Aug 25

The Fear-Inducing Power of our Technological Habits

Article by Matt Crocker

It is a Tuesday. You get off work, head home for the evening, play with your kids a bit, put them to bed, and now it is your chance to relax. Maybe you’ll watch a little Netflix, go for a jog, read a good book. Who knows? The night is young and this is your “me” time. But just as you go to sit down you think to yourself, “maybe I’ll just watch a little YouTube first” so you grab your phone, plunk yourself down on the sofa, open up YouTube, and start to watch. Next thing you know it’s 11PM and you’ve wasted your whole evening on YouTube and TikTok, on Instagram and Twitter, on news media and Facebook. 

If this is you, I can relate. The amount of times I have gone to do something that brings me life, and then get sucked into the endless vortex of passive consumption, is more than I care to admit. Yet, it wasn’t just wasting my time. It was also making me a sad, depressed, and angry person. For the longest time I couldn’t really figure out why, but then I decided to try something and it helped me realize what was going on. I opened up my phone, deleted the apps that were causing me to be this way, and set up my screen time settings to block websites that I frequented too often. After just a few days of this practice it sort of hit me; I wasn’t as afraid anymore. 

Here’s what I mean by that. You see, I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I was spending all that time on my phone, I was slowly being shaped by the information I was taking in. I’d watch videos that spoke about the current “crisis” we are in as a nation. I’d read the news and I would hear about all sorts of stranger attacks, drug problems, homicides, wars, and rumors of wars. I’d go on twitter and I would read mean tweets directed against Christians and see other Christians arguing with each other about something stupid. I would go on Facebook and see my friends and family worry about the next big issue: COVID, racism, elections, the economy, inflation, housing prices, you name it! And all of this content was making me afraid. “What am I going to do if prices keep going up?” “What if my family gets attacked walking around Vancouver?” “What if I get COVID” What if? What if? What if? I was afraid and I didn’t even know it. 

All of this passive media consumption had slowly worked away at my heart and instilled within me an attitude of fear. It was only after I took a breather from all of it that I realized what was going on. And what I learned was that these habits I formed weren’t the real issue. All they were was fuel to the flame already burning within. So, what was that flame that these practices fueled? A failure to trust in God’s providence. 

Providence simply means God’s care for the world. It is how we describe God’s ruling and reigning over all things, making sure that everything works out exactly as he intends it to. We see this throughout Scripture. Psalm 24 declares that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps 24:1). Everything is his, he owns it. In the book of Daniel we read, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Dan 4:35). His will, will be accomplished. In Acts, as Paul delivers a sermon to the Athenians he says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). He “allotted” people to specific times and places. God is in control of all things, nothing falls outside of his rule and reign, his will IS being accomplished in the world, and this is good news. 

This is good news because God’s will for the world is not to watch it burn. His will is not capricious or malevolent, but rather his desire is to restore the world. Even in the midst of all the bad stuff going on around us God is working out his perfect plan of redemption. This happens on a micro level in individual lives and on a macro level across the whole universe. For instance, consider the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Here is a man who is treated horribly by his brothers, sold into slavery, and thrown into prison, but after it all he can say to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20). Or, consider the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6 where he tells his disciples not to be anxious. Rather, they are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing] will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33). Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans where he tells these Christians, who likely are suffering for their faith, that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). God is using all things—things in our individual lives and things globally—to fulfill his perfect plan of redemption in Jesus Christ. He is sovereignly ruling over his creation, providentially orchestrating every event, to bring about the justification, sanctification, and glorification of his people. 

I did not realize it at the time, but by allowing myself to be inundated with so much content—some innocuous, some bad news, some fear-mongering—I was beginning to question God’s providential care for his creation. I was failing to trust that he was ruling over all things and working things out for my good. By taking in this content, I was fanning into flame the sinfulness of my heart and failing to trust God, failing to take him at his word and believe that he had things under control. So, if you are like me, and you find yourself constantly checking the news, your social, YouTube, or whatever, I’d like to offer some advice. 

First, you should try cutting off the means by which you fan into flame the sin in your heart. Perhaps, you just feel a bit awful and are not quite sure why. Maybe quitting the device will give you some perspective. It’s not that your phone is evil, it’s that you’re a sinner. And as a sinner we sometimes take morally neutral things—like our smartphones—and use them as a means to sin. To be completely honest, I’m not perfect in this, I still find myself falling into these habits, but putting up some boundaries around how often you consume and what you consume is an important step in finding peace for your soul. Secondly, and more importantly, take the sin of your heart to the foot of the cross. Repent of your tendency not to trust God. Repent of your failure to believe in his word and to live in light of his providential care. Thank God for what you have in your life. Thank him for promising to work all things together for your good. Go to him as your loving heavenly Father who has your best interest in mind and praise him for his protection over you. Trust him as the God who loves you and be free from fear.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me

And delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant, 

And their faces shall never be ashamed.

Psalm 34:4-5