“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” James 5:7
This past Sunday, we looked at James 5-7-11, which exhorts believers to live with patient endurance. I began by noting how almost everything in our culture is working against us being patient: endless streaming options, social media, grocery stores with everything always in season and in stock, online “church,” etc.
But it’s not so much that our culture doesn’t value patience as a virtue, it’s that we’ve replaced patience with distraction. Any time we actually have an opportunity to be patient—waiting in line, healing from sickness or injury, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel that is COVID—rather than learning patience and steadfastness, we distract ourselves. We fill up every second, or close to it, with binge watching, checking the news, scrolling social feeds, etc.
It’s not that all of these things are bad in and of themselves; but together they discourage the learning of things like patience, contentment and self-control. Things which God says are part of the good and happy life he wants for us.
But there is another implication of this situation which we didn’t consider in the sermon, but which is discussed at length in a book titled Disruptive Witness, by Alan Noble. Noble argues that this incessant distraction keeps us from considering the deep and meaningful questions of life: Who am I? Is there a God? What is this world exist for?
In his own words, “The constant distraction of our culture shields us from the kind of deep, honest reflection needed to ask why we exist and what is true…. a culture of technological distraction inclines us to look for meaning in preoccupation, novelty, consumer choices, and stimulation. So long as we are moving on to the next thing, we feel that our life has some direction and therefore meaning.”
This has implications for our own lives: are we “turning off” enough to allow the weighty– and often uncomfortable–matters of life to come to the surface? Do we allow ourselves to sit in the trials, pain and mystery of this life enough to turn to God in our need? Or do we only numb ourselves with distractions?
But this also has implications for our witnessing to others of God and the gospel (hence the title of Noble’s book): the endless availability of distractions and stimulations makes it easy to dismiss the proposition that there is a God, that all of life is enchanted with meaning and purpose, and that one’s standing with God matters much more than we think. As Noble suggests, we hardly require any logical argument to refute this grand story, because we can simply tune it out with myriad lesser stories on TV, the news, and social media.
Hence the need to live as “disruptive witnesses,” to present God and the gospel not just as one more distraction, or consumer preference (or church as another way to be entertained), but as sovereign Lord of all, rightful Judge of all, and gracious and good Savior of all who would come to him.