A recent article from the New York Times says, rightly I’m sure, that We’re More Honest With Our Phones Than With Our Doctors. Writing from the confluence of medicine and technology, Jenna Wortham explains that “in recent years, mobile technology has granted me and countless others the ability to collect an unprecedented amount of information about our habits and well-being. Our phones don’t just keep us in touch with the world; they’re also diaries, confessional booths, repositories for our deepest secrets. Which is why researchers are leaping at the chance to work with the oceans of data we are generating, hoping that within them might be the answers to questions medicine has overlooked or ignored.”
Medical researchers are especially interested in these oceans of data because, as the headline screams, we are more honest with our phones than we are with any doctor. Our phones are stuffed full of sensors, memory, and applications and are continually digesting streams of data, converting it to personal information. Our phones track our location and our motion. They track our words and our searches. They know our most embarrassing medical secrets. They have suggested answers to our most awkward questions about our health, about our bodies, our minds, our sexuality. They know things about us no one else knows. They remember things about us we have long forgotten. They tell truth about us we would never disclose to another human being.
When it comes to our physical health, we’re more honest with our phones than our doctors. But this transparency goes beyond medicine. It extends to our souls. When it comes to our spiritual health, we’re more honest with our phones than with our pastors. Our phones know all about our ignorance, about those things we should know but don’t. Our phones know about our wanderings and wonderings, the questions we have asked and the places we have visited to find answers. They know where and how we are wrestling and where and how we are trying to find comfort. They know about our backsliding or even our heresy long before the pastor does.
This is in part, I’m sure, because our phones are always available. We can ask our questions morning, noon, or night. They never take a day off and are never too busy to give us attention. But it’s not only that. Our phones are safe, they keep our secrets, they never scoff at our ignorance. They simply and obediently search the internet on our behalf and return answers, suggest solutions. Who is Jesus? Our phones have an answer. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Our phones have an answer. What Bible translation is best? Do I have free will? Is there a difference between Christianity and Mormonism? Is there a hell? Why and how do I pray? Our phones have answers to them all. Our phones even know if we have been getting up early to do devotions and whether we have been reading our Bibles.
We are more honest with our phones than our pastors and this leads me to two applications, two suggestions that are almost contradictory but I think are actually realistically complementary.
First, train yourself and others to speak to pastors about spiritual ills. I have attempted to do this with my own children, to teach them that just as you go to a doctor when your body is sick, so you go to a pastor when your soul is sick. If you have medical questions you ask a doctor and if you have spiritual questions you ask a pastor. WebMD is a great resource, but it isn’t nearly enough to properly diagnose a serious condition and it certainly isn’t enough to properly treat one. The same is true of even the best Christian resources.
Second, there is a challenge here for Christians to acknowledge that, no matter what we do, people will continue to entrust their questions and concerns to their phones and that puts the onus on us to create wise and compelling answers through apps, books, and web sites—through any and every medium. While we ultimately want people to rely more on their local church than on blogs or articles or FAQs, we have amazing opportunities to provide answers that draw them to God through his Word and through his church. This is why I appreciate and honor Got Questions, Desiring God (especially Ask Pastor John), The Gospel Coalition, Stand to Reason, and so many other ministries that are attempting to come alongside churches and their pastors by providing good answers to honest questions.
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