It’s a whole new world out there—or rather, online. You can attend work, school, and church via the internet. We keep up with our friends and follow influencers on social media. But we know there’s a dark side. Social media is addictive. Both teens and adults can prefer screen-filtered interactions to real life. People easily spread harmful ideas. And studies show that young people who interact with others largely through digital means are slow to develop empathy. Two-dimensional screens and texts without the benefit of human tone and inflection contribute to failure to experience responsive facial expressions. All these limit the development of the whole-person brain that should grow in community, feeling others’ pain, sharing in joy, adding to the conversation with not just words or “likes,” but nuances, emotions, and true responses.
Yes, all this is depressing. But no matter what culture we live in, God can burst into our lives. He may even use pieces of our culture to do so. In the Bible, we read Paul quoting pagans to reach his Gentile audience. I think of Don Richardson’s Peace Child, which tells of sharing the gospel with the Sawi people of New Guinea. Don and his wife, Carol, learned of a redemptive analogy in Sawi mythology. They used it to explain the gospel of Jesus in a way that touched the peoples’ hearts.
So how might God touch our hearts in an increasingly digital world?
Online, we “swipe” people away when they disappoint us. Unfollow. Cancel. Or worse: Dox. Some might rally followers to attack. Any wrongdoing, no matter how small, might cause one to be rejected or dismissed. Sometimes, that rejection may be necessary to stop hurt and damage to another. But too often, humans can go too far. The relative anonymity of the internet makes it easy for cruelty to become the norm.
But imagine what it could mean to someone steeped in that behavior to hear that God will never swipe us away. Our sin means that God was well within His rights to destroy or forsake us. Instead, He saved us. He comes closer instead of distancing Himself. “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,” Jesus said. (John 3:17) God loves this broken world so much that He gave His only Son for it.
That’s shocking! It goes against our sinful inclinations. Unlike us, God is “rich in mercy” and loving. Even when we were dead in our trespasses, He “made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) Not only is that shocking, it’s wonderful. When God opens our eyes and we are sickened at the sight of our sin, we see that the gospel really is good news. God is sovereign. He can use anything to carry out His good purposes. He may even use the internet to stun us with His grace.