Christians are a watching people. Christ has vanquished the evil one at the cross. The kingdom of the beloved Son now advances in the world. One day He will return to judge the living and the dead. So we are to keep our eyes on Him and His gospel. Remembering is the bread and butter of our Christian lives.
But every Christian knows what it is like to enter a spiritual fog. We may still recall the biblical facts, but at times the eyes of our heart are anything but razor sharp. That’s why Jesus calls us to “keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42). We hear a similar call in the Old Testament, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
Reinke shows that our phones have great potential to work against these biblical directives. They have a remarkable ability to exacerbate our forgetfulness. The bad news is “our phones amplify our addiction to distractions (chapter 1) and thereby splinter our perception of our place in time (chapter 12)” (189).
In our technological age, we’re about as scattered as a freshman research paper. “Because we are all so interconnected, hundreds of people (friends, family members, and strangers) can interrupt us at any moment. And when we are bored with the flick of a thumb we can skim an endless list of amusements and oddities online” (43). A little bit of distraction may be alright, but our digital discombobulation is anything but little. Average smart phone users check their phones “81,500 times each year, or once every 4.3 minutes” (41).
One of the difficulties is that we like trivial distractions. They help us keep work, people, and thoughts of eternity away (44).
Our disorientation is not only physical, but emotional. “Life online is a whiplash between deep sorrow, unexpected joy, cheap laughs, profound thoughts, and dumb memes” (178). Reinke wisely acknowledges that God made us to feel multiple emotions at once. Yet, “in the digital age, those seasons come at us too quickly, and because they hit and leave so soon, we seldom feel the weight of our emotions” (179). Soberingly, “this doesn’t make us suppress emotion; it makes us express ‘contrived emotion'” (179). We prefer to text an emoticon rather than invest the time and effort required to truly weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Sadly, our phones bemuse us into spiritual apathy. But, “am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct sense in Scripture that the answer is no. I am not my own. I am owned by my Lord… I do not have ‘time to kill’–I have time to redeem” (180).
In the wake of our befuddlement, we’re left using a tool that could glorify Christ to simply glorify ourselves. “If I consider my phone only as a tool to ‘instantly express’ my life, then my phone use is in vain” (184).
What is the solution? “Minimize unnecessary distractions in life to hear from God and to find our place in God’s unfolding history” (190). Reinke provides solid counsel here. We surely do not want to minimize necessary, sanctifying, Christ-exalting, or kingdom-advancing distractions. Just the other kind.
2 Peter 1:4 points us to God’s promises, through which we are sanctified. Peter calls us to knowledge, self-control, and steadfastness. These stable graces are hard to come by when we are incessantly blitzed by mostly trivial notifications through our smart phones. So the discipline to minimize such distractions will be hard to come by and richly rewarded. The stakes are high. Forgetfulness occurs, and at a terrible cost. Peter adds, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:8-9).