The exegetical question must be asked because now, unlike ever before, many who never could have access to or read a bible can. The greater issue at play here is how technology has shaped our experience of the world.
One may often read the verse “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13) and think that this was a bygone practice of a bygone era of the church – it has as much practicality as women wearing head-coverings in church. Certainly it is a good thing to do, but it is not necessary, as it was back in the 1st century AD. But then, unlike now, the reader, when encountering a word like ‘propitiation’ could explain it. Now, though, the reader does their reading in isolation, separated from a community, detached from the learned. A decision was made on the translation of the word “propitiation” based upon this one single fact: someone will read this bible alone.
Here we are today with so many different versions in one single language that they must be catalogued to keep track. Accuracy and precision of transmission – marks that once set a manuscript apart – are sacrificed for the ability to make a bible that anyone can read. And we can only have this peculiar situation because now everyone can have a bible. Technology transformed the way we read the bible, technology transformed the way we experience community, technology transformed the way we learn, and ultimately, for good or for ill, technology transformed the way we know God.
And this brings me to my greater point: we have moved beyond reflection. No longer are we distinguished by the fact that we consider before we act, that we try to discern the introduction of something before we use it. We are quite the opposite: reprimanded for taking the time to consider, the time to reflect, the time to delay a decision until the facts are distilled. The are many actions taken whose consequences are much beyond what any man can foresee, though this is not the rule, but the exception. One may very well have considered the implication that attempting to put a ‘readable’ bible in every man’s hands may have quite the ill effects, among which could be the absence of Christ bearing God’s wrath against sin in our behalf.
And so we fill our churches with crosses, not thinking the better or worse for which those purposes might serve. And we light lights (or turn them off) and project songs, and load our churches with man’s inventions not considering the effect of such decisions. We have failed to see that in the end it is not the invention that has changed, but we who have changed.