by Steven Skidmore
CGG Weekly, June 1, 2018
"We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior."
John R.W. Stott
In 2011, Eli Pariser, CEO of viral content website Upworthy, gave a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk discussing what he called "filter bubbles" and their impact on society in this social media age. If we have used the Internet to view news, interact with others, or make purchases on websites like Amazon.com or Walmart.com, then we have undoubtedly experienced filter bubbles and the algorithms dictating choices for us, without our even knowing. Targeted advertisements show up within seconds of our viewing online items, urging us to follow through on that purchase or suggesting alternative items that might suit our tastes even more.
Utilizing information such as previous website history, friend lists from social media sites, click behavior on news headlines, location, and even the type of computer being used, invisible algorithms make guesses about the kind of content we would like to see, creating personalized searches to get us information as efficiently as possible. These computer algorithms have replaced the newspaper editors of old as the deciding factor in what constitutes a newsworthy topic. Our choices and decisions online quickly begin to create an intellectual bubble around us, isolating us to our own opinions and ideas and blocking out the viewpoints of others that the algorithms deem as disagreeable to our ideologies.
Seemingly unimportant and invisible choices in our lives weigh more heavily on our spiritual health than we may realize. Through repetition, we can easily program algorithms in our own lives that drive our moral compasses. If we are not careful with what we program, we can cause ourselves to fall victim to our own negative feedback loops. Soon, we lose sight of the way God wants us to live our lives, all the while living in the illusion that we are doing God's will as Christians. Our everyday choices and decisions begin to reflect our self-created bubbles, numbing us to the fact that we are spiritually unhealthy.
By following these same worldly routines and patterns on a daily basis, we establish a bubble of perilous familiarity. Our bad habits become the norm, and we soon lose the ability to differentiate between God's way of life and the way the world is telling us to live. We create our own "spiritual" filter bubbles in which we isolate ourselves from growing "in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). Without healthy spiritual growth, we fall back on the worldly struggles and anxieties we have yet to overcome. These trials begin to trap us, destroying our growth and smothering the seed of God's Word in a blanket of thorns, just as Jesus described in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:7).
This way of life is not the one we Christians are called to live. As the apostle Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:19-22: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil." We are told to test our faith and the things we believe for errors and falsities. Paul urges us not to fall into the trap of blindly following what society deems as the acceptable way of life.
Instead, we are to turn to God in study and prayer, asking Him to protect us from falling into the ungodly habits and repetitions of the world. If we continue to live in our isolated bubbles, ignoring the needs of those in the congregation, failing to participate in church activities, and avoiding the study of God's Word, then we are doomed to become spiritually stagnant and risk losing everything God's grace has given us.
Paul tells us that the old has passed away and that anyone living under Christ is a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17). If we are lost in our daily thought repetitions, we fail to realize fully the change needed in our lives that Paul so plainly mentions. As Christians, we are called to a newness of life, baptized into death, and brought to life through the example and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-23). We are told not to conform to the world, but to instead test everything, that we may be able to discern what is God's will among all the distractions in our lives (Romans 12:2). Failing to do so means we will undoubtedly fall short of Christ's expectations for our lives.
These personal bubbles play a crucial role in limiting our growth, as well as fostering self-deception. A tragic biblical example of self-deception is the story of King Saul. One of the greatest tragedies in his life was his brazen defiance of God's warnings about his actions and how he was seemingly convinced that he was honoring God. Saul says in I Samuel 15:15, "They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed."
Through Samuel, God had given Saul a direct command on how to handle the Amalekites, yet he freely chose to ignore God's instructions in favor of what he thought would honor Him more. He was unable to see his transgressions against God's commands because he was wrapped up in the system of delusion that he himself had created around his life choices. In his own mind, Saul could excuse his blatant disregard of God's instruction, having convinced himself that his personal opinions and decisions of right and wrong were one-and-the-same with God's. He no longer listened to God, who subsequently rejected him as king of Israel.
We must guard ourselves against the barrage of false information that surrounds us on a daily basis. Only through growing closer to Christ and His teachings can we begin to discern correctly what is and is not truth. A vast trove of information exists at our fingertips, but if we are not filtering what we are allowing into our minds, we may unknowingly be assisting in our own spiritual downfall.
The Pharisees in Jesus' day were convinced they were living godly lives, yet our Savior tells us in Matthew 23 that they had become blind to the true meaning of the Scriptures. Years of tradition and prideful choices created bubbles around them that refused to let the Messiah's truth into their hearts.
Peter warns, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). If we are not careful to create godly bubbles of information around our minds, we may be heading to the same spiritual fate as those whom Christ Himself has rejected.