December 12, 2007

The Digital Paradigm

2007 1534 page6 capwelve years had gone by since I dealt for the last time with public administration offices and suppliers of goods and services on this side of the Atlantic. For it’s been 12 years since I left these blessed shores to serve in faraway countries; in Switzerland first, then in Kenya and the countries of Eastern and Central Africa. And now, after repeated adjustments to cultures and societies in many ways vastly different from that in North America, I stand in the United States, facing the biggest culture shock of all.
I had lived for 16 years in Canada and the United States, but that was during those benign days preceding 9/11. To think that the country would be the same now as back then would be naive, of course. But there’s more.
The Internet has become pervasive. It has given rise to the digital society. Everything happens over the Internet. You need a phone connection? Order it over the Internet. You need to do banking? Internet. You need to check your utility bill? Internet. For the majority, it’s all great and so convenient; provided, of course, you fit into those boxes that pop up on your computer screen.
2007 1534 page6No Social Security number? You’re out of luck; no service. Forgot your password? Three tries and you’re out of the loop. Confused your phone number with your birth date? Sorry, can’t help you. You either fit into one of those computer screen boxes, or you’re not a real human. There is no in-between, no gray zone, no perhaps or maybe, no “we’ll work this out over lunch,” as in perhaps other less efficient societies.
In the digital society you’re either in or you’re out; either on or off; which, of course, makes sense, considering that our lives are now regulated by strings of ones and zeroes. One, you’re on; zero, you’re off. That’s the digital paradigm.
All of this has some interesting implications for people who believe that the mark of the beast allows neither buying nor selling. But that’s the subject of perhaps another editorial; I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is, after all, my first but probably not last editorial, now that I have joined the Adventist Review family. But for all its ominous implications the digital paradigm embraced by our society is actually the paradigm embraced by heaven.
Jesus used an analogy inspired by nature, yet very digital: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers” (John 15:5, 6).* We abide in Jesus, we bear fruit; we don’t abide in Him, we don’t bear fruit. Simple. Digital. We’re either on (the vine), or we’re off, as in cut off, out of the loop, not real Christians. Sound radical? It is.
Nicodemus had to swallow hard when he came to Jesus hoping to find out what it takes to be saved. Wanting to discuss the finer points of the law and argue about interpretations and gray areas, he heard Jesus cut the whole issue down to its digital dimension instead: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3). You are either born again, or you’re not; saved or lost; on or off. There is no in-between limbo for those who fail to adjust to heaven’s digital screen.
Nicodemus’ shock is palpable throughout the rest of the chapter. But he should have known better. After all, he knew the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel, who challenged Israel by saying: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). That’s the digital challenge: On or off, no in-between.
So here I stand, digitally challenged in this post 9/11 society; but fully on where it really matters, and hoping to promote, through this magazine, heaven’s digital paradigm.
Are you on too?
*Bible verses in this editorial are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Claude Richli is marketing director for the Adventist Review.