When God created humanity, he commissioned us to rule the earth (Gen 1). Animals, plants, land, and sea—it’s all under our dominion, and this includes the culture and civilization developed from creation. Since we are created in God’s image, we are to bring God’s rule to bear over all aspects of creation. We should seek to bring God’s reign—His way of doing things—over our businesses, families, ministries, vocations, and all the stuff we develop from the world. And this includes our cell phones.
It’s staggering how quickly cell phones have become an essential part of life. It’s even more shocking that texting, rather than calling, has become the primary form of communication. And this applies not just to younger folks. Seeing gray-headed grandparents thumbing away at their phones is a common sight—arthritis notwithstanding. The phenomenon of texting has pushed its way into our lives so quickly that we’ve hardly had a chance to take a break and think about our cell-phones, especially texting, from a theological standpoint.
So what is a theology of texting?
Texting is a form of communication, and communication is essential for relationship. And relationships are the life-blood of human existence, because God is relational (Gen 1; John 1; 1 Cor 11). When he created us in His image, He infused us with a desire for relationship—both with Him and with each other. So texting, as a form of relationship-sustaining communication is, or can be, a helpful avenue to live out our humanity. In as much as we use texting to sustain or deepen our relationships, then it can be a good thing.
But your cell phone is crouching at your door, and its desire is for you. You must master it. And here are a few ways to do this.
First, when you’re talking to someone face to face, leave your phone alone. Shut it down, ignore it, switch it to airplane mode, or whatever. When you’re having lunch with someone, leave it in your pocket. Or put it on the table face down to avoid looking at it every time it buzzes rather than maintaining eye contact—and therefore affirming the dignity of—the one bearing God’s image sitting across from you. When you’re in the embodied presence of another, they have the priority. Keep your eyes and attention on them. If you have an emergency, or some extreme case where you need to check your phone, then verbalize this to the one you’re with. “I’m really sorry, I don’t like to do this, but my wife is having contractions and I really need to get this…”
Second, don’t make texting your primary mode of communication (the same goes for Facebook). Quite frankly: texting is making the younger generation socially stupid. Ask people over 40 if they notice this in the younger generation. (Older people have the advantage of spending most of their lives communicating orally.) A friend of mine who owns a business says that he generally won’t hire sales people who are under 30 because oftentimes they don’t know how to talk to people. Texting isn’t bad, but it cannot sustain a relationship. If you already talk to the other person regularly, then texting as a secondary means of communicating may be fine. But relationships cannot be sustained by texting alone. They weren’t designed to be.
Third, texting to avoid talking to someone you don’t want to hear from—well, that’s downright dehumanizing. God didn’t send us a text. He sent a Son—embodied presence—to communicate His love to His enemies. And His Son listened back. He listened, because He cared. Sometimes (not all the time) we text because we don’t have time to hear what the other person has to say, or hear about the pain they’re going through. We need to.
Fourth, when you’re at home (especially if you have a wife and kids), leave your phone alone. Don’t carry it around the house with you. (Okay, starting to convict myself…) Don’t be enslaved to that leash held by the names in your list of contacts; be a servant to the ones who have waited all day to see you.
“Hey Daddy, guess what I did today! I did my first cartwhe…umm…daddy…daddy…DADDY!”
“Oh…what was that, sweetie? Hold on, let me finish writing this text to someone who is obviously way more important than your stupid jumping jack, or cartwheel—or whatever—that you did today.”
That’s what we’re communicating. And our kids, wives, roommates can smell it a mile away. We need to give priority to those who are present with us.
Please note: I wrote this blog not because I follow these principles perfectly. I don’t. But I want to. And I want you to (especially when we’re hanging out). So now, ya’ll can keep me accountable if I violate what I’ve said here!