Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Digital Difference

After starting out in a ministerial and academic career I found my path blocked and had to start over in the business world. I took a temporary job with Rand McNally and just never bothered to leave. Twenty years later, in 2001, I retired from there. During that time I got involved with computers. Today my wife and I operate five computers, and I do web site design and have a small web site hosting operation. While working for Rand McNally, I came to see the connection between computers and the Word of God.

Computers, you see, are really dumb. You’ve all heard the expression GIGO — “Garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t get a correct answer out of a computer if you put in the wrong information. Another thing about computers is that everything is digital. That means that information is stored in “bytes” that are either turned off or turned on. A piece of computer information can’t be half OFF and half ON. It has to be one or the other.

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson pointed out, decades ago, that information is “a difference that makes a difference.” In other words, information is the difference between one thing and another; in a computer it’s the difference between ON and OFF. If everything is the same — all ON, for example — no information is conveyed. We learn nothing from a blank screen, what computer geeks call the BSOD or “blue screen of death,” except that something’s wrong with the computer.

God’s Word, too, is digital; it’s “the difference that makes a difference.” We see this, for example, in the Old Testament all the way from Genesis to Malachi. In Genesis, God creates by making a difference. He says, “Let there be light,” and divides the light from the darkness, just as in a computer the bytes are either ON or OFF. In Malachi 3:18 the Lord says, “Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” That’s a digital difference. It reminds us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:30: “He who is not with me is against me.” Our faith is digital; our byte is either turned ON or it’s turned OFF.

We know that God is a regular user of the Internet. In fact, his universe is one big Internet, and his search engine is even more powerful than Google. He’s always out there looking for information. As 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Jesus reminds us that God is seeking worshipers who will truly worship him (John 4:23). He’s looking for those who would serve him.

Paul, in Romans 12:1, appeals to us to present ourselves to God as our “spiritual service of worship.” Actually, the Greek expression is ten logiken latreian humon, “our logical service.” Computer people speak of the logic of a program — the reasoning behind how the bytes are arranged, either ON or OFF. God is looking for logical servers — people who will serve him with a commitment that is clear, giving him the information he needs to use them effectively.

Lots of things can go wrong with a computer, as we all know! Files can be corrupted with bad or incomplete information, our hard drive can “crash,” an Internet server may not be putting out the web site we’re looking for. At such times we get an error message, like the white screen that says, “This page cannot be displayed” or “Server not found.”

As the Lord points his URL (Uniform Resource Locator, or web address) at me or looks for me with his search engine, is he going to find me ready with the information he’s looking for? Is my byte turned on, is my drive working, are my files uncorrupted? Or will he get that screen that says, “Server Not Found”?

Originally published in ReUnion, newsletter of Union Congregational Church, North Aurora, Illinois, November 2004.