Technology and Its Fruits: Digital Technology’s Imago Dei Deformation and Sabbath as Re-Formation

Technology and Its Fruits: Digital Technology’s Imago Dei Deformation and Sabbath as Re-Formation

The serpent tempted Adam and Eve to become more like God on their own terms, yet this tragically resulted in them becoming less like God. Digital technology extends a similar promise to make humans more like God on their terms and has a deforming effect on our minds, bodies, and souls. Weekly Sabbath observance is a re-formational practice that not only creates distance between us and the deforming power of digital technology but also creates the possibility of renewal through undistracted connection to Christ through the Spirit.

The serpent promised that the fruit in the garden would make Adam and Eve more like God. While the fruit reduced the capability gap between God and humanity, it widened the character gap. This article aims to demonstrate that digital technology parallels the fruit in both its promise to grant us God-like abilities while also deforming God’s character in us. I use current psychological and sociological research to demonstrate that high digital technology use steadily deforms God’s character in humanity. I conclude by suggesting that weekly Sabbath practice counters this deforming technological pressure and creates space for God to re-form his image in us.

“Take the fruit, and you will be like God,” the serpent whispers in Eve’s ear. The reality was that Eve was already like God; humans uniquely reflect and represent God’s image. And though Adam and Eve were created like God, this was not enough. A desire to extend the boundaries of their God-likeness consumed them, leading them to bite the fruit that the serpent promised would make them even more like God. The irony is that the serpent was both telling the truth and a lie. The fruit opened Adam and Eve’s eyes, allowing them to access knowledge that previously only God held—and yet taking the fruit on their own terms twisted the image in them, making them less like God than before.

The information age’s digital revolution parallels the serpent’s deceptive promises in the garden.1 With just a few keystrokes, Google allows anyone to access almost any knowledge known to man. Alexa enables us to illuminate our homes with just a word. Social media grants us the ability to be present to everyone all the time. And now with the proliferation of ChatGPT and other AI applications, the upper limits of human productivity have never been so high. One might even say technology makes us gods.2 These abilities are doubtlessly used for pure ends, but might these expanded abilities be similar to the serpent’s god-like temptation in the garden? Do these technologies simultaneously reduce the gap between God’s abilities and our own while also widening the gap between God’s character and our own? Like Adam and Eve, the irony of technology is that in becoming more like God, his image is becoming less clear in us. God desires we resemble him, but we desire to rival God.3 And just like Adam and Eve couldn’t undo the bite they had taken, the technological genie has left the bottle. Is it wrong for a surgeon to consult a global medical community for wisdom on treating a patient with a rare disease? Is it wrong to use FaceTime to maintain connection with elderly shut-ins during a pandemic?4

This article aims to demonstrate that the digital revolution allows us to act more like God and yet has a steady deforming pressure that moves our character away from God’s. Like a car in drive on level pavement, creeping forward unless proactively and thoughtfully impeded, digital technology steadily bends our character away from God in our unconscious and uncritical use of it. To proactively fight against digital technology’s deforming pressure, I argue that observing the ancient practice of the Sabbath both counteracts the lie that we can ever truly rival God’s power while also providing the ingredients and space for God’s character to be deeply formed in us. Thus, the Sabbath allows us to use our digital tools with humility and wisdom and keep us in the position of masters over our tools rather than our tools mastering us.

My argument unfolds in three broad sections. In the first section, I unpack the assertion that the fruit in the garden came from a temptation to make Adam and Eve more like God on their own terms. Additionally, I trace the plot line of God restoring and forming his image in his people despite its distortion in the garden. In the second section, I demonstrate how digital technology parallels the temptation to inch closer to God’s power while practically deforming his character in us. The final section explores how the practice of Sabbath observance offers us space to cooperate with God’s forming his character in us while also causing us to delight in the reality that God’s incommunicable attributes are utterly foreign.

1. Imago Dei in Humanity

This section first explores the imago Dei from a biblical-theological lens, demonstrating that it was always God’s desire for mankind to be like God in significant and unique ways. This “likeness” was distorted by Adam and Eve’s discontent with the boundaries of this likeness. Yet, God remains committed to this imago Dei vision of humanity despite the damage that had been done. In unpacking this trajectory, I examine four movements: (1) God desired humanity to reflect him; (2) the serpent promised greater godlikeness on their own terms; (3) the result of listening to the serpent was becoming less like God; and (4) God is redeeming his image in his people, and the fruit of the Spirit is one of the clearest examples of this in the New Testament.

1.1. Godlikeness Granted

The serpent’s deception is that God was never threatened by Adam and Eve (Gen 3:6). The Creator always intended for Adam and Eve to resemble him, but by striving to become more like God, the two humans became less like him. Genesis teaches that humanity is unique from all other creation in that they alone are created in God’s image.5 This is no accident; God chooses under no compulsion or fear of competition to form humanity in His image (Gen 1:27). Each of the previous creatures is made “according to its own kind” (Gen 2:11–12; 21, 24–25), but only Adam and Eve are created “in [God’s] image” (Gen 2:26–27).6 To be image-bearers means humanity both reflects God and represents God.7 In reflecting God, we ought to see a similarity to God when we look at humanity. In representing God, we ought to function similarly to God in his place.8 Unlike any other creature, God wanted Adam and Eve to be like him. So what exactly did it mean for Adam and Eve to reflect and represent God?

This question must be answered with humility as the text does not explicitly give us an answer.9 Theologians throughout church history have provided varying, sometimes contradictory, answers on what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.10 Though absolute agreement is allusive, many see the image Dei reflected in man’s character.11 This may not be directly evident in the creation passage, but John Calvin argued that only in reading ahead to the New Testament could one fully understand the imago Dei of Genesis 2.12 In other words, only by looking at how the image is restored in believers through the Spirit and displayed in Christ can we fully understand how Adam and Eve imaged God in the garden.

1.2. Greater Godlikeness Tempted

Genesis 3 details the moment Adam and Eve first sinned against God and were thus expelled from God’s presence in the garden. The serpent’s deception finds its strength in enflaming Eve’s pride; his half-truths extend the possibility of divinity by offering the possibility that Adam and Eve could truly achieve equality with God’s divine glory.13 And who wouldn’t want this glory? Who wouldn’t want the happiness that comes from divine knowledge?14 And thus, the serpent suggests that the Creator is not the type of God he lets on. Adam and Eve’s limitations must come from a place of fear that Adam and Eve would become like him15 because he must be the type of God who withholds what is truly good.16

The tragic irony is that Adam and Eve were already “like God; they had been created in his image.”17 More than that, God had filled the earth with all kinds of good things (Gen 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; 2:9), and he remedied the only thing that was lacking by blessing Adam with a wife (Gen 2:18). This insidiousness of the lie, however, is not found in its false premises but rather in the complete inverse of its result. Instead of the knowledge moving them closer to God’s equal, it creates a greater division between humankind and their Creator.18

1.3. Godlikeness Diminished

The type of knowledge that promised to make Adam and Eve like God ended up making them less like him. It undid part of the miracle of bearing God’s image. The image was not lost completely19 but diminished. Augustine writes, though they desire to be like gods:

in fact, they would have been better able to be like gods if they had in obedience adhered to the supreme and real ground of their being, if they had not in pride and made themselves their own ground…. By aiming at more, a man is diminished, when he elects to be self-sufficient and defects from the one who is really sufficient for him.20

Reformer Wolfgang Musculus agrees with Augustine: “Satan promised divinity if they would eat of the forbidden tree’s fruit. They ate, and they were so far from acquiring the glory of divinity that they became more like vile and subhuman beasts than like God.”21 Here we see a crucial insight into the nature of Adam and Eve’s sin. Pride promises to make us more like God but always does the opposite. Pride pledges to bridge the gap to God’s abilities but always ends in greater separation from him. Pride first manifested itself in taking the fruit in the garden, but every human has made the same choice: our prideful desires remain discontent merely bearing God’s image rather than being self-sufficient, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

1.4. The Image’s Redemption

Though sin had deformed and distorted God’s image in humanity, God had not given up on his original intentions. Though this meta-theme is sweeping in scope, for the parameters of this paper, I focus on only two aspects: Jesus as the perfect image of God and the Spirit’s role in redeeming the image in us.

1.4.1. Christ, the True Image

The New Testament presents a portrait of Jesus as both fully human and fully divine, which the Nicene Creed summarizes.22 By implication of Jesus’s divinity, he lives a perfect, sinless life.23 This means that when we read about Jesus, we see both a portrait of what God is like, and we also see what a human, unstained by sin, is supposed to be like. Jesus, therefore, is the perfect image of God, the one by whom we compare all other claims of what it means to be like God and become more like God as a human.24

1.4.2. Formation of Christlikeness

There are many places in the Bible we can look for a catalog of Christ-like character qualities, though none may be as famous as Galatians 5:22–26, where Paul lists nine character qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is not a list of do’s and don’ts of the Christian life but rather the Spirit forming the Christian’s character to resemble Christ’s.25 This is the character manifestation of what Paul, a chapter earlier, says is “Christ [being] formed in you” (Gal 4:19).

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