Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
In the new year the focus is most often on what is new, what is anticipated or hoped for. It is a time of optimism (sometimes forced) in the world around us, and in the Church a time (the season of Epiphany) in which we are reminded that God manifests His presence to us in all places, at all times. God is present to us, and reveals His will, and this focus on presence harks back to the Advent theme of Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7.14).
Let us contrast this thankful realization of God’s presence with the projection of human will that an emphasis on the new can tempt us to. We must ask the question: Will what is new—what is anticipated or hoped for—be determined only by what we decide and how we strive, or shall we, rather, strive to discern what it is that God is revealing, how God is manifesting His presence and His will? We have to ask this question, for we are bombarded with the messages of advertising and the cult of technology that seek to beguile us that it is our wishes that must be translated (and right now!) into action. Think, for example, about all the television advertisements you have witnessed in just the past month for “smart speakers” and voice-activated computer devices like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. These are devices intended to be always on, listening for your commands, so that your will may be effected (except, perhaps, when you could really use help, and find yourself disappointed when you say “Alexa, fold the laundry!”) Is there not a danger that a “magic” device can be (to construct a questionable pun) not Immanuel (“God with us”) but “Immanubaal” (“Baal with us”)?—the false god of human will projection?
To be clear: there is nothing inherently wrong in the expression of human will. What makes us human—created in the image and likeness of God—is that we each have a will, that we can choose. But to choose is not the same thing, necessarily, as to choose wisely, and the path of wisdom lies in choosing to conform our wills to God’s. In an age in which technology tempts us to seek to gain mastery over nature, we must remind ourselves that in faith we seek to discern God’s will and do it; “magic” involves the quest to manipulate the world around us to do our will, and much of technology is no more than magic grounded in reproducible cause-and-effect reality.
The great science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What Clarke was getting at is that in the absence of an understanding of cause-and-effect it can be easy to start experiencing the alternate realities created by others to be real. Leaving aside virtual reality experiences (involving another technology now much promoted), the fact that the most popular “influencer” on the Instagram social media platform is a computer-generated character, Lil Miquela, should give us pause, even if we don’t really care about social media and what an influencer is, because it means that there are both parts of society who do care and other parts (e.g., the creators and controllers of synthetic influencers) who care enough to seek to control other peoples’ tastes and choices through this magic.
God has not created us to be controlled by the projection of human will. God has created us to participate in the blessing of His will, and His will is perpetually new. Therefore, the best New Year’s resolution any one of us can adopt is to focus on how we seek God’s will. The season of Epiphany testifies to the blessing that God comes to us and manifests both who He is and what His will for us is. He comes to us when we seek Him in prayer. He manifests His will when we seek to discern it in His holy Word. He manifests His presence when we gather in the Name of His Son and participate in the blessing of His Body and Blood. Let the new year and all years be a time of “God with us”; one in which we banish the Baals of wish projection, to remain grounded in the reality and blessing that God calls us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him, and to do this in our knowledge , love and service of each other. Blessing is ever new. God is ever and always with us.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg