Retiring from the Shouting Match

Have you ever thought about how God has chosen to communicate with his people? It’s a fascinating question that we have explored here and here over the last two months. I’d like to take a final step this month, which is where we have been heading all along.

In the last century, and particularly in the last decade, our powers of communication have become godlike.

Take a second to ponder the truth of that statement. Instant communication, written, verbal, and visual, globally. Messages broadcast that will reach billions of people. Memes. Social media: Instagram, YouTube, Facebook. Our voices are amplified a thousand, a million times. Instant, high-quality translation to the major world languages. Humanity is again creating the Tower of Babel, striving towards the infinite.

After spending the last two months examining the characteristics of God’s communication, let’s turn our attention to ourselves. What messages and what values are being amplified by these godlike powers? What are the characteristics of our speech?

That question is too broad to examine here, even if we cut out the vast majority of our enhanced communication that is involved with selling products (which is certainly a characteristic worth contemplating).

A more focused question is: How are we using these new powers of communication with respect to our concern for justice and how should we use them?

There are clear trends in our use of social media with regard to justice. Positive trends like increased enthusiasm, support, and awareness for causes. Negative trends like the use of shame and alienation as a weapon to enforce conformity. Division and tribalism. It seems like everyone in the world is standing up for causes and raising their voices in virtual solidarity. Social media has become a deafening cacophony of activism.

Shouldn’t we be involved? After all, there are a billion Christians. We have a massive presence on social media. Our voice is loud. We can make a difference! We will surely lose the battle in the marketplace of ideas if we aren’t involved.

I have written previously about why it makes me nervous when Christians start doing a new thing that non-believers are doing for the same reasons. I believe that it should drive us immediately to critical reflection based in the Word, and informed by our experience.

If godlike powers of communication are a new thing, then we can begin by remembering how God has used his powers of communication.

Last month, we talked about the specific, relational nature of God’s communication. God is incredibly patient. He spent thousands of years investing in a small nation preparing a conceptual and religious framework for his ultimate revelation and the blessing of all nations. The supreme revelation of God comes in the person of Jesus. God chose to lay down the power and prerogatives of Deity, and take the form of a servant, limited in both time and space, in order to achieve the deepest, richest communication with us.

Jesus, as God’s Word, does not seem to have been an activist, at least not in the modern sense. He lived as part of an oppressed, conquered people that were discriminated against on the basis of both race and religion. He was surrounded by injustice. Jesus appears not to have addressed those injustices as issues that could be separated from the source of justice, the coming of the kingdom. It appears that he only discussed issues of justice with members of the community of faith, or those who asked about that community. Justice, salvation, mercy, obedience, repentance, and faith seem to have formed a cohesive whole in his teachings.

Jesus entrusted his message to a small group of people to be spread throughout the nations, as God has consistently done since the beginning.

If we move to the apostles, we notice that Paul seemed to believe that a long, profoundly thoughtful letter was at best a complement to face-to-face conversations (Rom 1:11). We know that Paul had opportunities to assert power as a god (Acts 14:11-15), as did Jesus before him (as a king  in John 6:15). Both actively rejected the position of power. We know that Jesus has the power to proclaim the message of God and God’s justice to all of humanity at any time, and has thus far chosen not to.

Moving from observations about how God has communicated to conclusions about how we should communicated is not simple! I do not know the answers. But I have a hard time imagining Jesus tweeting in righteous anger. Or Paul making a selfie video about his support for an issue. Those images don’t sit well together with how God has worked, and asked His people to work, in the past.

The God who chose the 12 and chased away the thousands in John 6 doesn’t seem to me like a God who is seeking a megaphone. The possible exception is the Old Testament prophets. But, much like the Old Testament law, they seemed to have been a guide on what doesn’t work with sinful humanity (and a sign of our sinfulness), rather than an instruction book on how to improve people in the quickest way possible.

What if there is something profound in God’s chosen method of self-revelation, mediated through personal relationship? What if there is an important truth in Jesus’ avoidance of the crowds?

The problem is humans are suckers for the newest thing. But there is nothing new under the sun. The internet and social media aren’t new. They aren’t revolutionary. The ancient world had an internet too. It was called the city. It was like the internet, just as full of information, news (true and false), and social networks when compared to the countryside.

What if you can’t stand for issues? What if you can only stand with people? Not with them in principle, but actually with them. Not for minutes or hours, but for months and years. What if solidarity requires presence? What if there is no way to scale relationship? What if change is never cheap or easy? What if all that extra noise is just that, noise?

Is there any medium to which Shakespeare’s words in Macbeth refer to more accurately, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

What if time alone on the mountain is more important than the power to mandate change?

These are questions worth thinking about, friends. God’s chosen methods of communication seem far distant from ours. Not only exhibiting different kinds of communications, but different underlying values. That is not how ambassadors are generally supposed to function. God has always had the ability to do all of the things that we can do now, and more. He chose to come. To sit. To write long letters, spaced out to give us plenty of time to think and live and change. He paid a very high price, and expected his followers to do the same. If God really cared about scale, why not just skip the middle step (partnering with people) and handle it Himself? He chose the 12, not the 5,012. I think that was intentional. He chose to send people to spread his word. God’s communication is non-universal. It is specific, relational, progressive, integral, and incarnational.

God’s rationale is unfathomable, but it makes sense that this method would actually be the most effective in the long run, given what we know of people. We are so quick to anger, quick to exclude people, so easy to be influenced.

So why not retire from the shouting match? After all, nobody else is doing it. We might just enjoy the silence. And in the silence, we might hear God’s voice reminding us that “Go” does not require international travel, nor is sitting with a megaphone sufficient, but it does require motion and relationship.

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