October 2, 2008
by Patrick Lafferty
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:6-12
In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr asked, “Is Google making us stupid?” He’d begun to notice in himself a diminishing capacity to focus on any sustained argument, a greater difficulty keeping track of its threads. Wondering what might account for this mental atrophy, he began to suspect his engagement with technologies like Google. It wasn’t Google per se that had him stymied; it was the phenomenon of having an unprecedented volume of information unloaded in his lap each day, which forced him to cull through all that data in a manner more like scanning than pondering. His mind no longer seemed willing to concentrate on an idea, but only gave sufficient attention to assess the most superficial sense of what he was reading.
If there’s any merit to his concern, it’s not an insignificant matter, but could there be even more significant fallout? Could this information-inundating, attention-depleting culture, of which Google is but one feature, be doing something even more destructive?
Could Google also be making us pagan? That is, could the sheer volume of data we are exposed to each day and the habit of considering things only in a haphazard, unreflective way leave us essentially unimpressed by hallowed, consequential truths? Could our habitual consulting of what’s immediately accessible actually be shriveling our awe at this great salvation wrought in Christ?
As was asked of us Sunday, have we lost our sense of awe? And is that loss a casualty of the loss of the ability to ponder? Must not the eyes of faith by which we please God learn to look patiently and probingly, relying not just upon prolonged attention but upon humble appeal to the Spirit to strengthen and solidify that faith?
Peter’s affirmation of the elect exiles of the dispersion is that they have remained faithful despite manifold reasons not to. Grieved by various trials (v. 6), neither having ever seen Jesus nor seeing him now (v. 8a), the recipients of Peter’s letter still love this Jesus, they believe in Him, and they rejoice with a joy inexpressible and full of glory (v. 8b). How can that be? How can reasonable people be expected to ally themselves with anyone, or any philosophy, that doesn’t succeed in insulating them from all harm but actually exposes them to even more harm? How can anyone love someone in an unpretentious, authentic way whom they’ve never met, but whose purported love for them is unparalleled?
Might their faithfulness be explained by how they had pondered deeply—and continued to ponder—this love, this hope, this inheritance? Perhaps their unhurried pondering left them so impressed by these notions—notions in which angels had longed to look (v. 12)—that neither trial nor secondhand testimony could undermine their awe.
The life to which this gospel calls us is not one of slavish imitation, but a life where obedience is a function of loving Him we have not seen, and rejoicing in what we have only a foretaste of. If immersion in those truths is the source of that sustaining joy, the absence of pondering is to our peril.
If we do not ponder, deeply and regularly, this salvation, the trials we face may leave us cold, embittered, cynical. Unless we see with the eyes of faith that He will not leave us alone, we will conclude He either cannot or will not help. There can be no true joy in the midst of trial unless there be a corresponding faith born of sufficient reflection.
If we do not ponder deeply this inheritance yet to come, our obedience will either be fearful or begrudging—fearful because we might forget our acceptance is not on the basis of our performance, or begrudging because we do not see or feel the intrinsic goodness of His commands. Neither fear nor unwilling compliance comport with what it means to be a chosen, redeemed soul. Only faith nurtured by pondering the rich substance of this faith ensures ours to be the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, 16:26).
If we do not ponder deeply the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we will become too easily impressed with the most superficial of things—from who’s atop the BCS poll to when the new season of this or that show premieres, to any number of lesser matters—that leave us increasingly unimpressed and unmoved by the most significant of matters.
Have we unwittingly become so attentive to the things not worthy of attention that we’ve become inattentive to the things most worthy of our attention? The notions that endurance in the inevitable trials of life depends on?
When’s the last time you’ve thought at length about this salvation He’s purchased for you? Even innocuous things, like what Google or your Blackberry delivers, can end up commanding your attention disproportionately. What in your world is siphoning away more attention than it needs to from what must keep your attention?
As you prepare to worship this Sunday, what if you set aside some time simply reading the above passage each day and thinking about—pondering—the substance of our faith, and how our faith appropriately pondered is designed to support us against struggle, steel us against sin, and endear us to Him whom we cannot yet see? What a Google-may-care thing to do!