Leaving pieces behind, in my opinion, is the most difficult aspect of sermon preparation. Yet for the sake of clarity and precision, some must be left on the cutting room floor. The following is one of those.
While preparing to preach on the incarnation, I wanted to show how God becoming flesh proves that our physical bodies are important and not innately evil. Two threads emerged from this general idea. One addressed the need to both enjoy the pleasures of our physical existence and to discipline ourselves against abusing those same enjoyments. The other targeted how, like the people of Babel, we use technology to try to transcend our bodies. Ultimately, the first felt more cohesive to the rest of the sermon, so the second one was scrapped. Yet the idea of technology replacing the role of the Spirit in our lives is worth sharing (and considering), so here it is.
To have a physical body means being limited. The people of Babel understood this all too well. After learning how to form strong and durable bricks, they began to use this new technology to build a tower. This proto-skyscraper was meant to ascend into the heavens; it was to be their stairway to the throne of God, a means of making a name for themselves. They not only wrongly believed that they could transcend their earthly limitations; they also believed that God was small enough to be reached by human effort. God, of course, displays their tininess by stooping down to disassemble their tower and scatter them across the earth.
Unfortunately, the spirit of Babel has never left us. Today, more than ever, we continue to use technology with the hope of breaking free from our fleshly limitations. We keep creating towers to the heavens, attempting to transcend any need of our Creator, while also trying to stay united together in the midst of a world broken by sin.
Consider a few examples.
Electric lights break us free from the tyranny of day and night. For millennia, our bodies were guided by the patterns of our Circadian Rhythm, but now we create our own schedules. We dictate the best time to sleep and stay awake.
Cars and planes liberate us from the confines of distance. Being able to drive across town at any moment or fly across country (and even oceans) within 24 hours has expanded our village of family and friends onto a much wider area. Unfortunately, the actual village lifestyle of the past is vanishing into a memory. Although we may be able to drive to one another’s home at any time, it’s quite a different practice than “just dropping by to say hi” while on a walk through the neighborhood.
Phones and social media guard us against solitude and seclusion. They ensure that we are never truly alone, yet they also ensure that a significant portion of our communications happen through a buffer. Face-to-face conversation was once called simply conversation, but we now speak to one another primarily without all the nonverbals of facial expressions and body posture, which thankfully were never very important for conversation anyway (side note: since you can’t see my face… yes, that is sarcasm).
Modern medicine protects us from the pain and discomfort of symptoms. Unfortunately, the prevalence of pain medication seems to ignore the reality that pain is warning signal for something that has gone wrong. We treat headaches and stomach pains without much consideration as to what our body is trying to tell us. We snuff out cold and flu symptoms without pondering why our immune system was weak enough to allow such pathogens to survive so long.
Grocery stores assure us that food is plentiful and easily accessible. This appearance is by design, since we are more likely to buy produce if the display is fully stocked. Of course, this leads to grocery stores forming 10% of the 133 billion pounds of food (or 1/3 of all that is produced) that we throw away. All of this is to say nothing about our consumption without all the mess of having to grow or kill whatever we eat.
The list could go on.
Our modern lifestyle gives us greater comfort and luxury than any ancient royalty could ever possess. We live in an unprecedented time of technological advancement in history. And none of these things are wrong or sinful in and of themselves. Having too much food is certainly a better problem than not having enough. Even two decades ago, medicine would not have been advanced enough to save my dad’s life after his accident. Electricity, transportation, and communications have made our vast network of civilization possible. But neither was the development of brickmaking the sin of Babel; their sin was attempting to be gods, trying to transcend free from their physical limitations. Similarly, whenever we use technology to sedate the hungers and needs of our flesh entirely, we end up rejecting God as our Provider and Creator. Our gadgets help us perpetuate the lie that we can save ourselves.
But God alone offers us both the sustenance and transcendence that we crave. In fact, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 plays out like an anti-Babel. The tower was an attempt to reach the heavens, but the indwelling Spirit truly carries our prayers to the very throne of God. The people of Babel were united by a common language, but the Spirit forms us into a new people from every nation, tribe, and language on earth. The people of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves, but the Spirit enables us to joyously glorify the Triune God. Also, by the Spirit, we are reminded that we will one day be given glorified bodies as we dwell with God and His new creation for all eternity.
Through the Spirit, we both transcend this present reality while simultaneously becoming more firmly embodied in it. In fact, we could simply say that by the ordaining of the Father, through the work of Christ, and by the empowering of the Spirit, we are entering back into reality itself, communion with God, which then empowers us to be united with one another. The Spirit connects us and gives deeper meaning to our lives than technology ever can.
Sadly, technology will continue to be used as a substitute for the Holy Spirit to break us free from the limitations of our bodies. But, as Christ’s followers, we must reject this and keep technology within its place. We must use it to cultivate and subdue both the earth and ourselves, but it cannot save us. It cannot bridge the hostility caused by our sin. It cannot take us beyond the limits of our flesh.
Use technology to serve you, not save you.
And embrace the limits of your body. They are displaying your need for the Creator.