By Shereen Ghobrial
What is the Internet to you? Is it your morning newspaper, your recipe book of savory dishes for your family, or a social media portal for sharing news with your friends? Or, is it a monster trying to steal your soul? There are many myths about the Internet due to lack of information and because of personal assumptions developed through the opinions and experiences of others.
Let us ask our first question again from a different perspective. What is the Internet to you, as a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ? How do you see the Internet revolution from the Biblical perspective? How can you avoid some of the dangers of the Internet? These are some of the questions that we will try to answer together.
How Can The Internet Help Me Grow Spiritually?• Affordable And Accessible Resources. We all learn through different ways. Some prefer to read; others prefer to listen or watch a lecture (or a ministry). The Internet has a wealth of spiritual contents for all of us. Online, you can read books, listen to audio books or spiritual songs, or watch Biblically sound lectures. Most of that material is completely free, which eliminates the cost hindrance of accessing Christian material that can build you up spiritually.
In addition to reducing or eliminating the cost hindrance, the Internet has made that material easily accessible. Gone are the days where you cannot get a book because it is out of print or the bookstore has it on backorder. You can find a book that you like on Amazon, order it with one click, and it will appear on your tablet after a couple of minutes. For those of us who would prefer regular hard copy books, the Internet still makes it easy to find the book you are looking for and order it online.
Another aspect that is very useful is the portability of all this material. With smart phones and tablets accessing the Internet, you can have access anywhere to volumes of books that won’t fit in your normal suitcase. This can become very handy when you are commuting in a train and need to read the Bible, or if you are having a discussion with friends about a specific verse and want to consult your favorite commentary or Bible dictionary.
• Fellowship. Have you attended a virtual meeting? There are conferences and ministry meetings being streamed live on the Internet. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo, has enabled all of us to share photos and news over the Internet. This includes meditations that touched us, invitations to gospel or revival meetings, and prayer requests. Many Christians use these social media tools for tighter fellowship across continents and for edification of saints in remote areas of the earth.
• Gospel Outreach. Brother Andrew from the Netherlands was known as “God’s smuggler” for his great service in bringing Bibles across the Eastern European border, which was then known as the “Iron Curtain.” Near the end of the last century the Iron Curtain disappeared and the Berlin Wall was destroyed. However, there are other walls and curtains, metaphorically speaking, existing around the world, especially in the Muslim world. Some of these walls are now falling apart because the gospel is reaching people across the Internet. Governments have devised different rules and controls to limit the spread of the outreach websites, but the technology is allowing everyone to access anything on the Internet (this can be bad in some cases!).
• Bible Study Tools. Computer technology has provided numerous tools to help personal and group Bible studies. Many of those Bible study tools are available on the Internet for easy access. For example, BibleGateway.com provides Bible translations in dozens of languages, with search functions, audio Bibles, devotionals and reading plans. YouVersion.com provides similar functions with more coverage for mobile devices. This means you can do a topical word search in your smart phone for a specific word or phrase, look up a verse in another Bible translation, and even find the original meaning in Hebrew or Greek using a Bible dictionary. Many of those tools, such as WordSearchBible.com, link a given Bible text to various Bible commentaries available online for you for free or for a small cost.
All these tools save time, but they do not eliminate the effort. A Bible study that would have taken Christians many hours 20 years ago, can now be done in less than an hour. That said, we still need the motivation and desire to study the Scriptures and dig for ourselves. The time saving should encourage us to do more, frequent and deeper personal Bible studies for our building up and for the edification of our brothers and sisters in Christ. How Can The Internet Cause Danger To My Spiritual Life?• Personal Relationships. The introduction of social media had irreversible impact on our social life that will last and grow in the next generations. Like a true social club, joining a group or being a friend or follower to another person has its own impact on human behavior. According to a study conducted by the universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh and the West of England,1 over-sharing photography on social media causes negative effects on real life relationships. This is due to the fact we do not anticipate who will look at our photos or news and how they will react. According to another study,2 social media websites are now contributing factors in divorces. Research indicates that one in seven married individuals “have considered divorce because of their spouse’s postings of Facebook or other online sites.”
As fallen human beings, we strive to get our self-worth from what people think of us. The larger number of “likes” we get for a posted picture gives confidence that we are loved or at least “liked” by many. But what happens if we do not get enough “likes”? That might cause us to feel alienated and isolated. As Christians we are reminded by the Lord to “stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isa. 2:22 ESV). Our true worth is not coming from people who love us, but from the Mighty God who created us and gave His Son to redeem us.
Another danger of social media is the fact not everyone is using it. You might start a conversation or an event in a social media website and assume everyone will check it out and get informed. However, by doing that you have already left out many of your brothers and sisters in Christ who might not have access to that website, and hence, they will be alienated. One can argue that in this age everyone should have access to the Internet and social media. For that argument we have the admonition of Paul to the Ephesians: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
The dangers of social media alienation can also apply to email discussions or blogging websites. We have to remember three things:
- These are just tools for us to use,
- Our value is drawn from the Lord, and
- We need to be inclusive of all our brothers and sisters.
• Addiction. Did you meet anyone with IAD? With the invasion of the Internet, we now have individuals diagnosed with Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD), also known as Problematic Internet Use or Compulsive Internet Use (CIU). According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery,3 Internet addiction is an impulse control disorder caused by emotional attachment similar to pathological gambling. Here are some of the symptoms of Internet addiction:
- Occupied with the Internet all the time (thinking about past and future Internet experiences; such as blogging, chatting and browsing).
- A gradual increase of time spent on the Internet, and that usually leads to staying online longer than originally planned.
- Failed attempted to stop or cut back on Internet usage.
- Withdrawal symptoms (discomfort, moody, irritation) when not using the Internet for a long time.
- Willing to risk relationships, career or educational opportunities because of Internet use. This may include lying or hiding facts about personal use of the Internet.
- The Internet becomes the friend or outlet to relieve stress and escape from problems.
Naturally, the results of Internet addiction can be severe on personal relationships, careers, finances and health. The Bible is very clear: “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). If I become a slave to the Internet, then I should seek freedom from that new master by seeking the freedom I have in Christ. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
The best way to avoid Internet addiction is to ensure that you are getting your full satisfaction and pleasure from the Lord and fellowship with His people. The Internet will then be just a tool, not a virtual world for satisfaction. We have a responsibility toward our children and youth to create healthy environments in our families and churches to foster strong Christian relationships and spiritually nourish the younger generations.
If someone falls into the trap of Internet addiction, the first step to recovery is to admit the failure. Then one must seek help from the Lord and, quite possibly, an addiction professional.
• Laziness. With the abundance of spiritual resources on the Internet, one can be tempted to be lazy. Why would you memorize verses if you can easily search for them online? Why would you dig into and study the Bible by yourself if there are abundant Bible commentaries online? Even worse, why would you go to a meeting if you can hear a sermon online? These are snares that come with the privileges of the Internet.
The wise man said, “Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence [idleness] the house leaks” (Eccl. 10:18). This is also true for spiritual growth. If we do not invest enough effort and time in our spiritual growth, we will not reap any results. The Lord’s plan for our lives is not about gaining information. Rather, it is about changing our hearts and characters to be more like Him. This will happen by memorizing verses (Col. 3:16) – not by simply searching for them online. This will happen by personal Bible study (1 Tim. 4:13), instead of just reading about the Bible. This will happen by personally attending and participating, as is appropriate, in assembly meetings – not just by filling our minds with good spiritual thoughts. What is the use of spiritual food if it does not lead us to congregational worship with the local saints!
Paul was clear to the Galatians when he said, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8). The Internet is a good tool to enrich our spiritual life, but it has to be complemented with personal effort and time.
• Wasting Time. It was mentioned before that one of the symptoms of Internet addiction is the amount of time spent online and how it is usually more than originally planned. Even if going online is not an addiction for you, think of the amount of time you spend doing emails, checking Facebook pages or just browsing for a new gadget you want to buy.
According to some statistics,4 teenagers spend more than a day per week online – 27 hours to be exact. Think about how many church meetings they could have attended or how many Bible chapters and spiritual books they could have read during that time. It is time that is gone with no return.
With that said, we have to be careful to distinguish between “spent” and “wasted.” If our priorities are correct and we use our time wisely on the Internet, we should have no wasted time even if we spend many hours online. The trick is to apply Paul’s hints in assessing “things,” including the Internet. First, is it helpful? “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Cor. 10:23). There are many activities that we can do online that are helpful to us and to the saints of God. This is not a wasted time because it is used for building up. Second, is it addictive? “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (6:12). If going online starts to dominate my behavior and occupy my thoughts, I am falling under addiction and I should stop this time-wasting activity.
• Easier Exposure To Sin. This is the most commonly realized danger of the Internet. With the benefits of having many spiritual resources free and accessible comes the danger of also having dangerous materials free and accessible. The most dangerous of all is Internet pornography, which is a $3 billion per year industry. In spite of its clear danger, statistics among Christians are very alarming. According to CovenantEyes,5 64% of Christian men indicated they watch porn once a month. The danger on our youth is unprecedented. Nine out of ten boys and six of every ten girls are exposed to it before the age of 18. We can try to build cages to protect our children and youth, but that alone won’t work since 70% of them acquire their online behavior from their parents! The danger is there and it is real; what can we do to protect ourselves and our children?
First, we have to realize that watching porn is a sin. It is an act of adultery (Mt. 5:28) and an unnatural way to attain sexual excitement (2 Tim. 3:4). Hence, the Bible instructs us to stay away from it (Eph. 5:3). Watching porn causes wrong excitement and that messes with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Th. 4:4). As a sin, it grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and it does not bring glory to God (Col. 3:17).
Second, we have to understand its dangers. Because it generates a special addiction it has severe results, including a continuous feeling of guilt, the loss of self-respect, the failure to have a healthy relationship with the opposite sex, and the destruction of one’s marriage. Also, addiction leads to escalation, which may lead to violence and criminal behavior.
Third and most important, we need to be occupied with the Lord. We all know that “one who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet” (Prov. 27:7). If we are satisfied and occupied with the Lord, we won’t go hunting for cheap pleasures from the enemy.
For our children, there are many tools on the Internet that can help provide parental control. But they are only tools that can help. The best assistance we can give them is to plant the Word of God in their hearts richly so they can experience Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians: “Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Th. 5:21-22).
• Are You Digitally Sanctified? The Internet has already invaded our lives and we have three options on how to react to this invasion. The first option is “ignoring it.” We can avoid using emails and social media, pretending the Internet is a completely evil thing. This approach might work for a short period, but it will cause a big gap with the younger generations. The second option is to completely embrace it. This means we jump on every new app, check every new website and post every detail of our lives on social media for the whole world to know. This approach will negatively impact our time, security and spiritual life. The third, and my recommended approach, is to “harness it.” This means we use the Internet in a controlled fashion. Instead of letting the Internet control our time and heart, we should control it to get the best benefit while avoiding its dangers.
As was mentioned, the Internet is a tool that we can use for good or bad. We should consider all aspects of our life, including the use of the Internet, as ways to honor and glorify God: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). GT
1. See British Telegraph 12 Aug 2013, link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10238047/Facebook-over-sharers-alienate-real-life-friends.html
2. See British MailOnline, 29 April, 2015, link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3061616/Facebook-Twitter-factor-one-seven-divorces.html
3. For more information, check: http://www.addictionrecov.org/Addictions/index.aspx?AID=43
4. The Telegraph. For more details, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/digital-media/11597743/Teenagers-spend-27-hours-a-week-online-how-Internet-use-has-ballooned-in-the-last-decade.html
5. For more statistics, you can visit their website: http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/