The Spiritual Dangers of Smartphones

by | Culture and Spirituality | 2 comments

“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”[1]

– Blaise Pascal

According to research the average person checks their smartphone about 81,500 times each year. That works out to once every 4.3 minutes,[2] which means you’ll probably be tempted to check your phone at least once before you finish reading this post. Let’s face it, we’re addicted to our smartphones.  I’m not pointing fingers though. I had to delete Facebook and email from my phone after realizing how often I was checking it.

Why Are Smart Phones So Addictive?

But why are we so addicted to our phones? What is it about them is so irresistible? Research demonstrates how they effect on our brains in addiction forming ways. Their real addictive power however, doesn’t come from the phones themselves but what they feed; namely, our addiction to distraction.

We’re distraction addicts because distraction lets us avoid the truths that we don’t want to face.

  • We’re stressed about a coming exam so we escape the truth by checking Instagram.
  • We find our work tedious and unfulfilling so we escape the truth by reading our Facebook feed.
  • We fear disapproval or loneliness so we escape the truth by trying to be in constant communication with as many people as possible, even if it means ignoring the person sitting in front of us.

However, perhaps the greatest truth we wish to escape is the truth about God. And to the extent that smartphone addiction is shaping the thought patterns of an entire generation this is perhaps their greatest danger to us.

The Real Danger Behind Smartphone Addiction.

There is one great truth upon which the Christian’s view of reality is based; God is the Creator and we are his Creation. The fall of humanity into sin was caused by humanity’s attempt to reverse this. As Paul puts it,

“They exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Rom. 1:25) 

This means that our entire existence is built upon the delusion that we can find true meaning, purpose and reason for being in this life. But we can’t because this life cannot give us anything that truly lasts. This is what Solomon meant when he declared, “Meaningless! meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl. 1:2) Even the famous atheist Jean-Paul Sartre had to admit that “life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.” In other words, finding ultimate meaning in a finite life is impossible.

Whether or not people believe this is beside the point. This is reality. That’s why we have a natural aversion to death. The thought of having no more life to live for is terrifying. Unfortunately by removing God from our lives we are left with only ourselves, and we are no more able to give ourselves life than a glass is able to fill itself. And that’s the real allure of distraction. It keeps us from facing up to the fact that without God our souls are but temporary vessels hopelessly longing to be eternally filled.

The great Christian thinker Blaise Pascal recognized this reality centuries ago, stating:

“Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion…[for] he then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependance, his weakness, his emptiness.”

The allure of distraction therefore is common to every age since distraction is the only thing that keeps us from facing up to the truth that without God our hearts are empty and we are alone. 

The Christian Has No Need of Distraction:

Becoming a Christian means that God instantly removes the penalty of our sin and replaces it instead with the righteousness of Jesus. In other words he no longer sees us as sinners but as children. While this work of God is instantaneous, actually learning to live righteously is a lifelong process of learning to put on the character of Jesus and take off our old sinful habits. We should remember then that one of those habits which is very hard to shake is our appetite for distraction. But this is wholly inappropriate for the Christian for three very good reasons.

First, it betrays the fact that there are still some truths about life that we are trying to escape. Whether it’s that we don’t measure up or that people don’t like us or that we aren’t really exceptional, as followers of Jesus these things no longer matter. Our identity and our worth have been eternally secured by Jesus’ victory over sin and death and our adoption by God as his children. Nothing at all can change these facts and therefore there are no truths in this world that we cannot face with confidence. We don’t need distractions any longer.

Second, distraction prevents us from loving other they way that Christ commanded. The joy we have in loving others comes from the fact that in Jesus we can give our life away without any fear of losing it. In fact as Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” To allow our smartphones to distract us from the person right in front of us (as we have all been guilty of at one time or another) robs them of the love God wants to show them through us. We may be present in body but we are withholding ourselves from them in spirit in an attempt to be connected to everyone else out of some self-focused fear of missing out.

Third, distraction prevents us from knowing God. King David wrote that the blessed person is the one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. (cf. Psalm 1:1-2) The blessing he is talking about is not merely the benefit of walking in ways that lead to successful living. What he is referring to is the fact that spending time in prolonged, uninterrupted and thoughtful meditation on God’s word fills our souls because doing so brings us into the presence of God himself. To meditate upon God’s word is to allow God to speak directly to us. To know his word is to know his mind. Think about that. The God of the universe actually wants to let you know what he is thinking. To allow distraction to reign over our minds has the same effect as responding to a text while a friend is talking to you. You might hear God’s words, but you will not hear his voice.

Take a SmartPhone Fast

Don’t think I’m suggesting that smartphones are evil and that we should all throw them away. I do think however, that we need to take seriously the very real spiritual dangers they pose by feeding our appetite for distraction. I would suggest therefore that you try a smartphone fast. Fasting is a long held and biblical spiritual discipline meant to help us cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work in teaching us self-control. We only serve one master and fasting is great way to demonstrate that nothing else holds mastery over us.

Maybe you can’t do totally without your phone because you need it for work or to be in communication with your kids. In that case maybe just try deleting the social media apps for a couple weeks. Or make a goal of not bringing it out unless you have to use it. Other wise keep it in a pocket or purse. Whatever you choose, submit it to the Lord as an act of living sacrifice and ask him to bless it and teach you through it.

Recommended Reading:


Notes:

  1. Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, Letters and Minor Works: The Five Foot Shelf of Classics, Vol. XLVIII (in 51 Volumes), (New York, NY, Cosimo, Inc. 2009), p. 131.
  2. Jacob Weisberg, “We Are Hopelessly Hooked,” The New York Review of Books (Feb. 25, 2016).

2 Comments

  1. Jim Comte

    Excellent article and so true. I don’t have Facebook on my phone and laptop! I removed google from my phone as well.

    For the month of January and February we are taking up a Christian Worldview at the assembly here in Barrie.

    Thanks and the Lord bless.

    Have a wonderful Christmas.

    Jim Comte

    Reply
  2. Phil

    Scott, I think this is a really insightful diagnosis of our smartphone attachment. I think you’re right that there are much deeper spiritual issues underlying our society’s attachment than meets than eye. Thanks for bringing this truth out into the light.

    Reply

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