Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space-X, recently commented on the future of human capability by arguing for the merging of humans with machines in order to avoid becoming obsolete. He speaks of this as an inevitability, not as a distant project more likely framed in terms of science fiction. This is very much … well, fact.
In the short term, Musk argues that the emergence of driverless cars—once dismissed as a Disney-like dream—will dramatically increase the convenience for the average person’s travel schedule. I was once the direct beneficiary of one of these technological miracles of science.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Lasik vision correction procedure, the entire surgery takes about 5-10 minutes per eye. The ophthalmologist uses some numbing drops on your eye (didn’t know my eye could feel stuff, actually) and employs a strange foam piece to force your eyeball open, Clockwork Orange-style (not quite). Everything proceeds swimmingly. There are light flashes and weird sounds but no discernible discomfort, no cause for fear. That is, until you hear the following words from your doctor’s mouth, ‘Okay, Joel. For this next step, your eye will be open but you won’t be able to see anything.’
And that’s precisely what happens next … you are consciously aware that your eyeball is indeed open, but no light is coming in. It’s black. For a panicky minute or two, Lasik patients are completely blind.
Eight minutes later, I was walking out the door of the surgery room when my doctor said, ‘You can put your eyeglasses in that box over there. You’re not going to need those for the next forty years. See you tomorrow for your check-up appointment!’ In less time than it takes to get your food at a Macaroni Grill, I left the world of annoying contact lenses and blurry morning interpretive exercises (‘What does the alarm clock say? Is that a 5 or a 6?’).
It was a revelation. A modern miracle.
My Lasik experience has cast a new light on the sight miracles in Scripture. Perhaps the most famous is found in John 9, when Jesus encounters a man who was blind from birth. Mud, spit … voila! … his sight is restored.
I know, at least in a trifling way, what it means to go from blindness to vision. I can imperfectly empathize with the helplessness, the utter reliance upon the others in my life, the lack of self-determination. Jesus’ healing touch removes the blindness, the fear, and the isolation—and yet provides a new identity, a palpable joy that overwhelms the former beggar.
Perhaps we should hail Lasik (and other modern miracles of science) as similarly liberating, but I’m afraid that the flip-side to that particular coin isn’t pretty. This is not to say that these awesome procedures aren’t useful or truly remarkable ways to promote human flourishing. Rather, there are some unintended consequences that, I believe, are just now revealing themselves and being aware of them could be of great benefit.
Today, the miraculous is no longer particularly noteworthy. The fields of science and technology have afforded the average person an astonishing array of capabilities once thought to be the realm of science fiction—with an emphasis on the word, fiction. We carry with us the ability to contact most anyone in the world, research just about any topic in the world, and do it from a device we can comfortably keep in the back pocket of our Levis. Miracles come cheap. About $600.
Is the by-product of our human miracle-making an inevitable de-mystifying of our Savior? In other words, has the present age made our Lord and Savior’s command of the natural forces of this world somewhat commonplace? Banal?
Christianity today suffers deeply from a self-inflicted, domesticated view of Jesus, a view where he’s comfortable, friendly, and chiefly responsible for giving us a foundation for moral living. This kind of Jesus is entirely non-threatening which allows some deeply mistaken church bodies to claim that Jesus is one of them—he came to Earth so that you could be wealthy and influential. He came in order to justify your every whim because he’s always sided with the outsider, whoever that outsider might be. It’s enticing. And entirely non-biblical.
Jesus resists domestication. Just when we think we know him, he offers a stern rebuking to the proud. Or, conversely, he offers mercy to those who, for all intents and purposes, should be rightly considered guilty. The comfortable Jesus is not an allowable option for us to hold. No God-man who commands the forces of nature could allow such comfort, for when people saw his divine power, they often asked him to depart. After all, Peter beheld Jesus’ divine abilities after a miraculous catch of fish, then says, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ (Lk 5:8).
“Just when we think we know him, he offers a stern rebuking to the proud. Or, conversely, he offers mercy to those who, for all intents and purposes, should be rightly considered guilty.“
We don’t quite know what to do with miracles…even as believers. American Christianity often turns to one of two extremes: Skepticism or Challenge.
In the first option, we allow ourselves to accept the Jesus that we assume we know, but reject the Jesus that does not fit within our preconceived notions of what a Savior is and isn’t. Call this the Nazareth Option. In Luke 4, Jesus basically shakes the dust of his feet and leaves his hometown, saying, ‘No prophet is accepted in his hometown.’
Surely I would have done the same if I was a member of the Nazareth community. After all, I may have learned the Torah with Jesus at a young age, played with him in the streets, shared meals with him. When he formally opens up his ministry of teaching and makes a case for his unique sense of authority authenticated through miraculous signs, I would have been incredulous, too. No, Jesus, I’ve seen you blow your nose. You are not the Son of God.
The Nazareth Option refuses to see the Jesus of divine authority because it threatens an individual’s ability to be self-worshiping. How can you, Jesus, call me into account?
The second option has a different beginning but the same ending. I call it the Pharaoh Option. Like Pharaoh in the Old Testament, this attitude doesn’t dismiss the possibility of the miraculous at all. Rather, like the Egyptian ruler before Moses, we submit Jesus’ miraculous acts to a challenge.
Since ‘miracles’ are so commonplace these days, we have the temerity to put Jesus on the defensive, saying, ‘Great miracles, Jesus. But my court magicians can do that, too.’ Jesus heals the blind man; we say, ‘That’s great. But we have Lasik.’ Jesus walks on water; we show him the floating city of the U.S.S. Enterprise. What’s left is the same exact position: apotheosis. We elevate ourselves to the level of the divine. We become the arbiter of whether or not Jesus’ miracles are worth our attention; whether they are worth more awe and praise then we give ourselves.
I’m guilty of both of these extremes. I’ve made the miraculous historical event of the Incarnation just another story—like a common table prayer that comes out as a collection of syllables rather than the genuine request for Jesus to ‘be our guest.’ Too much familiarity … not enough awe.
As Christians strive to be light and salt to their communities, perhaps we might be wise to remember:
- Miracles were not the reason Jesus came, but by a singular miracle Christians have hope. New Testament healings and exorcisms were authenticating marks on the Son of God, but his purpose transcended them. He came to save. He did it through the cross and empty tomb.
- The central problem of today is the central problem of ever. We still want to be god. All the technology in the world will not overcome our lust for sin; it will just complicate how our lusts get satisfied.
- When technology becomes the source of that which is good and the ultimate defense from that which is bad, we’ve made it into a god. A simple truth, catechism-style.
Technology walks a fine line, and we walk right behind it. We all want the latest innovation, but deep down, we know that techs often nudge us toward the edge of some uncomfortable moral ledges. If we remember that humanity’s main problem is technology-proof, then we stand ready to place our hope in the God who stands outside of technology. If we don’t, well, we’d be like the Lasik patient: Eyes open but can’t see.
© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.