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Wisdom for our (Digital) World
Jul02

Wisdom for our (Digital) World

Imagine a community built around certain zones. Let’s call one zone “The Tutorial Zone.” In this zone you could find skilled instructors on hand ready to help with home improvement projects, to give auto repair tips, to provide trouble shooting advice for tech problems, reviews on nearly every product under the sun, relationship advice, even recipes and meal planning tips. You would need merely to log your inquiry upon entering the zone and the help desk would direct you to the appropriate instructor.
 
Let’s call another zone “The Music Zone.” In this zone you could find every genre of music under the sun: classics, rock, punk, indie, bluegrass, ballads, jazz, classical, choral, etc. No form of expression would be excluded. No worldview would be barred. Every genre for every person.
 
Let’s call another zone “The Sports Zone.” This zone would offer a panoply of athletic opportunity from sports to watch (and re-watch) to sports to get involved in along with every statistic that could conceivably be tracked. Something would be available every minute of every day.
 
But in this imaginary community there would also be “The Sexual Expression Zone” and “The Gender Ideology Zone.” These zones would be characterized by a libertine ideology that celebrates human desire and the internal sense so that the world beyond became irrelevant to identity; all that mattered would be what was on the inside. These zones would eschew boundaries, disregard societal taboos, and celebrate every desire of the human heart. These zones would also have paid promoters and influencers, people who specialize in propaganda and rhetoric that they would use to recruit new adherents, especially young adherents.
 
Yet another zone would be “The Endless Entertainment Zone.” This zone would have room after room, building after building, filled with people doing stupid human tricks, setting off elaborate Rube Goldberg machines, duping unsuspecting people with pies in the face, scaring them in elaborate surprise scenes, distracting them with silly synchronized dance moves, misleading them with suggestive playacting, and more, a non-ending array of diverting entertainment.
 
Every zone would be open all day every day. Every zone would be open to every person. Almost all of it would be free (with subscriptions available for those wanting more). It would be paid for through the advertisements that would adorn the entrance and walls of every zone. 
 
What do you think about this community? Does it leave you with mixed feelings and a disquieted uneasiness? Are there parts of this community you’d welcome more than others? Would you let your children explore this community unsupervised? Are there boundaries you’d want to establish? If you had a choice, would you choose to live in this community?
 
Think long and hard about these questions; they aren’t hypothetical or rhetorical because you are currently living in the aforementioned community. It’s not Manning or Manilla, Westside or Carroll, Audubon or Templeton; it’s your smartphone. It’s a digital community. Every zone we imagined (and many, many more!) is present and open to every person with a smartphone or internet connection. This includes your children. And evidence shows that they have visited and are visiting every zone. Further, the imagined zones are actually pursuing you and your children. They are targeting you, clamoring for your attention.    
 
Doesn’t, then, wisdom call for discernment? Doesn’t wisdom require us to wrestle with how to welcome the good and to deflect the bad, how to appreciate the good zones while establishing a firm position on limited-time zones, even no-go zones? If you wouldn’t set your child free in our imagined community – and I pray that you wouldn’t! – then we must work to direct our children (and ourselves) into the way of wisdom in the real and ever-present digital community in which we live even as we take steps to protect our children and ourselves from the propaganda, lies, and mind-wasting material in digital land.
 
So how do we do it?[1] Some call us to reject the digital community outright. And while there is much to disdain in the digital community, escaping it doesn’t seem realistic or even necessarily desirable.[2] Jesus Himself prayed these words concerning His disciples, and by extension us:

 
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (John 17:15-17).

 
Pay attention to His words: do not… take them out of the world, but… keep them from the evil one… sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. We live in the digital world, but so does the evil one, Satan. We must never forget this. The call, then, is not to escape our world, but to be sanctified in our world by God’s Word, to be shaped and formed by truth.
 
This shaping and forming, what Jesus calls sanctifying, changes us profoundly. It sets us apart from our world and makes us different – and it allows us to flourish as people. And that difference demands discernment. Being sanctified by God’s Word requires us to practice wisdom in our digital world.  
 
How then do we exercise discernment and practice wisdom? Seek the source of wisdom: The Lord and His Word! But please, please understand, this isn’t a slogan or a nice idea; this is a life mission. This is a discipline that must be honed day after day. If it stays a slogan, we will lose our distinctiveness in the world, compromising our witness and reaping the consequences of foolish living. And the number of fractured, distracted, crude, loose, biblically illiterate lives, marriages, and families suggests no shortage of foolish living.
 
Slow down, then, and consider carefully what Scripture says about the pursuit of wisdom. Proverbs says (pay especially close attention to the intensity of the search for wisdom):
 

If you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:3-5) (see also James 1:5).


Wisdom isn’t chanced upon; it is pursued with ardent intensity. You seek it and search for it like invaluable treasure. And where do you focus your search? The teachings of God. The psalmist acknowledges:
 

Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way (Psalm 119:104).


And then he prays:
 

Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments (Psalm 119:66).

 
Scripture teems with passages like these. Wisdom is gained through hearing, considering, learning, digesting, studying, praying, singing, and saying God’s Word continually. God’s Word gives us the conceptual framework to situate ourselves in reality. It gives us the language, the concepts, the words to describe, frame, and interpret reality. It gives wisdom for marriage, finances, sex, identity, entertainment, suffering, education, government, war, and so very much more.
 
To return to our digital community, we gain wisdom to discern which zones we may enter with joy and which zones we must build boundaries against, which zones we must limit our exposure to, which we can celebrate and which we must denounce by immersing ourselves in the words and wisdom of God in Scripture.
 
Consider but a few of Scripture’s exhortations:


There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 14:12

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Romans 6:12

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
 
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
 
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

 
These words are for our good – for your good. They are words to live by, words to internalize, words to memorize, words to build a conceptual framework for wise living. They are words that will guide us through our digital world, giving wisdom and imparting discernment to us and to our children so that we can enjoy the good and avoid the foolish and evil. Want help learning these words or applying them to your specific situation? Let’s talk! – Pastor Conner

[1] To read about protecting yourself and your children online, read the series of articles I wrote over the last few months of 2021, available on Zion’s blog (http://zionmanning.com/blog.php).

[2] Lying beyond the scope of this article is the reality that concern over the digital world is not limited to content. We need to appreciate what many have long acknowledged, that the medium affects the message. The medium (the means by which the information is delivered) alters the message being delivered. Visual media (the core medium of the digital world), doesn’t traffic in truth, but in emotions. It doesn’t teach us to think in language, but to feel in pictures. Further, our ability to customize our digital world can lead us to believe we are sovereign over reality and truth. Appreciating this is key in engaging the digital world with wisdom and discernment.    


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