We are repeatedly warned that modern technology is changing the way we think, the way we remember. Tech gurus tell us that no longer do we remember information, we remember where to find it. So, for example, rather than remembering the kings and queens of England, we remember the webpage (or kind of webpage, or way of finding the [kind of] webpage) that supplies us with that information.
As a result, we are warned that the bit of our brains that deals with such stuff is atrophying at a fair rate of knots, shrinking to some withered non-functionality and waiting to be replaced by smartphones with memories more capacious, better stocked and more readily searched than our own.
Alongside such brain-wastage goes an inability to concentrate, an attention span that is degenerating to a point which might make a goldfish wince. Even articles of more than a couple of paragraphs have become hard going.
Are you still reading? If so, I imagine that you might be shaking your head and confessing that, yes, our capacities are shifting if not altogether shrivelling. We no longer remember phone numbers – they are in our contact listings. We no longer remember names of children – we look them up when we go to visit. We no longer remember directions – we switch on our satnav and GPS systems.
We may struggle more than we used to in following a train of thought over pages of text, tracing a theme developed over the course of a book, recollecting that data that our lazy brains tell us we can find more easily with a quick text-search than by storing it in our own memory banks for easy retrieval.
And there is one crucial area in which this particularly bites on the believer. It has to do with the Word of God, and it is eminently practical. In Psalm 119 the psalmist cries out, ‘Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you’ (v 11). It comes in a stanza in which he is expressing a heartfelt desire for holiness, a determination to seek and serve the Lord and to walk in humble and joyful obedience to his commands.
My point is this: one of the consequences of the internet-trained brain seems to be an inability to hide very much – not much of the Word of God, to be sure – in our hearts. That results in a crippling weakness in the battle for godliness.
If you want to, test yourself. What do you do, where do you look, when you want to find ‘that verse,’ you know, the one on the tip of your tongue? Do you flick to a particular app or programme, pull up some Scripture text on your phone or tablet and do a quick search?
Was it ever stored in your heart? Are you looking merely for a reminder, or have you become so accustomed to ready accessibility and easy search that you no longer bother storing it in your heart, unconsciously succumbing to the suggestion that since it’s right at your fingertips you don’t need to worry? Have you forgotten how to remember?
How long was Christ in the wilderness? Forty days and forty nights. (You know the batteries on pretty much any device have died by then.) What state was he in? Desperately hungry and thirsty. Who came to him? The arch-enemy, the Adversary. What were flung at him? A series of pointed and powerful temptations striking at his very identity and destiny.
What did the Lord do, without the help of any electronic aids or ready-references? He dug into the depths of Deuteronomy to bring forth three perfectly-forged weapons with which to smite the foe, three mighty ‘Thus says the Lord’ declarations which shattered Satan’s assault and sent him from the field a beaten foe. The Word was hidden in the Saviour’s heart, and he did not sin against God.
Look more closely, and you understand what that means. Satan takes and twists Scripture to make his perverted case. The Lord Christ not only knows enough to see through those corrupting quotations, but he has upon his holy lips the fruit of a heart in which the Word of God is thoroughly hidden, the truth stored up in order to be brought forth as occasion demands in order to keep him from sin and in the path of righteousness.
What of you? You have one primary offensive weapon with which to do battle against sin: ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6.17). Can you afford to have that potent blade wrapped up in the electronic cobwebs of some computer programme when you need it for the fight?
Do you not know from bitter experience that you do not have time to draw the sword from the depths of your electronic device when Satan comes roaring in against you? You need it sitting in your hand, you need it stored up in your heart ready for immediate deployment when the enemy comes upon you unawares.
To use a more modern metaphor, you cannot afford to wander this battlefield with all your ammunition stored at the bottom of your backpack; you need your weapon locked and loaded at all times.
If we are to be holy we need to hide the word in our hearts, and that means a deliberate commitment to memorisation and meditation. It means a refusal to allow our brains to be trained by the world, a resistance to the laziness that breeds in our all-too-susceptible minds.
It means a commitment to holiness that is willing to re-train and develop the faculties of our hearts contrary to the trend and tendency of the age in which we live, and to make sure that we pack into the armoury that array of weaponry necessary for the constant fight against ungodliness, temptations within and without.
We must love that truth, know that truth in its sense and substance, in its particular words and phrases, understand it as a treasure and as a weapon, and learn how to use it in the combat with sin.
I am not saying that any forms of more or less modern technology can only be the tools of the devil. I am saying that he knows how to use the tools available, to trick us into taking off our armour and to train us to put down our weapons. We cannot afford to be ignorant of his devices.
So, if we care about holiness, we will not allow our memories to atrophy and not permit our concentration to wither. We will focus our eyes on the text and fill our hearts with its store of good things, ready to be brought forth as occasion demands.
Temptations will rush upon us. As so often, they might come with a ‘Has God really said …?’ or a ‘Hasn’t God said …?’ We, like our Saviour before us, must be ready to bring forth the fruit of those labours of love, and draw out of the armoury of the heart a telling ‘Thus says the Lord,’ and so keep from sinning.
Jeremy Walker, pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, Sussex