Bryan Rigg

The Internet Deathtrap and the Need For Wisdom

The more we diminish the role of wisdom in our everyday life, the more inclined we are to unwittingly “delegate tasks that demand wisdom” to the internet, and the less healthy skepticism or suspicion we’ll have as we use it.  It is one thing for technology to quicken our typing ability or to optimize some industrial process, it is another thing to absolve us of thinking, reasoning, and relationship opportunities. 

Jurassic Park is easily my favorite movie of my early teen years.  It was the first scary movie my parents let me see.  The symphonic backdrop was awe inspiring, the acting was solid, and the fictitious story line was plausible and, distinctly rooted in real science.  The movie has never grown old on me.  It seems, at least in my own mind, that the church has entered our own Jurassic Park and I can faintly hear John Hammond uttering a warm welcome, with dramatic irony, “Welcome to Jurassic Park!”
Our dilemma might best be described by one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Dr. Ian Malcolm (yes, he’s also from Jurassic Park).  With a bit of foreshadowing and wise premonition, Malcolm, the naysayer of the park uttered these words before everything went off the rails at Jurassic Park.  He said, “I’ll tell you the problem with the [scientific] power that you’re using here.  It didn’t require any discipline to attain it…You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves so you don’t take any responsibility for it…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether they should.”
The internet is meant to be a thrilling, helpful, and revolutionary adventure like nothing we’ve ever experienced before; akin to the original Jurassic Park.  However, for God-fearing men and women, the internet has become an inescapable death trap, the bleaker version of the park with the T-rex and the velociraptors on the loose.  It’s not hard to understand why; the endless stream of information and experiences provided by the internet do not require any discipline to attain, are free and unearned, and because of the decentralized nature of the internet,  there is no good authority asking whether things should be done, only producers and consumers asking  whether things could be done.  The result, as Malcom points out, is inevitable catastrophe.
The Problem with the internet is simple: It’s easy. Too easy.  As Teddy Roosevelt put it, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”  There’s something to be said about the correlation between lasting value and effort and this concept demonstrates perfectly the problem with the internet.  The internet promises (and seemingly provides) things that are naturally very hard or impossible to obtain, with the quick click of a button.  Consider the sexual pleasure that the internet markets to us.  This is epitomized by pornography, but it is much broader than this and includes all its corollaries; tabloids, forums, pop-up ads, spam emails, meaningless eye-grabbing articles about lingerie or sex scandals or some strange seductive secret. The internet has identified and freely offered a significant part of the beauty of marriage, with no strings attached and disconnects sex from the life-long process of marital intimacy.  The pitch is simple: in 30 seconds anyone and everyone can experience instant gratification.  It’s too easy.
Consider the nature of social media.  A platform that eliminates the need to meet new people, that abbreviates hard conversations into posts and likes, and that allows like-minded people to self-segregate themselves into echo chambers by interests or political affiliations. It sounds amazing, I know.  If not for one problem, it’s too easy.  Real relationships with real people develop over time, forged or tested in the best and usually the worst of times.  Compassion, empathy, comradery, and shared story are formed through daily experiences.  The internet short circuits the whole process.  Instead of growing to know a person, their history, family, beliefs, and convictions and then wrestling with them through challenging subjects, we pronounce our opinions in one-line-zingers and we feel a prideful confidence in our bold opinions.  Truly being in relationship with others means that we’re always having to measure the relational collateral we have and the cost of pressing upon a hard issue.
And this is not to mention the impact the internet has on our perception of truth, its ability to mold us into consumers, or its impact on our capacity to think and formulate opinions on our own.  The beauty of the internet is also its greatest problem: it is designed to relieve the critical work of the mind by allowing it to freely and easily receive and store information without having to do the hard work of evaluating and critiquing what it hears and sees.  The internet blunts our power of discernment, and we begin to believe whatever it tells us.  In much the same way a powerful drug or drunkenness does, it offers an escape from the rigorous processes of life and markets limitless potential at no obvious cost to us.  It’s easy.  Too easy.
Through the internet, churches are being divided by each new social issue, destroyed by pervasive access to junk information and junk idolatry, and afforded ample opportunity to back-bite and gossip through each new social media platform.  And, as each year passes these things are being handed down to the next generation as normative tools that are easily compatible with Christian living.
On the one hand, Scripture tells us that the human heart is the problem and not the things outside of us (Mark 7:15).  It’s an important observation that keeps us away from legalism.  However, as Tony Reinke points out, referencing the historian Melvin Kransberg on a recent Mortification of Spin podcast, “Technology is neither good, nor bad, nor neutral.”  Affirming the wickedness and the deception of the heart should not prevent us from evaluating the things around us that move us toward or away from righteousness, holiness, and God Himself.  The internet is technically amoral, it is neither good nor bad.  It is just a collection of codes and algorithms.  But can we honestly say that it is neutral?  Does it feel neutral to you?  Has the easy availability of pornography been a neutral development?  Has the spread of disinformation or the watering down of friendships and relationships through social media been a neutral development?  Has the dulling of our reasoning and critical thinking been a neutral development?  I’ll let you answer these questions for yourself.
The Answer is maybe as simple as the problem and it’s all about wisdom.  I first spent time thinking about the inverse relationship between wisdom and technology while reading Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows.”  Carr, an expert in the relationship between technology and psychology says, “The great danger…is that we’ll begin to lose our humanness, to sacrifice the very qualities that separate us from machines.  The only way to avoid that fate…is to have the self-awareness and the courage to refuse to delegate to computers the most human of our mental activities and intellectual pursuits, particularly ‘tasks that demand wisdom.’”  Curiously, this got me thinking, “What are the tasks that demand wisdom?”  And more importantly, “Is there such a thing as a task that does not demand wisdom?”  From a biblical perspective the answers to these questions are pretty clear: all of life requires some degree of wisdom.  Thus we read, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 13:14). Or as the preacher put it, “A man’s wisdom makes his face shine” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).
Everything we do requires wisdom.  Everything.  And, while wisdom is a gift from God it is also a curated development of character.  That is, it ordinarily takes time and experience to develop deep meaningful wisdom.  This is why Job will describe wisdom as being something found by the aged and learned (Job 12:12), or James will connect wisdom in James 1:5 with the long and arduous process of trials and testing in James 1:2-4.  It is also why we are told that wisdom is costly, and yet that we should pursue it at all costs (Proverbs 4:7), and why discipline, correction, and training are so closely tied together with wisdom (Proverbs 29:15).  Wisdom is associated with things like patience, endurance, suffering, fortitude, and perseverance while the internet is associated with things like results, ease, immediacy, promptness, and instant gratification.
The more we diminish the role of wisdom in our everyday life, the more inclined we are to unwittingly “delegate tasks that demand wisdom” to the internet, and the less healthy skepticism or suspicion we’ll have as we use it.  It is one thing for technology to quicken our typing ability or to optimize some industrial process, it is another thing to absolve us of thinking, reasoning, and relationship opportunities.  Because these are the processes in which wisdom develops, the internet gives us the illusion of having wisdom (with all knowledge at our fingertips) while simultaneously stripping us of the real, genuine wisdom we actually need. Since both the fruit of the Spirit and many basic human characteristics are governed by wisdom and cultivated in the basic activities of life, the easy and immediate nature of the internet slowly and methodically dulls these qualities.  And so, through the eroding of wisdom, we see the cornucopia of problems described above.
What’s the answer?  I would propose the church’s hope to endure the internet age begins and ends with wisdom.  We need more wisdom.  We need to want more wisdom.  We need more preaching on wisdom from pulpits on Sunday mornings.  We need more wise discussion and correction in our homes and at dinner tables.  We must spend more time in the wisdom literature of Scripture and meditate upon it every chance we are able.  And, when it comes to entrusting ourselves or our children with the internet, we have to remember that the internet is not neutral.  It can be useful but it also can be (and according to the statistics, likely will be) dangerous for us and a hindrance to our sanctification.
We should measure our ability to safely use and maintain such a risky tool through the window of wisdom.  Do we have enough wisdom to surf the web?  Can we exercise enough wise restraint to be able to browse the internet on our phones?  Does maintaining a social media presence increase our wisdom or does it fuel discontent, division, and angst?  How can we wisely discern the flow of information available on the internet and validate its truthfulness and goodness?  Do our children have the wisdom they need to have access to the internet in any capacity and what are we doing to defend them from the subtle seductions, ideologies, and patterns of thinking imputed through the internet?  And finally, how are we exercising and pursuing godly wisdom to prepare ourselves for the temptations and stumbling blocks that we will inevitably encounter on the internet?  The more I read and the more destruction I see being facilitated by the internet, the more I am convinced the answers to these questions are a lot more restrictive and inhibitive than we suspect.  We must hold ourselves to a higher standard.  Because when everything is said and done, as we’ve learned from all the Jurassic movies, there’s only one sure way to endure Jurassic Park: never to go in the first place.
Bryan Rigg is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Mercy PCA in Lynchburg, VA.
Related Posts:

Overturning Roe v. Wade: A Wide Door for Ministry Opportunities

But by the power of God and the fervency of His people, the list of hopeful outcomes goes on and on. And standing above all of this, uniting and summarizing every good outcome, is the transcendent and paramount glory of God, who undoubtedly will receive the honor and praise.

As you’ve likely heard, on June 24, 2022 the Supreme Court upheld a 2018 Mississippi law and in the process, overturned Roe v. Wade.  The decision will allow individual states to determine the parameters and accessibility of abortion in their respective states.  The practical result will be a smorgasbord of state-by-state parameters on abortion that are determined by state legislatures.  It is likely that the result will be the limiting, and in some places severe limiting, of access to abortions.
The decision of the court is both good and at the same time a little strange; but mostly it’s really good.  Good because this decision promotes and moves towards a more righteous standard of living by the proper use of the sword entrusted to governing authorities for the thwarting of evil (Romans 13:1-7).
“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15).
These prohibitions are long overdue.  In the last 50 years more than 50 million babies have been aborted in America (1.5 billion worldwide).  Abortion in America disproportionately targets minorities, girls, and children with physical disabilities (more than 90% of down syndrome babies are aborted in America each year).  And the reality is that an overwhelming number of abortions in America are not out of necessity but out of fear or convenience or ease.
At moments like this the church must not waver in her commitment to pursue that which is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).  Human life is not a random concurrence of human tissues that magically evolve into a little version of a person at some supposed week of gestation, but rather human life is a sheer act of creation, fearfully and wonderfully crafted, by a living God who breathes life and then sustains that life minute after minute of every day according to His power.  And so, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 1:25).  It is a  good decision because righteous laws and precepts bring glory to God.
At the same time, the decision of the court is also quite strange to me.  Strange because it comes at the advent of what has been described as a post Christian era.  And yet, this decision of the court is happening now and not say 30 or 40 or 50 years ago, where a student of history might expect to find it.  In the late 1900s, while Christianity maintained an outsized influence on society, abortion continued rather freely as a normative part of our society.  While many stores remained closed on Sundays and prayer was still being offered at major sporting events, before gay marriage was legal or transgender was a thing, abortion stood out as an odd and progressive outlier of our society.  Now, as all of society seems to be changing at light-speed, when the majority of Americans seem to have no serious religious convictions at all, we experience this decision of the court that will promote goodness and righteousness.
So, since this decision is both good and oddly placed, Christians find themselves in a curious position.  We rejoice over just outcomes but we also struggle to find our place in a world where we can so often feel like the annoying antagonists of an apathetic generation.  The clear message for the church is this: there is work to be done if we can expect any lasting change. A just legal standard has been established but the hearts of this people are still overwhelmingly against the Lord.  My prayer has been that God would use the potency of the law to sear hearts and so to revive many.  To accomplish this, the Lord often uses the movements of history to direct the affairs of His kingdom, movements like the ones we now witness.  And He has called us to be part of this work and so work we must. “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35).  There is work to be done!  To that end I offer a few simple suggestions:
Pray.  Pray for our elected officials, at every level, that they would pursue righteousness apart from vain ambition.  Pray for our judges that they would seek the truth, be guided by God, and that they would sense the gravity of the work they undertake.  Pray for expectant mothers of wanted and unwanted children that, whatever their circumstances, perhaps God would give them a tender affection for their children, husbands who love and care for their families, a community that will support them, and the courage to honor the image of God in the gift of life.  Pray for revival in our communities and neighborhoods, for hearts to be turned to the Lord, that many would “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case” (Isaiah 1:16).
“The sins of others work for good to the godly, as they set them the more a-praying against sin.  If there were not such a spirit of wickedness abroad, perhaps there would not be such a spirit of prayer.  Crying sins cause crying prayers.  The people of God pray against the iniquity of the times, that God will give a check to sin that he will put sin to the blush” (Thomas Watson, All Things For Good ).
Declare.  Declare our God and declare His truth to the watching world.  Too often over the last 50 years the church has emphasized a call to be compassionate and gracious at the expense of the call to be righteous and true.  We have been suppressed or have wrongly thought that the only way to appeal to the world is through love and kindness, and so we’ve neutered our message and created a version of truth that seems more amiable to those around us.  Yet there is rarely a time the Word of God mentions love apart from truth or kindness in the absence of righteousness.  Contrary to human wisdom, the declaration of God’s righteousness is often the very tool that He uses to draw people unto Himself.  Look no further than Nineveh upon whom Jonah pronounced judgment leading to their repentance.
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
We must be active in our communities and influential in culture and engaged in science and medicine and fervent in our exhortation and in conversations with neighbors and discussions in our book clubs or trivia groups.  With abortion, the masses have been duped into believing a sterile and inconsequential version of manslaughter.  Those types of opinions don’t change overnight but rather with thought provoking conversation and by the grace of God.  Let us be winsome, humble, measured, and peaceful – but let us not cower from the moment as we distinguish between what is good and evil, right and wrong, true and false.  And where the Bible speaks clearly, may God make us willing and able to speak clearly ourselves.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them (Jonah 3:2-5).
Advocate.  Here is where I hope to leave you with maybe the greatest burden and exhortation to action.  For many years, legal abortion has disguised and concealed the vulnerabilities of many of our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family.  Many single mothers have been saddled with the weight of carrying a child by themselves, and often, without obvious means to care for that child, abortion has offered a “manageable alternative.”  Other mothers have had to deal with the heaviness of discovering their baby had a disability that would impact them for the rest of their lives and abortion offered a way to maintain a “normal life.”  Some have been affected by the sin of others through rape or other terrible actions and are without answers, save one, abortion.  Many argued that these women and others would be left helpless, without any answers, and many thousands of them would endure great pain and suffering, some may even lose their lives.  Let’s not pretend that some version of these are not a logical and expected outcomes.  However, far from being a call to relent and give ground to “necessary evils,” this is a call to the church to step up and let faith be demonstrated by action.  Consider some of the great triumphs of American history that were simultaneously overtly righteous and exceedingly painful.  The abolition of slavery and the triumph of WWII come to mind. These were costly decisions that were blatantly righteous.  More importantly, they were opportunities for godly men and women and the church to step into the void and to courageously go where God might lead and to act as God might call them, serving the afflicted and the oppressed.
So too is the moment before us.  Now is our time.  Christians everywhere must step-up, in an uncomfortable and sacrificial way, in the lives of those impacted by the changes in abortion laws.  Young women in many communities need advocates and support networks and help with childcare, with access to flexible work, and encouragement completing their education.  Young men need male role models exhorting them to take responsibility and ownership of their decisions and espousing the beauty of fatherhood.  Pregnancy and crisis centers will need more counselors, advocates, volunteers, money, and support from our churches.  And many, many more Christian families must be willing to be involved with foster care and adoption in their communities in even some of the most challenging situations (e.g., children with disabilities).  In most affluent countries the ratio of abortions to adoptions is somewhere between 100:1 to 500:1. This cannot be the case for us.  The church must heed the call of our Lord, seize the opportunity before us, and step into the void with unequivocal truth and self-sacrificial love.  It will be costly.  It must be costly.
“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  James 2:18
Finally, let’s not forget that the law cannot bring life, only Christ brings life.  Just as the Mosaic law does not give life or change hearts, likewise the American courts and legal determinations cannot give life or change hearts.  But the law is by design a guide for what is good and a visible deterrent of that which is wrong.  The expected outcome of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the overturning of Roe v. Wade will inevitably produce this type of consequential legal standard.
We cannot estimate how many people will decline to even consider having an abortion if they understand it to be illegal or dubious under the law.  Or how many of those same people will ask clear and discerning questions about the value of life and the source of truth.  Or the numbers of human lives that will be saved by limiting access.  Or the activities and agendas of ungodly people that will be limited or muffled through the curbing of the work of organizations like Planned Parenthood.  But by the power of God and the fervency of His people, the list of hopeful outcomes goes on and on. And standing above all of this, uniting and summarizing every good outcome, is the transcendent and paramount glory of God, who undoubtedly will receive the honor and praise.
Bryan Rigg is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Mercy PCA in Lynchburg, VA.
Related Posts:

Scroll to top