This is certainly true of relationships. We are Facebook friends with folks we have never met. We follow Twitter and Instagram and are connected with people a continent away yet still behind a barrier and unknown to us. The people we encounter may be real or they may be the creatures of their own imaginations -- their pictures stolen and their lives invented for purposes of deception. How do we know difference? Do we want to know the difference? Social media can, indeed, connect but it can also present to us lies and dangers that also parade as truth and friendship.
The information we access on the internet is also uneven and unfiltered. It is easy to be deceived by the presumption of truth. Though we joke about what we read or see being true because we got it from the internet, the harsh reality is that objective truth has long since been abandoned and not in small part because everyone can be an expert on the internet. Have you trusted things you got from an internet source only to find them false? I have. One of my greatest fears is that people will hear me as a substitute for hearing truth and searching for that which is real.
We need not go to a bowling alley to bowl, a tennis court to play tennis, a golf course to golf, or a river to fish. Our technology has brought us a virtual reality that occupies even our leisure as well as our work. Our shopping is on line and instead of interacting with a clerk (always hard enough to find when you want one), we listen to the consumer reports of the anonymous to guide what we purchase. It is then delivered to us without the need to interact with anyone. Online has become the promise of privacy in the sense of living without our lives touching others and as such we are more exposed than ever before to the snooping of government, the scams of the criminal, and the marketers attempting to predict our taste and future purchases. It is a very closed kind of life.
But as bad as these are, the worst that technology has told us is that the virtual is an adequate substitute for the real and personal. The reality is that many find sexual desires more easily satisfied by internet porn than in a relationship of love, trust, faithfulness, and accountability. The reality is that it is easier to befriend people with a like button than it is to get to know someone and work at the development of a deep friendship and relationship. It is also less risky since you need not invest all that much in the virtual friendship of social media.
This has also become a real danger for Christians and their faith. We were always a people with itching ears in search of the new and different. What once were the itinerant church shoppers who visited without joining have become the spectators who do not leave their homes in order to find inspiration, fellowship, and encouragement in the faith. While that might be a necessity for the home bound, it has become the reality for too many who no longer hunger for the fellowship of the Table and who prefer the isolation of their devices to the community of Christ.
We listen to the music we like and want to listen to... We peruse the marketplace of preachers and preaching searching in the same way for the voice that appeals to our preferences and desires. We have a church app that fulfills most of what we want from a real church of sinners in common confession, of worshipers gathered by the Spirit speaking through the Word, of communicants who feed on Christ in our hearts but not our mouths, and of prayers prayed by others in other places.
This is not new. When TV preachers and services showed up in the living rooms of America, there was also this temptation. It is now much more accessible and individual. We are alone with God, alone with our thoughts, and alone before a screen that has come to substitute from the more messy and difficult fellowship of people sitting, listening, confessing, praying, and communing together. I worry about those who have become content with the virtual reality of life and relationships and faith. It is a new hurdle we face in presenting them with the Gospel. For the call of Christ is also a call to real community, to mutual accountability, to a gathered people around His Word and Table, where the splash of water is not imagined and anonymity gives way to personal relationship and responsibility.