Over thirty years ago, I stumbled upon a 60 Minutes episode in which Mike Wallace interviewed an MIT computer science nerd. He had a tiny keyboard strapped to his forearm and something like a virtual reality headset strapped over his eyes.
The grad student claimed that future technology (remember, this was sometime in the 1980’s) would give us access to limitless amounts of knowledge. He told Mike Wallace to ask him any question about anything in the world and he would answer in mere moments.
Wallace asked, “What were Babe Ruth’s lifetime RBI’s?”
The student asked, “Who was Babe Ruth, and what are RBI’s?”
Wallace said, “Babe Ruth was a baseball player, and RBI’s are ‘Runs Batted In.’”
The computer scientist pawed away on his kitten-sized keyboard and reported, “Babe Ruth’s lifetime RBI record is 2,213 and he had 714 homeruns.”
Information Is Not Understanding
When it first aired, I was stunned. I worked for a software company and had fallen in love with technology. But my technology-loves were simple: laser printing, Quicken personal accounting, and King’s Quest adventure games. Everyday technology back then still had huge limits:
- A cell phone was the size of a brick and carrying it four hours a day fulfilled all anerobic exercise requirements (but it couldn’t text, take pictures, play music, or surf);
- The founder of Google, Larry Page, had been born but didn’t yet have a driver’s license;
- And Wikipedia wouldn’t even be conceived for another dozen years.
Yet back in those dark ages, some young, nerdy tech guy could answer any question about any topic, without tripping over wires or lugging around a portable computer the size of a sewing machine.
Many details of that episode are engraved on my mind: mostly the thrill and amazement. But some of the details have evaporated: I’m not sure if the interviewer was Mike Wallace, I’m not sure if the baseball player was Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, and I’m not 100% sure it was 60 minutes. (Maybe I should google it.)
In the last thirty years, though, I’ve drifted from delighted to dubious to doubt. Yes, it’s pretty cool the information we have at our fingertips today (I won’t change a light bulb without looking it up on YouTube), but when you read Reddit, you don’t really know if it was published by a PhD Master or just copy/pasted by a twelve-year-old wanting to impress a girl.
The internet is a friend of information but an enemy of deep, intimate understanding.
It’s Been True for 2,000 Years
Early in his ministry, Jesus responded to critics with this:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you will find life, but they are about me; and you refuse to come to me so that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)
What is he saying? That mere information may be a friend of the abstract, but it is the enemy of relationship. It is good—great even—to thoughtfully exposit a passage; but if our goals get stuck at intellectual indulgence, we’re missing God’s point in writing. We are twelve-year-old’s copy/pasting our Master’s treasures.
This relational purpose is not limited to the gospels. A thousand years before Jesus, God says to Job: “Who is this who clouds counsel by words without knowledge?” And then God doesn’t answer any of Job’s questions; instead he just reveals himself.
The real purpose of Scripture is to come to know God personally. It’s not just Wiki-information, it’s an intimate self-revelation. Because Scripture is the self-disclosure of the heart of God, from Genesis, to the Psalms, to the gospels, to the very end.
But if we don’t want Scripture to introduce us personally to Life Incarnate, we can always peck away on our mouse-sized keyboards, slip on our virtual reality headsets, and google how many Babe Ruths it takes to screw in a lightbulb.
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Mary Beth Wenger
Amen, Brother Sam! Since purchasing a Smartphone and discovering the ease of using Google at all hours of the day and night for information, I have become aware of how the search for knowledge sometimes interferes with intimacy with my Beloved. This morning I have been on a prayer call with family of God in another nation. We read the Word and prayed for the people they are seeking to reach. My heart has been filled to overflowing, and after the call I am resting sweetly in my relationship with the One who knows me intimately. What a contrast to my interactions with Google. Information without intimacy. Information feeds my head knowledge—and often distracts me—but cannot fill the longings of my heart.
Hi Mary Beth,
In Hebrew, the word for deep knowledge is also the word used for the intimate act between a husband and wife. It’s a deep, personal connection, much more than a light grasp of irrelevant facts.
As you said, “What a contract to my interactions with Google.”
Mary Beth Wenger
Yes, the Hebrew word is fascinating and exciting to think that God would want us to know Him in such deep intimacy! For the first 19 years of my life my relationship was primarily in knowing and memorizing the written Word of God more than Jesus, the Word of God. As you pointed out, there is a distinct difference! I am so grateful for the day when He revealed Himself in new ways so that I could enter into an intimate, eternal relationship of knowing Him more deeply and being known by Him more deeply moment by moment. John 15 life.
Well said! (About both the internet offering knowledge but not understanding, as well as your points about the scriptures.)
You are always so encouraging. It must be a gift.
Not to !mention that Google has its wealth of misinformation. God showed me that, while He does indeed speak through various people and sources that are excellent tools to dig deeper into His word, time with Him and relying on His Spirit give us true intimacy, understanding, and wisdom, not just mere knowledge. ” Every good thing comes down from the Father… ” No exceptions discussed anywhere in scripture…ever. ALL good things…when He reveals Himself, relationship with Him, understanding, wisdom. Can’t Google that.
Beliefs of the Heart
Good closing line: “Can’t Google that!”
I really appreciate your insights, so well expressed, and am always surprised by how they correlate and enhance what I have been hearing God speak to me. Because of this I always read your emails preferentially, and have your Facebook posts come to my notifications. Thank you for bringing us something beyond ‘quality’ content, but instead spiritually alive content, at least to me.
Beliefs of the Heart
Thanks for your encouragement.
I love how God speaks multiple ways to us about the same topic. We read a passage, overhear a conversation, see a billboard, and read an article. And we say, “Yikes God, are you speaking to me!!”
This is very good. I agree – it’s all about coming to know Jesus himself, not just coming to know about Jesus. Well written, Sam!
Beliefs of the Heart
Sometimes I get a strong sense that God is using someone’s words to speak His expressions of His heart to me. Often it will be a lyric phrase from a familiar song that I had no other reason to think of, but it perfectly fit what I was experiencing at that moment. Just now it was your writing the Father used to speak to me. Last night I was reading the same take on the book of Job from Michael Card’s book on the Gospel of John that he subtitles “The Gospel of Wisdom”. Michael contends that all of the wisdom literature in scripture is an expression of the inadequacy of human wisdom and that God always answers our questions with Himself rather than concepts that we would take as the intellectual solving of our riddles. John 5:39-40 is going to become the next memory passage I take on. You’ve helped me understand that I want to help people understand how much we don’t understand. That’s meaningful to me and draws me to want to know God more and more personally. Jesus is the answer to all my questions. Thank you, Sam, for the reinforcement of that today.
Beliefs of the Heart
Michael Card’s book sounds great. I love your line, “God always answers our questions with Himself rather than concepts we would take as the intellectual solving of our riddles.”
But, honestly, it is easier to write than to actually do. We are all intellectually curious, and we often think that “answer” will solve our problems. Of course, the next day we are all moralists, and we think that our perfect behavior will solve all our problems.
Sheesh! We’ve got problems. We need to know our Lord more.