The Idol in your pocket
I sat down to eat in a local restaurant and noticed that the majority of diners were attentively looking at their smartphone screens. Families were not engaged in conversation but lost in their own private world and couples who were out on dates instead of looking across the table, they had their eyes fixed on the glowing screen in front of them and all of this got me thinking that this sadly is the new norm.
It is no doubt that electronic media has irreversibly changed us and due to the accessibility of devices such as smartphones, it is normal to see people, neck bent, and eyes cast downward to the screen clutched in their hands.
I am no doctor or statistician but it wouldn’t surprise me that the increase of cases such as ADHD, sleep deprivation, even depression or anxiety could be related to our excessive use, dare I say, obsession with this electronic medium.
Yet there is also a spiritual consequence of this obsession.
Think about the all the time that is spent gazing into the screen of a smartphone or the irresistible urge to pull it out of your pocket and check the latest status update from social media. Furthermore, for a great many people the last thing a person does right before sleep is to look at their phone as well as it is the first thing they do when they wake up. At the root of all of this our phones have become our idols.
When the term “idol” is used it sparks imagery within our imaginations of stone or wooden statues that are surrounded by hopelessly devoted worshipers as we see in Hollywood depictions. Yet idolatry in every form is essentially beholding something or someone other than God.
To behold something is to cherish or view as extremely valuable so much so that it captivates your attention. Again go to any place and see where the majority of the attention lies: several inches from their face buried in an electronic screen. In addition, idolatry can be discerned by one’s reaction when said idol is removed or taken away. Ask yourself honestly, how would you feel if you had your phone taken away from you and you were unable to use it? Would you feel anxious, angry, upset? How many of us feel lost when we accidentally leave our phones at home? Idolatry runs deep and is something we all face.
The Bible is full of admonitions against idolatry. It is the second of the 10 Commandments found in Scripture (Exodus 20:1-8) and idolatry was one of the main reasons why God judged Israel. Time and time again in the Old Testament you see Israel, forsaking the worship of the true and living God and turning their attention to behold false gods such as Baal, Asherah, even sacrificing their own children to Molech (Psalm 106:37), which shows that unbridled idolatry has absolutely horrifying and devastating consequences.
Idolatry is heinous because it replaces the joyful fixation on the greatest wonder and good, God himself, and puts all the attention on something far less. To put it in perspective, you have the call to “behold your God” (Isa. 40:9) and the One whom you are to behold is gloriously infinite in every attribute, who will never have any end nor is limited by anything yet who is knowable and extremely personal in all His dealings with you. However, instead of looking to Him and being overwhelmed with awe and wonder at who He is, we settle for cat videos on Facebook or thumbing through a never-ending cycle of soul-deadening media.
Idolatry is not only a detraction from God’s glory but also a distraction. We are constantly “plugged in” and our minds are in a perpetual state of anticipation for the next buzz or notification sound that it makes being able to focus rather difficult. There have even been moments when I settle to pray or study that I fall into the compulsion to check the latest happening on social media and from conversations that I have had with other Christians, I am not the only who struggles with this.
So what is the solution? We do need to discipline ourselves to put away all idols but also recognize that idolatry is a matter of the heart and only God and fresh vision of Him can absolutely overwhelm that part of us that is prone to wander. Put the device down and behold your God!