October 26, 2011

Electronic Awesome

Elijah’s mantle means nothing without Elijah’s God.
Elijah has an awesome mantle. It’s awesome, miracle-working gadgetry. At the same time, it’s elegant, like the late Steve Jobs’ electronic artistry. The word for it (’adderet) depends on a root meaning “splendor.” It’s so gorgeous it can lead you into sin—as with Achan: you may blight all Israel with shame, defeat, and the death of unsuspecting innocents, because you surrender to the fascination of its splendor  (see Joshua 7:20, 21, 24). Or, joining in today’s irreverent adoration, inspired by our electronic magic, and rather stultified against true awe, you might direct your cry of “Awesome!” at the thing rather than at the Creator of all good (see Rom. 1:23).
Our world has gone to awesome! Splendored Babylonish garment stuff—Facebook, iPhones, Djokovic, left-handed gridiron grabs, hang ten Nose manuals. Facebook is awesome, accruing 750 million adherents between September 26, 2006, and now. Facebook, Yahoo, and Google together (including YouTube) are awesome, swallowing up 92.3 billion of our monthly minutes. Social networks and blogs, online games, and e-mail together are awesome, taking up half as much time as the almost 80 other things Nielsen lists us as doing online.* Indeed, adding three more—?videos/movies, instant messaging, and software manufacturers, leaves the other 75 things with less than half of our time.
2011 1530 page6And what does all this electronic awesome do for us? It connects to friends, games, movies, shopping, or our avatar. Also, as this special issue highlights, it can contribute to our obesity, separate us from family, steal our sleep, threaten our values, and even introduce our 14-year-old  puppy-loving kid to her “friend,” the sexual predator. Electronic awesome expresses genius turned to ill.
Or good. Witness the power of online schooling, wireless reading devices, E. G. White apps, the Hope Channel, globally associated with 60 media centers, available to more than 1 billion people through TV, satellite, cable, or online broadcasting. Witness Adventist World Radio, podcasting in more than 70 languages, offering the gospel to anyone anywhere with an Internet connection. Witness the Adventist Review online, or your AR Facebook page with its daily proverb. Witness the fact that even as I write, my brother and I text each other—news has reached him that his wife was involved in an accident and is now in the hospital. Electronic awesome can separate us from God, purity, and each other—or be one more expression of heaven’s genius that keeps us close to loved ones far away, when we need each other’s consolation and prayerful support.
It is not social media that shapes our course. It is always we who use and interpret all these expressions of ingenuity born of God’s intellect. Whatever their awesome power, they are never better seen than as expressions of, and instruments for, God. Elisha at the Jordan, swinging Elijah’s mantle, teaches well. Elijah’s ’adderet is Zuckerberg’s Facebook in the fashion realm. Seeing it might have inspired today’s indiscriminately worshipping shopaholic to explode with “Awesome!”
But when Elisha swings it at his Jordan crossing, he knows his awesome gadget will only work for him if he lets God tell him how to use it: “Where is Elijah’s God?” he challenges as he slaps the mantle against the water. The river opens, and he walks over.
We and our kids may exploit every ingenious, awesome resource around, so long as we understand that we and they best use them when we use them in God’s name. Gadgetry means nothing or worse without God. Mantles are mere fetishes without Elijah’s God. For those of us whose goal is crossing Jordan, Elijah’s mantle means nothing without Elijah’s God.
* Nielsen Social Media Report: Q3 2011, http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/social/
Lael Caesar is an associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published October 27, 2011.