This article written by Rev. John Witvoet was published in the January/February 2020 edition of “Insight Into” and is posted here with the author’s permission.
Friends, we live in an uncertain, fast-changing world, but what hasn’t changed is what is found in God’s Word as admonition and instruction. This is also true relating to our use of modern media and our devices. The Word of God is never outdated, not even in this postmodern era. “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
I think it can be safely said that much of the time when we are using our “devices,” we are treading on, or dangerously close to, enemy territory. The modern media has become the modern means the devil uses to subtly trap and ambush, or blatantly bombard both the wary and careless user alike. Although the means the devil uses are new, his devices are not, as we can see from God’s eternal Word. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul admonished the church in the progressive city of Ephesus to “put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:11-12). We read in Acts 19 that many of them from that congregation that used the media of the day (books) came together and burned those that were evil. Since then the devil has become all the more crafty and men all the more corrupt. In these modern times we can no longer simply destroy and be rid of all the means that the devil uses to infiltrate our eyes, ears, minds, and ultimately our hearts and souls.
We live in a world inundated by modern digital media! Infinite pieces of data abound, all accessible to us by over three million apps and nearly two billion websites. This does not even include digital personal files or proprietary business systems. We have become so dependent on modern media and modern digital technology to operate our businesses, to keep us efficient in our work, and for record keeping. It is an integral part of all of our modern lives. We use it in our studying, buying, selling, communicating, and in nearly every aspect of our lives. It has become impossible to function in the modern world without the use of this “new media.”
Paul also writes of the devil’s tactics to the Corinthians, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11); in other words, his wide range of subtle and blatant attacks. And are these things not written in God’s Word for our “admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are to come” (1 Corinthians 10:11)?
First, what a brazen onslaught he wages against us! Every day, nearly at every moment, a barrage of attacks comes at us by way of the media that has become so much a part of all of our lives. It need not be proven that a vast majority of the content that comes to us every day by these means is blatantly wicked and contrary to God’s Word. It is feared that much soul-destroying content is being searched out or “stumbled across” by many of us on pornographic and lewd sites, but far more prevalent, and maybe equally as dangerous, is the endless searching and filling our minds with thousands of meaningless pieces of information. Even when it is not movies, videos, music videos, gaming and the like, surfing digital media has become a modern form of entertainment. With an endless supply, our precious time is not only wasted, but we have become addicted to consuming information.
Secondly, and more subtly, with the greater influx of modern media, printed and audible forms of media are being replaced. Reading and listening are becoming more and more difficult for the modern generation. We are constantly bombarded by texts, tweets, notifications, ads, Facebook posts, emails, and more. Our brains get hooked on all this stimulating content. We crave more and more new information, and it can be difficult to pay attention to any one thing for very long. On the other side, it also makes it difficult to hold anyone’s attention for very long. A recent study found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 (or around the time smartphones hit the scene) to eight seconds today. In comparison, scientists believe that the goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds.
What does this mean for us? The devil cannot destroy God’s Word, but it becomes evident that this subtle undermining by the devil is a tactic whereby he seeks to keep us from reading and concentrating on even a short portion of God’s Word. Is it not to be feared that this is affecting our ability to sit in church and listen with concentration and participation for an hour-and-a-half worship service? Satan not only seeks to undermine the stronghold of God’s Word itself, but also the means of grace by destroying our concentration in God’s house, if by nothing else than keeping us up late on our devices the night before. Not to mention using it unceasingly on the Lord’s Day.
Nothing new under the sun
No, there is nothing new under the sun; the devil’s modern device is to use our devices! Let me illustrate this further. Psalm 37:7 speaks of “the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” The original uses a word that means “a plan, or witty invention, usually evil, sometimes good, or a wicked or mischievous device or plot.”
How about what the Lord says of mankind in Ecclesiastes 7:29, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Again, let’s consider the meaning of the original word, only found in two places in Scripture, which is “any contrivance, art, device, or invention; a warlike machine or engine, or mental plot to break down a stronghold.”
Therefore, it makes sense that the other place we find this word used is to describe King Uzziah’s invention in 2 Chronicles 26:15, “And he made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal.” These were machines that could hurl many arrows or stones at once, or continuously in a thick barrage against a stronghold or enemy.
The application that can be made to our modern time is clear. Do these not coincide with the modern day invention of both computer hardware and software? What a barrage of deadly arrows and crushing stones can come at us with every click of a mouse or every swipe or tap of a screen! Not only has the devil gained such an advantage by this new technology to captivate and destroy our never-dying souls, but we have become victims of our own inventions! We are destroying ourselves, and the devil gladly helps us along both boldly and subtly. For he, too, has become much wiser after 6,000 years! Is this not seen today? How the devil seeks to destroy the stronghold of the Lord’s institution of marriage! Thousands of divorces are related directly to the misuse of the Internet, viewing lewd content, pursuing online relationships, social media connections, and so on. The misuse of modern media is destroying personal lives, marriages, families, and ultimately souls.
“The whole armour of God”
Friends, God’s Word has not changed, neither has His admonition and instruction. We are commanded to “put on the whole armour of God.” In the first place, this must be spiritual armour, because we have no might against this powerful enemy and his spiritual wickedness. But also practically we must take up the shield to protect ourselves and our loved ones in this unceasing conflict. We cannot pray for keeping if we do not implement the available filters and means to protect ourselves while using all of our devices. Furthermore, let necessity alone dictate the use!
Finally, let us realize that the great danger lies in the sinful and susceptible nature that we all possess. The devil has a great advantage in this war since he has very willing accomplices in us! What we need above all is a hatred for sin and a love for the Lord and His law. Oh, that we may be granted the fear of the Lord in our heart and receive grace for our soul! Pray the Lord to supply this by His Word and Spirit! Even then, the Lord must keep it in exercise, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). A true, Spirit-wrought conversion is by far the best filter; a true prayer is the best defense; and the true and mighty Saviour is the only Stronghold that will stand, not only in our modern times from the attacks of a defeated but angry devil, but ultimately from the eternal wrath of a righteous, all-knowing, and sin-punishing God. No, there is nothing new under the sun, also in the way the Lord teaches and gives His people all these things.
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This article, the last in a 3-part series written by Dr. ir. S.M. de Bruin, was obtained from the Lethbridge Modern Media Committee with permission from the author and has also been published in the September/October 2017 edition of “Insight Into“.
Living as a stranger here below, journeying to a city that has foundations – and then, at the same time, on YouTube and Snapchat… Can the two go together?
The greatest walking event in the Netherlands will commence in one and a half months, when 50,000 people will walk in and around Nijmegen for four days to receive the Four Day March Cross. The exertion and perseverance of these walkers can be used as an example for us when we contemplate the baggage of Christian Pilgrims and their media usage. These walkers don’t only make sure they have the right shoes and light clothing, but they also very carefully pack their backpacks. As they add every bottle of drink and every roll of energy candy, they ask themselves if they really need it. They will avoid all excess baggage, because they feel that every 100 grams they don’t need acts only as ballast. Similarly, the runners in Hebrews 12:1 are urged to lay aside every weight that can hinder them. During their journey, these walkers or pilgrims also manage their time carefully and avoid everything that can divert them from their destinations. A Greek myth relates that Princess Atlanta lost a race because her competitor rolled three golden apples over the racetrack. She couldn’t resist the temptation and picked up the apples, thereby losing the competition.
Habituation or addiction
What is the practical meaning of this for a Christian in the 21st century? How can a father apply this image of the pilgrim to the upbringing of his teens? “Come on, Dad. You can’t walk with your head in the clouds the entire day, can you?” One of the malicious sides of today’s media is that they continuously demand our attention. This was already the case back in the days of the old-fashioned telephone, which penetrated into our conversations, disturbed the peace or interrupted our meals. Modern media devices don’t ring anymore, but the vibrating signal is quite sufficient to interrupt our concentration.
Why is this? In the past few years, we’ve come to know more about what takes place in the brain during the use of social media. Checking emails, messages, or WhatsApp becomes a habit or even an addiction, because of the regular interesting “rewards” perceived by getting these messages. These rewards cause the brain to produce dopamine, a “stimulating hormone”, which gives it a kick and stimulates the recipient to go on: to another film, another reply, reading another couple of messages. Another vibrating signal again: perhaps there is another interesting tidbit? It is precisely the unexpectedness and the pull of the unknown (just think of Snapchat) that make this effect so strong. Dopamine is a material in the brain that performs all sorts of functions, but one of its involvements is in addiction and the associated experience of pleasure. Brains can become so used to dopamine stimulants that we need more and more of them in order to feel “normal”.
In his book Ontketen je brein (Unleash your brain), Compernolle, a Flemish neuro-psychiatrist, describes how we become so accustomed to all these small, unpredictable rewards from our smartphones that we are no longer able to go offline. The deceitfulness of this is that we find it pleasurable. A second result is that these media continually disrupt us when we want to concentrate or rest or sleep. This disturbs important mental processes, such as reflection and archiving. Therefore, Compernolle advises us to go offline for an hour a couple of times per day, only do one task at a time and take regular breaks. This will improve our concentration, our willpower, our self-control and our creativity.
Christians must take this advice seriously. Young people – but also older ones – regularly complain that they have a hard time concentrating. Do we realize that the devices that constantly demand our attention are like heavy concrete bricks in the backpacks of pilgrims? That those hundreds of stimulations per day are the golden apples that roll over our racetracks? They look attractive and promising, but they exact a high price when they distract our attention during the sermon, during Bible reading or during our prayers. Here, only a radical choice is fitting, and parents have the important task of being the example: Go offline an hour before going to sleep, reserve time to “reflect” and time to think about and meditate on God’s Word. Do not read your Bible on an electronic device. Make sure that digital stimulants cannot disturb your Sabbath rest, by silencing your smartphone from Saturday evening to Monday morning. Avoid social networks that exist precisely because of surprise and stimulation (i.e., Snapchat) as much as possible. If your (home)work allows, turn off the sounds and signals of other networks (i.e., WhatsApp, Facebook, e-mail, etc.) to the extent possible and limit yourself to only answering these types of messages at fixed times. If someone really needs
you, they’ll phone you.
Among the many forms of media distraction lies a second danger that the pilgrim should greatly fear. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we see how Christian continually met with diversions. When he, together with Faithful, passed the town of Vanity and could not bypass the fair, they put their fingers in their ears and looked upwards. Further on, when Christian and Hopeful passed the Enchanted Grounds, where sleep would be deadly, they kept each other awake by means of spiritual discourse and singing. In a previous article in this series, we have seen the excellent possibilities that these new media can offer. The other side of the coin is the secular influence of the “image culture” on our families. Games, videos, and vlogs on YouTube and series via NOP and Netflix slay their thousands. It is very important for parents to watch what their children are doing online and to familiarize themselves with sites like Facebook, Instagram, After School, ASKfm, Kik, and LIVE.LY to name only a few.
It often appears that parents themselves aren’t really that convinced of the associated dangers and, for the most part, are only concerned about the use of obscene language. The American preacher John Piper has an entirely different opinion about this. The article he wrote in 1995 about TV is still completely applicable to the image entertainment of the current era. “Turn off the TV. It is unimportant. And it is a lethal spot for your relaxation. The penetrating banalities, the sexual suggestions, and the God-denying values do not uplift your soul. It is mind numbing. It drives God away. It quenches prayer. It darkens the Bible. It reduces the value of your soul. It corrupts virtually everything. It is unnecessary for most of you and is spiritually lethal for all of you.” Later, he wrote that, although we can be more selective on the internet, “yet you can also search worse things on it, while only the Judge of heaven and earth beholds you.”
Whoever takes these words to heart, will say, together with the poet of Psalm 119: “I have refrained my feet from every evil way” (verse 101). Then, we will be happy with filters and other aids that keep this form of “recreation” at a distance; for ourselves, as well as for our children.
But filters – they don’t work at all, do they? Indeed, if someone wants to circumvent digital protection, they will most likely find a loophole. But those who know the deceitfulness of their own hearts and are afraid of it, actually feel the need for protection. These fathers and mothers will tell their children that, in the first place, they need the filter for themselves. Then, like Christian and Christiana, they will urge all their children to depart from the City of Destruction and join them on their pilgrimage.
In relation to this, we can also draw a valuable lesson from the Four-Day Race: not everyone can join, just like that. Someone can join up with the procession of walkers, go through the same difficulties, walk the same distance, and come into the same city along the same Via Gladiola. However, only those who have officially registered and can show their identity card will receive the Four-Day Cross.
The same holds true for the Christian pilgrim. Media education begins with conversion. The English evangelist Arthur Pink points out that we may not be satisfied with raising children to be “rich young rulers”, as “it will not profit us when we each try to form a good character and do that which will gain God’s approval, if our sins stand between Him and our souls. What good are shoes to us if we are lame? Or what good are pairs of glasses if we are blind? The matter of the forgiveness of our sins is fundamental, of vital importance. (…) At the hour of death, it comes down to this: Have our sins been blotted out by the blood of Christ?”
Dr. ir. S.M. de Bruijn