Well, it’s Trinity Sunday. Let’s see what kind of heresy we can rustle up this morning, shall we? I’m the kind of Christian that accepts that God is more than able to use human language to communicate with me about what he is like, what we are like, and what anyone can do about it. But on Trinity Sunday, of course, I must languorously wander over to the side of Mystery, admitting that no matter what anyone says, I don’t know exactly how it all works out.
But, you know, we want to know. We want to know everything. Even when we say we don’t need to know, or that some things are beyond us, or that we will be patient and accept that in good time, maybe it will all make better sense—even then we would rather nail it down. And that’s because, a la garden variety fruit shop, knowledge, for most of us, is power, and so surely having more of it will be a good thing.
That’s really the nature of human “hope.” If a little bit is good, a lot will be better. If a little bit of knowledge is good, more will obviously improve my life. If a little bit of apple is good, a whole bushel will slake my lust. But the best of all (don’t sue me, I’m still reading Digital Minimalism) is the idea that if “connection” is good, being connected to everybody all the time will be the loveliest and best thing ever. The world should be together as one, and so apps and technology have lept to this godly and practically divine challenge, and look at how happy we all are.
So anyway, in the spirit of having A-Ha moments just like everybody else, based largely on my own personal experiences, it did occur to me in the small hours that Social Media—or really, the business of having one’s phone in one’s back pocket, pinging all the time—is a kind of humanly devised idolatrous pseudo-consolation mimicking the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a ceaseless and pathetic attempt to be “reborn” every time the feed refreshes (even when you don’t want it to), not from above, but from Zuck. It masquerades as efficiency, and responsibility, and being a good friend, and a good mother, and of trying to actually get to the end of the many books, but in reality, it is a wondrously wicked and shiny replacement for a Trinitarian God.
God, after all, is everywhere, and nothing can be hid from him. He is “from everlasting.” This is all to the good, in theory. In practice, such a God is dangerous and should be avoided at all cost. He isn’t the sort of person one wants to be left alone with, whether at the foot of Mount Horeb, or in a crowd, or in the pew. Which is why, when I am trying to acclimatize little children to the worshipful space of Sunday school, the first and hardest task is to establish some room for silence. We don’t need music, or a craft, or a lot of talking—some, but not a lot. Better that there are long moments of unbroken quiet where all the airwaves are not taken up with the thundering voices of many people (teacher, other children, the internet, the live stream going on through the wall). The best way not to be found alone with God (at the foot of a mountain or anywhere really) is never to be alone at all. Even children know this in the depths of their little souls, though they are usually more coaxable into quiet than the average phone-burdened adult (me, I’m talking about me).
Cal Newport heaps up many words on the question of solitude deprivation, which he says is “A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.” “The idea of being alone,” he goes on,
can seem unappealing, and we’ve been sold, over the past two decades, the idea that more connectivity is better than less. Surrounding the announcement of his company’s 2012 IPO, for example, Mark Zuckerberg triumphantly wrote: “Facebook was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.” This obsession with connection is clearly overly optimistic, and it’s easy to make light of its grandiose ambition, but when solitude deprivation is put into the context of the ideas discussed earlier in this chapter, this prioritization of communication over reflection becomes a source of serious concern. For one thing, when you avoid solitude, you miss out on the positive things it brings you: the ability to clarify hard problems, to regulate your emotions, to build moral courage, and to strengthen relationships. If you suffer from chronic solitude deprivation, therefore, the quality of your life degrades.
And I would add, creeping up to Jesus at night, worried about what he will say, that so does one’s ability to know God. Because, if you are really a Christian, in some terrible sense, you are never really alone, free from input from other minds, because that Other Mind—God’s own scorching and holy work through the Holy Spirit, by the power of Christ’s Cross—is always there, ready to take over the silence and subvert it for his own purposes. The wind, blowing where it will, does what it will, sweeping away the cluttered and disconnected detritus of your own person. It is uncontrollable—by you. You can try to understand it, to examine the scriptures and your own circumstances to get a clue into what on earth God is doing and why, and even who he is, but you can’t grab hold and direct his power, any more than you can actually put down your cell phone, even when you really want to.
Do not marvel at what I am saying, the Spirit himself is whacking around in there, making you into the kind of person that could even begin to bear the mysterious and glorious weight of such a Presence. The suffering of being alone with God, even for a little while, is only the first taste of being gathered up, tightly knit together in a community of believers who altogether are so bound to their Lord that nothing can separate them, not even their own failures and idolatry.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, mightier than the cacophony of app developers and the power-hungry social media industrial complex is the LORD on high. His decrees are trustworthy and holiness befits his house, and though it is dangerous to be alone with him, because all your foolish ideas and hopes will come to nothing, yet his Spirit, alive in you, will cry “Abba, Father,” even when you can’t even find breath to whisper the word yourself.