We are masters of avoidance. We see someone in Wal-Mart we don’t particularly care for and we duck in the first available aisle. We receive an email we don’t want to acknowledge and we simply don’t respond. We are miffed at our spouse and we turn on the TV or retreat to a remote corner of the house. Masters of avoidance.
And now, thanks to the proliferation of media (Netflix, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Fox News, Roku, Tik Tok), modern man has an ever-ready tool to facilitate his avoidance. And it’s not only used to avoid other people – simply pull out your phone or put up your tablet to show someone you’re not interested in talking – it’s increasingly used to avoid ourselves, to avoid our thoughts.
Our constant media drip isn’t simply about being informed or entertained, it’s about noise. Media functions like noise. And we want it to. Its constant flickering, chattering, updating, and notifying is an attention vortex. It is the enemy of deep, reflective thought. And we know it. And that’s why we won’t (or can’t) turn it off. The dopamine pleasure reward is too great and the questions we might be forced to consider if we darkened the screens are too daunting.
This is why I’m writing. I’m trying desperately to get your attention, trying desperately to be heard over the noise. We’ve not married our lives to media simply to gain information or even knowledge. We’ve done it to drown out difficult questions and meaningful thought and it is fragmenting our families, weakening our communities, undermining our schools, and enfeebling our churches. If you care about any of these, read on.
If your screens went dark, if the noise was silenced, what would you do? What thoughts might rise to the surface? What questions might accost you? Who am I? Why am I here? Does my life have purpose? Am I a good person? How do I know right from wrong? What does God think of me? What’s in store for me and creation? Are these questions on which you’re prepared to think deeply? Are these questions that could affect families, communities, schools, and churches?
Our always-on media is our self-chosen self-defense against these self-reflective questions. It is the noise we choose to protect ourselves from hearing ourselves think, from the questions every individual should be asking, the kinds of questions that produce mature people. These are foundational questions, and they are the very questions from which our media noise is distracting us.
And it is affecting our families, our communities, our schools, and our churches. How could it not? If large percentages of people who claim to be Christian can’t articulate the answers to the above questions, how could it not affect all of us? How could it not affect our educators and administrators? How could it not affect our legislators and leaders? How could it not affect our youth and families? They don’t know how to answer these questions.
Undisciplined private lives affect the whole. Appreciate what was just said: undisciplined private lives affect the whole. Your media addiction affects our community. Your classmate’s media dependence affects the entire school. Your fellow member’s media habits affect Zion and Trinity. Yes, the media may provide a diverse array of information; you may even walk away with knowledge you didn’t have before. What you will not have gained, however, is wisdom. And wisdom is not the same as knowledge. “Knowledge,” someone once quipped, “is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad” (in Bernard Bull, Digitized, 15). The wisdom that can articulate the answers to the aforementioned questions only comes through deep, careful thought – specifically, deep, careful thought on God’s truth.
It’s why Scripture insists that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It means meditating on His precepts, delighting in His design, walking in His will. It means internalizing His Word. Fearing the Lord means hearing the Lord in His Word. And that requires the noise to cease.
Don’t misunderstand my point; I’m not claiming media is evil. I’m suggesting, in fact, I’m imploring us to silence the noise. It’s destroying our ability to think, our patience for deep reading, our ability to ask, let alone answer, life’s foundational questions. I’m not suggesting that we become Luddites taking a hammer to our screens. Instead, I’m encouraging, even imploring us to abide by Scripture’s wisdom:
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).
These are the things we need to be thinking about, but these are the very things our constant media noise is keeping us from thinking about!
Does this mean you have to cut media’s cord completely? Maybe. You need to answer that question. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of family do you want? What kind of community, school, church do you want? How you structure your thought life affects everyone.
If the noise is distracting you, turn it off. Maybe you don’t have to do it permanently, but it will probably mean a drastic reduction in media exposure. It will probably mean making a plan and having the discipline to stick to it (yes, I said discipline, the thing required for maturity). At the very least, it means seeing what’s standing between you and mature thinking.
And, it means you need to think long and hard about how media’s noise is affecting your children, children whose brains are incredibly malleable and are being changed (physically wired) by the media they regularly ingest. Are extended hours with screens and media facilitating wisdom, the ability to think deeply, to understand and answer the fundamental questions of life? Simply judging by the evidence, by the studies done to gauge Biblical literacy and confessing Christians’ ability to answer these fundamental questions, the answer is No.
What should we do? You already know. Hear the Word. Think deeply on it. Consider what Genesis 1-3 means for our identity as male or female, the impact of the fall on our desires, and the promise of God to evict evil. Think deeply on Romans 1-3 and what it means to be fallen and then reconciled to God. Reflect on 1 Corinthians 15 and what it means for a world languishing in death and loss.
And study your Catechism (see “Daily Drills
”). Daily recite the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (free copies are available in Zion’s resource center or from Trinity’s office). This must become a regular part of our daily thought life. Such thinking will provide the scaffolding of a healthy mind, the skeleton to support robust thought muscles. But before any of this can happen, we have to stop avoiding it. Begin today. Mute the noise; hear the Word. – Pastor Conner