Hardly a day passes when I don't wonder at Richard Foster's accurate assessment of contemporary life. The opening sentence of his classic Celebration of Discipline (New York, Harper Collins, 1978 )is what I'm talking about. Short, concise, and totally on-point, Foster wrote, "Superficiality is the curse of our age." Several things leave me scratching my head about this read of culture---
1. Foster's analysis predated the actual Information Age.
Yes, there were computers in 1978 and the information flow had begun. But,
the Information Age is tracked from the emergence of the www in 1990
through today. So, while Richard Foster's words were accurate, they were also
prophetic. Our shallowness reached new highs as information multiplied and
we humans wrestled further with what to do with it. But, we were already in
the kiddie pool before the information age flooded us.
2. Almost every school of thought agrees with his assessment.
Learned people from across the landscape of human education and
achievement agree that humans, for the most part, basically operate on the
surface of things with little emotional or spiritual depth.
3. Superficiality is more apparent today because information is more available.
The speed and weight of information technology has multiplied the flow of
data to citizens at every level of the population. What to do with the bytes,
kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, and terabytes of transmitted information is
still puzzling to most people. This overload has created whole new databases
of dysfunction and disorders. Today Americans suffer from FOMO (fear of
missing out), phantom ringing syndrome, nomophobia, cybersickness,
facebook depression, internet addiction disorder, gaming addiction disorder,
cyberchondria, and the google effect. What is more, the population is more
subject to fake news, information hoaxes, and misinformation as never before.
Gee, thanks for the encouragement. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Right?
I'm reminded of the dream King Solomon had right after assuming the throne as King of Israel. He became King after a good bit of palace intrigue with his brother Adonijah. In 1 Kings 3 Solomon offered sacrifice at Gibeon and God appeared to him in a dream. God asked, "Ask what I shall give you?". We all know that Solomon never asked for great riches, longevity, or military power. He asked, "Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?" (1 Kings 3:9, ESV). We honor King Solomon because he sought wisdom from the Lord. And, God gave it.
It would be easy to say that this shallow world needs depth. Certainly living below the surface is an action of going deep, the ability to tackle life from a well of emotional and spiritual strength. And, God does grow his people and grant them the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16) and his attitude, the emotional and spiritual stuff to deal with life from a deeper context. It is perhaps the essence of the commission Jesus gave his followers, to "make disciples of every nation...teaching them..." (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). Surely making disciples produces depth in his people.
But, James provided an additional hedge against information overload and the dangers of being overwhelmed with knowledge. He wrote to the "Twelve tribes in the dispersion..." (James 1:1, ESV) and told them to ask God for wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without
reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for
the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the
wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the
Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8, ESV
This prayer for wisdom affirms God's promise to give it if requested from a believing heart, absent of doubt. It's one of the blessings God gives.
it's just my own personal bent, but I believe information and knowledge are horizontal realities, gained from living life. Every moment we live, right from birth, we humans start gathering information and knowledge. They're stored in the neural synapses of this miraculous brain God gave us at creation. In my worldview, wisdom, however, is vertical, meaning, it is a good gift from above. What is more, he provided a promise to give it to those who ask in faith. Sure, there are people who are street wise, or wise in the ways of the world. Genuine wisdom, what to do with all of this information and knowledge, is given by God.
And, that's all I want for Christmas, what God promises to give, his wisdom for living his way in this complicated and strange world.
They are the outcomes of a culture overwhelmed with information.