We live in an age of Facebook “likes”, Instagram “selfies”, Twitter feeds, unlimited text messaging, Game of War apps, PlayStation, jumbo sized HD plasma TV’s, podcasts, smartphones, tablets, and junk e-mails. We are inundated with technology on all sides. We are living in the age of the “screen”. If we’re not careful, we can commit the dangerous sin of “screen” idolatry.
Technology in and of itself is not inherently evil. In God’s common grace He has given us technology as a gift to be used for noble purposes and to improve human flourishing. Yet, at the same time, this same technology can become a noose around our necks leading us to a slow death. What exactly is “screen” idolatry? Is this something new to only our digital generation?
In Ezekiel Chapter 8, God commands the prophet Ezekiel to observe what was going on in the temple. In the Old Testament times in Israel, the temple was the physical structure where God manifested His glory and holiness. In the center of the temple resided the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant. God rested upon this in a glory cloud to remind Israel that He dwelt in their presence. The temple was the one sacred place on earth where the living God chose to actually live with His people. What does Ezekiel see happening inside the temple?
Ezekiel 8:9-12 reads: “And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel…Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’ ”
Within the walls of the very temple itself Ezekiel observed idols engraved all over the place as images that were being wickedly worshipped by the leaders of Israel. The image is of these men sitting alone in their darkened rooms with pictures in front of them of flagrant idolatry. This is nothing less than “screen idolatry” in an age without televisions, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. And to add insult to injury, these men think that God does not see what they are doing. They think they are “safe” in the confines of their darkened rooms watching the wall of idolatry in front of them. The Lord calls this an abomination—something which He hates.
Because of this grievous idolatry, the Lord decides to vacate the temple. In Chapter 10, His glory leaves the temple as a poignant visible symbol of His displeasure with Israel’s “screen” idolatry. In Chapter 14, the Lord provides a strong commentary on what actually happens when His people engage in “screen idolatry.”
Ezekiel 14:2-3 reads: “And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them?” The real issue with “screen” idolatry is that what you put constantly put in front of your face becomes an eventual idol in your heart. And it also works the other way around. What lies deep in your heart comes out in what you want to put in front of your face. And this “screen” idolatry becomes a stumbling block of iniquity. A trap of wickedness leading down a path of destruction.
Is there anything necessarily wrong with posting on Facebook? Putting a “selfie” on Instagram? Tweeting about your date? Answering a text message? Rockies game on a big screen TV? Getting games from the app store? Checking out the latest game on Playstation? Not necessarily…unless these things become idols in your heart to take the place of God. Unless these “screens” consume your time and energy away from holiness and productivity. Unless these “screens” drive you to ungodly behavior. Unless these “screens” become so much a part of your life that you find yourself in a darkened room with images in front of your face that have become idols deep in your heart.
What does this “screen idolatry” do? In Ezekiel 14:5 God says that the people had become “estranged from Him through their idols.” “Screen” idolatry enstranges us from God. It takes away that intimacy and closeness. The “screen” becomes our all in all and the one thing we live for more than anything else, while God becomes a faint memory.
Think about how “screen” idolatry enslaves you? Do you get your self-esteem from how many people “liked” your Facebook post or do you get depressed or concerned when there’s not enough comments? Are you incessantly checking your smartphone at all times for email or texts or the score that you ignore the people right in front of you. Have you forgotten how to carry on an actual conversation with another human being at the dinner table because you are obsessed with a “screen”?
What is the answer? Is it to throw away all technology and live like we are in the 1800’s? You and I cannot really survive in this high paced digital world of technology without being on a screen from time to time throughout the day. But has it become your obsession? Has it become what drives and motivates you and gives you ultimate purpose?
The answer comes in repentance. Listen to what the living God tells the people in Ezekiel 14:6: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.” If your “screen” has become an idol deep in your heart where you forget about God and you become consumed by it, then you need to repent and turn away from it. You need to ask God to give you the grace and strength to have balance in your life when it comes to “screens”. In the words of 1 John 5:21: “Keep yourselves from idols.” If you are guilty of “screen” idolatry, repent of this today and turn and find in Christ all your satisfaction and glory.