When a brand name becomes a common noun, it has clearly ripened into a cultural phenomenon. Kleenex, Jello, Chapstick, Popsicle, Q-tips, Band-Aid, Scotch tape and Tupperware are all good examples. But when a brand name becomes a verb, a way of life has changed. An example? Older folk still “Xerox” documents rather than copy them. Here’s another: What did you do to find answers, before you could “Google” them?
If you consider all the objects in your home that were only developed in the last century, it is amazing how quickly we domesticate the truly extraordinary. Even so, we have taken Google for granted with amazing speed: You encounter a proper name, which means nothing to you. A biography is instantly available. A foreign word or phrase? If you can come close to spelling it, Google will do the rest. The people who just moved in across the street? Moving out of state, much less across the country, used to mean the beginning of a new life. But just try moving your history out of cyberspace.
In cyberspace, we are our own deities.
Consider, for a moment, a religious significance of the internet. We are always telling the Lord that we could do a better job running the world. In cyberspace, we are our own deities. We can summon up entire worlds of information, literature, images, sounds and movies. It is all there at our command.
So how are we doing at being our own deities in cyberspace? Twelve percent of all websites are pornographic. Forty million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites. (Yes, I Googled that.) Do we need better proof that wonderful as they are, science and technology are still only tools, and tools alone cannot make us better people? Tools do not turn out sinners or saints. They only make them more efficient. In cyberspace, we have all become gods, and many of us choose to act like animals.
We say that knowledge is power. But knowledge can only come from a desire to know.
We say that knowledge is power. True, but knowledge can only come from a desire to know. You have to yearn, at least a little, for what you do not yet know. Once a love of learning is inculcated in us, it grows on its own. We know from our own experience that knowledge expands life.
The metaphors we use for the human mind evolve with technology. Aristotle called it a wax tablet. In the last century, it was compared to a gramophone or recording tape. Now respected scientists liken it to a computer. But humans differ from hard drives in at least one very important way. Machines will let you store anything in them, but we humans only open ourselves to knowledge as a way of growing, of completing ourselves. Ask any high school English teacher. Romeo and Juliet really are dead unless and until their tragedy is made to speak to contemporary adolescent angst.
For so many of us, the word of God is neither fertile nor fruitful. It does not achieve the end for which God sent it.
This is why, for so many of our contemporaries, for so many of us, the word of God is neither fertile nor fruitful. It does not achieve the end for which God sent it. The word falls on ground that cannot accept it. We receive the word, just as we listen to a media segment that does not interest us. We hear words, but the sort of knowledge that would complete us as people is not shared.
This is why strictly speaking—sorry fundamentalists—the Bible is not revelation. It is a big book with many words. Proclaiming Scripture and preaching it are also not necessarily revelation. They are the proverbial trees, falling deep in the forest. Revelation is not a set of words. It is an event. Revelation happens when the words that we hear offer us life, because they offer us communion, because they offer us love.
If you recognize this rhythm in daily life, it is easier to see it in the spiritual life. You know that the face and the figure in front of you are attractive. But until and unless this face and figure speaks to you, offers you entrance into another world, you have not encountered a person. Only an image. A person can speak a word to us that is fertile and fruitful. We immediately recognize—because we were created to do so—that what this voice offers is our own self-completion in love.
Revelation is not the transfer of words. Revelation is always an encounter between persons.
Revelation is not the transfer of words. Revelation is always an encounter between persons. Remember how it sometimes happens that while we stare at this face and figure, another voice intrudes, and it is this voice that speaks words of life, of communion, of love. Our gaze turns toward this voice.
Only God can reveal God. All that the rest of us can do is talk about God to each other. But it can happen—indeed, it ever does happen—that we come to Scripture with some worry, some sadness, some all-consuming desire, and we hear or read words that speak directly to our hearts. They offer life itself; they show a way of moving forward, of completing the self.
How can words speak life if a living person does not speak them?
How can words speak life if a living person does not speak them? But if these words are fertile and fruitful, if the very soil of the soul quickens to them, then there must be persons who come to us without face or figure. In revelation, Christ gives himself to us by way of words. He does not speak about himself. It would be truer to say that, with words, Christ bespeaks himself to us.
Google has given us God-like powers, laying open worlds. But words and images alone cannot speak to us. They cannot offer words of love that would complete our lives. The great danger of cyberspace is that we can become lords of our own, self-enclosing, hell. A world is at our disposal, but no one speaks to us. Here is the great human tragedy of pornography. It can speak no such word of life. Pornography is the purest expression of the inhuman. Face and figure entice but cannot speak love. They cannot expand our souls. Pornography is an antipode of revelation.
We were made for more than the manipulation of words and images. We were made to see and to hear love. All information comes by way of sight and sound. It only becomes knowledge when it finds its way to the heart. And it can only bespeak love into the heart when it is more than words and images, which is to say, when it is the offer of a person.
Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11 Romans 8:18-23 Matthew 13:1-23