In the current blog series on communication technologies, we have sought to bring attention to the way in which the specific form of communication influences both the content and user. This is to say that when technology is used as a medium of communication, it exhibits biases that have consequences for the nature of communication. If Christians seek the Bible as the authoritative source for the Christian life, shouldn’t we expect it to include guidelines for communication and our use of media?
There are two main areas of particular import for our discussion: the Trinity and idolatry. First, God provides the basis for objective reality, and he is the author of Truth. Human communication involves sharing and imparting this truth via the use of all kinds of media, e.g. symbols, codes, and languages. When technology is used as a medium of communication, it is effective inasmuch as it accurately mediates the objective truths of God. This is derived from the fact that God is the ultimate standard by which to judge everything in his creation. Of course, there may be some temporal or superficial value for a medium to transmit various kinds of falsehood, but the ultimate meaning of a medium is found in its competency to mediate the objective truth of God.
The Trinity also informs our understanding of human relationships. As humans are made in the image of God, we are created to image the perfect divine relationship that originates from eternity past. Human relationships are derivative of the divine relationship, and they mirror to varying degrees this perfect relational harmony. This means that we either use our media to contribute to the well-being of these relationships or we use our media to undermine them. All of this is to say that the ideas of communication and relationships are established in the permanent divine reality of the covenant Lord; then humans model and imitate them.
Secondly, the first recorded communication in the Bible from God to his creatures takes place in the Garden of Eden. God graciously condescended and freely chose to communicate himself to his creatures by way of self-revelation in the form of a covenant. The Lord used the verbal medium to communicate the covenant stipulations, including the prohibition of a specific fruit. However, other competing media—the appealing fruit and Satan’s deceptive word—vied for Adam and Eve’s affection. Satan also used media—his own false speaking of the meaning of the fruit. In this way, the fruit held out another reality to Adam and Eve. This was a false reality that promised they would become like God. Adam and Eve gave into the temptation and ate the fruit. They asserted their own judgment in choosing to eat the fruit rather than to submit to the Lord’s word. The fruit, along with Satan’s word, functioned as media for idolatry in this case, because they gave specific form to the sin that originated in the human heart. This account demonstrates how Satan can use both verbal and visual media as a means of deception, one that can give form to one’s disloyalty to the Lord. Visual media, as such, are not sinful, but Satan used the visual tool to mediate to Adam and Eve a path away from God.
Also particularly relevant to the discussion of media forms comes is the Decalogue in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The Second Commandment reads, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” One principle basic to this commandment is that communication forms may not to be used indiscriminately for different kinds of content. In other words, some media are insufficient to mediate certain kinds of content. In this case, the medium of images is inadequate to carry the message, so it is prohibited. A man-made static object cannot accurately represent the true living, sovereign God of power because God transcends it. The church, in our own unique context, is particularly obliged to consider and apply this insight in choosing media that can carry the weight and significance of our message.
There are several reasons for the commandment. First, the command reinforced the principle of distinction; Israel was not to look like, behave like, or exist like other pagan groups, including in its communication practices. Secondly, the Commandment provided a firm foundation for the theme of dependence on the word. This is also captured by the idea of “walking by faith and not by sight.” Paul expounds the significance of this in Romans 10:17 when he writes that faith comes through hearing not seeing. This idea requires the creature’s dependency on the Creator for revelation, and it amplifies the power of God in communication rather than the personal capacities of the creature. Thirdly, revelation is progressive. It was not until the New Testament times that God revealed himself in visible form, namely, human flesh. The course of progressive revelation attests to the importance of specific forms for certain redemptive eras. Jesus Christ is the eternal Word that was made visible, and this is the ultimate kind of personal communication from God to human beings. This means that the physicality of communication has a special significance for the Christian. As opposed to disembodied or impersonal communication, Christians have a new value for the physical forms of communication because Christ did, i.e. the form of communication is the central point of significance in the Incarnation.
The Trinity and idolatry are just two areas that need to be considered when discussing communication. Furthermore, we learn from the Bible that we ought to be disciplined in our use of media just like other areas of the Christian life—such as language and behavior—in order to become better image bearers and to live more consistently with our imago Dei status.
Lee Marcum is a Senior Graphic Designer at a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation in the Northeast.