Human innovation is transformed within God’s grander story

Written by Andrew Noble

Technology can seem to create more problems than it solves—always connected means always connected, never at rest. Chris Martin, author of The Wolf in Their Pockets, calls it the “hallway effect”—the pressure of being judged while walking down a hallway between classes—except now we feel the gaze of our peers everywhere, all the time.

Social media does not just correlate with anxiety, it causes it, according to researcher Jonathan Haidt. After reviewing thousands of studies, his team found the more you use a social app the more likely you are to experience a restlessness that cannot easily be put to rest.

The mental health decline did not begin with the pandemic but with the introduction of smartphones. In the decade before 2010, mental health levels remained relatively constant. They have dropped off a cliff since then, especially in women, who have seen a drop from 75 per cent saying they have excellent or good mental health to just 54 per cent in 2019.

Technology connects us in amazing ways, just as papyrus and ink once did for the Apostle John and his readers. But we need to do a better job of keeping technology in a restricted space. When there are endless pages to scroll, or for John, “much to write,” we should agree with his words in 2 John 12 that “our joy will be complete” only when we “see each other face-to-face.”

In heaven, we will be face to face with God and other believers. We will see loved ones and experience the absence of disease and pain (see 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 21:4).

Most of all, when we think of life everlasting we ought to think of Jesus.

No lightbulbs or LED screens will be needed, not even the sun or the moon, because as John says in Revelation 21:23, “The glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its lamp.” The one who told us to be a city on a hill and a light to this world will light all things in the city of heaven.

While electrified filaments of tungsten won’t be needed, there will be technology. Perhaps this is an underdeveloped aspect of Christian doctrine; perhaps we’re too afraid of talking or preaching about tech in heaven in fear of the idolatry it might lead to.

Yet God tells us of technology in heaven. According to Revelation, there will be walls, gates, streets, buildings, and ships. Though life everlasting will resemble the Garden of Eden in many ways, it also will display the grand result of God’s plan.

God wants to dwell with us.

The story of Scripture shows this in progressive development—from garden to tabernacle to temple to incarnation to the new heavens and new earth.

Each place, except the initial garden, resembles human creativity.

There will be streets, which are described as “pure gold, like transparent glass.” The Apostle John describes a wall built with jasper, with foundations adorned “with every kind of jewel,” listing twelve kinds, alluding to the prior visions of ancient prophets recorded in Revelation 21:18-19, Ezekiel 28:13, and Isaiah 54:12-12.

And there will be Tarshish ships—large sea vessels that were instruments of pagan commercial power but will appear in the heavenly city as yet another means to bring glory to God (see Isaiah 60:9). Israel never had a navy; they associated water with fear and chaos. The foreign ships are significant because it is a way of God saying that every work of human hands, even the big scary ones built by non-Christians, exists to serve God’s purposes.

In other words, our Father in Heaven is not surprised by social media. He is not huddled together with the Holy Spirit and Jesus figuring out how to draft a new plan for His people. To borrow a phrase from the theologian Abraham Kuyper, there is no technology in all of creation that God cannot rightly claim, “mine.”  

When God molded silicon and lithium into the earth, He knew the good it would bring in what Derek Schuurman calls, “latent potentiality.” Likewise, God knew the harm that would result from His cursing of those same elements in response to Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17).

Technology is both good and bad, a mixture of Creation and Fall, until one day when Jesus Christ will “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things on heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).

The cross itself, an invention to display death and the grandeur of Rome, was subverted, redeemed, and transformed into a symbol of hope. No matter how hard life is, what pressure we face, how restless or anxious, the cross says even the worst wrong can be made right, the most despairing sinner can be saved, and everything sad can become untrue.

A theology of technology puts it in its place and puts us in ours.

Being made in the image of God is about having creativity, moral agency, and responding to the task of filling the earth and subduing it. We must take our responsibility seriously. We were made to be the masters of technology, just as God is the master of us.  

We shouldn’t expect to control all aspects of creation and technology as God does—we ought to release our desire for omnipotence. We can take comfort in the knowledge that in the future, we shall rest not in the light of our own inventions but in the light of Jesus.

Andrew Noble serves in pastoral ministry at Grandview Church in Kitchener, Ont., and co-hosts a podcast called What Would Jesus Tech.