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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