I remember my Grandma Bulmer marvelling at the wonder of email. We were in the process of joining the mission and much of our correspondence with the office in Colorado Springs was happening through email, a relatively new technology. It was in the late 1990s, and Grandma, born in 1907, was amazed that we could communicate so quickly with an organization so far away. I will never forget her shaking her head and commenting on the changes she had seen in her life.
Born on a farm without electricity or running water, she remembered the excitement when the city of Barrie got its first traffic light. “How would that work?” she chuckled. The whole family was confused how a light could bring order to the traffic chaos.
The tools of communication have changed significantly in the 113 years since Grandma was born. Whether it is the simple function of a traffic light, email with attachments (remember those wonderful buzz-beep-oooshing sounds from the dial-up modems?), or Zoom, our need for communication has reminded constant.
The ability to communicate is not unique to humans. If you own a pet with any kind of intelligence, it will let you know, somehow, what it wants or needs. A walk? Food? Companionship? It doesn’t take long before most pets train their owners to respond to their cues. If you own a pet with high intelligence (like a parrot), it may bypass the “communicate-with-my-owner” phase and just go help itself to whatever it wants. And good luck telling it otherwise.
As God’s image-bearers, our relationship with Him enjoys a special complexity. We not only perceive there is a God out there, but we can learn of Him. This is not by self-discovery but by revelation: God making Himself known to us. In a very general sense, we can observe the complexity and creativity in the natural world, and it causes us to wonder Who is out there. Even those who reject the reality of a Creator God often wonder, “Are we alone? Who else is out there?”
Since we are capable of complex communication, it should not surprise us that God’s revelation to us is itself complex. How can our finite minds possibly understand the nature of an infinite God? We can’t - at least not completely. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand some of God’s nature and character, and it especially doesn’t mean we can’t have a relationship with this One who is so complex. Our tendency, though, is to try and reduce this complex Being to something simple, something we can fully understand and because of our sin nature, even control.
I’m not the most hip social-media guy, so my observations are rather limited. But it seems to me the current COVID-19 situation has created a spike in God-talk, positive and negative, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This usually is in the form of memes. Typically, there is a picture of a dove or rainbow or sunrise with the caption, “What verse of the Bible did God write for you?”
On one hand, I’m pleased that there seems to be an increased sensitivity to spiritual issues and discussion about “where is God” in all of this. On the other hand, I’m mildly distressed that God is trivialized into memes containing just a few (decontextualized) words of Scripture.
Don’t get me wrong - there are some great statements of Scripture that are so memorable they seem to stand on their own. Usually, those who value these statements also have some level of appreciation for the context in which they were written. But, in general, citing a few lines without understanding who wrote them, to whom, and why, is a risky endeavour. Since God’s communication with us - His self-revelation through Scripture - falls into the “complex and sometimes abstract” category, we minimize it at great peril to ourselves and those who read our memes. We may completely misrepresent the original author’s intended truth!
Admittedly, it is not necessary to give the full background to a Suzerain-vassal treaty before quoting a text from Deuteronomy. Statements like, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other” (Deut. 4:39) do stand on their own . . . sort of . . . but the full implication of Moses’ words can only be understood when in the context of an ancient treaty.
This is not to suggest that citing Bible verses for display whether on the wall or on the internet is a bad thing. In so doing, however, we must take great care that we are not reducing the complexities of our Creator-God to a mindless marketing slogan.
Our primary role as God’s image-bearers is to reflect His glory. We do that by representing Him and stewarding His resources well. The perception of God we present online and in person must faithfully reflect His true nature and character. These are unprecedented days for presenting hope, courage, trust, and living by faith. But these qualities are useful only as the messenger accurately portrays their object, God Himself. If we present a God who is simplistic, trivialized and plays favourites, then we self-destruct our message. But as we engage with God and learn of Him, are transformed by Him, then the message resonates with truth.
It isn’t about being clever in our representation of God’s message. It is about being authentic. Love that casts out fear, faith that displaces fear, and trust in the Creator God who is always good will communicate much more impactfully than any viral meme in social media. God invites us to represent Him. He doesn’t need memes, He just needs me . . . and you . . . transformed by His Spirit.