Christian Living

How 2020 Is Taking a Toll on Your Soul

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 08/05/2020

I’m going to tell you something that will explain what you’re likely feeling about this turbulent year. No doubt, you’ve witnessed a series of tragic events unfold before your eyes. You’ve also probably felt an inordinate pressure to say the right thing about each of them. Like you, I’ve been hesitant to comment for fear I’ll be blasted by someone who sees things differently. It’s been frustrating and fatiguing, to say the least, and I believe this short comment by a Texas pastor explains the reason why we feel this way. Here’s what he wrote:

Could it be that God didn’t wire us to carry every event, taking place in every part of the world, at every moment, as if it were ours? Could it be that technology has produced a faux omniscience and omnipresence that is hurting mankind and not helping it?

This is an important assessment. Through the internet and social media, technology has given us ringside seats to every event, tragedy, and evil act that happens in any part of the planet. That’s not something we’re created to handle. It’s made possible, though, because of the internet. Though technology often helps us, it also creates two problems that hurt our soul: faux omnipresence and faux omniscience.

Up until the last fraction of human existence, we’ve only had to carry events that directly affect us, our family/friends, and our local community. Today, with the internet and social media, we can witness every evil event. If we miss it, a recording is readily replayed online. The carnage is funneled through our eyes and embedded in our soul. What we witness can be in the next town, the next state, or on the other side of the planet. No matter where it happens, we see it. It’s like we’re everywhere.

But it’s a faux omnipresence. We’re not actually there, but we’re made to experience these events like we were. We soak them in and feel the pain that others feel, albeit to a lesser degree. We scroll through our news feed and witness another tragedy. Then another. In a matter of minutes, we’ve watched multiple evil events. It’s overwhelming.

God, who is omnipresent can handle all that evil, pain, and tragedy. He’s capable. He has the emotional and psychological bandwidth to witness his creation repeatedly commit evil and not become overwhelmed. Finite humans, though, are not God. We don’t have the capacity to handle inordinate amounts of evil. This faux omnipresence hurts us.

Our faux omnipresence leads to a faux omniscience. We think we’re present at these tragedies, so we’re tricked into thinking we understand what happened. We saw it online, after all. It was in high definition. Because we “witness” these events, we’re expected to know the truth about what happened, make an immediate evaluation, and then say the right thing about it. Finite humans can’t be perfectly accurate, though. Even still, we comment, post, and emote. We argue and then divide. Our online debating adds another layer of stress. All this happens after a single tragedy. There’s more, though. Another horrific event is around the corner. We repeat the cycle and the stress builds. This faux omniscience hurts us, as well.

I appreciate Charles Spurgeon’s similar concern, when he addressed pastors in training. Recognizing their potential to take on overwhelming burdens, he warned them of making this mistake.

Many servants of God are made to feel their weakness in another way, by an oppressive sense of responsibility…. Do not take an exaggerated view of what the Lord expects of you. He will not blame you for not doing that which is beyond your mental power or physical strength…. We are not the Father, nor the Saviour, nor the Comforter of the Church. We cannot take the responsibility of the universe upon our shoulders. [Emphasis in original.]

There’s only so much one person can take, says Spurgeon. Plus, to presume you can handle all the world’s hurt is to take on an exaggerated view of yourself. God is the only one capable of carrying that weight.

Though online technologies can hurt us, I’m not a Luddite. I don’t doubt that scientific advancements have helped us communicate, protect people, care for vulnerable people, and do many other good things.

Progress, though, often comes with a price. Though Inherit the Wind is a disastrous retelling of the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, I resonate with one of Henry Drummond’s speeches in the movie.

Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, “All right, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.”

It's hard to imagine the wonder of flight that birds effortlessly enjoy. Why? We’ve all grown up in a world with planes. We sip sodas in leather seats, 38,000 feet in the air, while cities zip by at 600 mph. A flying bird is no big deal. We fly faster and higher. We’ve lost our wonder.

Technology that makes the internet and social media possible might move us forward in some ways, but we pay for it in other ways. We experience a faux omnipresence and faux omniscience, causing us to carry all the hurts of the world. “Could it be that God didn’t wire us to carry every event…as if it were ours?”

Naysayers might object: “We need to know what’s happening around the world, to stay abreast of current affairs. We must learn from our collective experience.” While I agree it’s important to learn from tragic events that occur outside our immediate community, we can become overwhelmed by the barrage of negative news. We’re not created to soak in every tragedy as if it were ours. “Progress,” like Drummond says, “has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.” It takes a toll on our souls.

Perhaps, then, we should take better care of ourselves. Here’s what I suggest. First, unplug from the internet and/or social media. This is mandatory. Set up times when you walk away without taking sneak peeks. Second, spend time in nature. For example, take a hike through the woods and observe the simplicity and beauty of God’s creation. I love to notice delicate flowers or watch the gentle dance of birds in the trees. It helps me escape—for a time—the harsh reality I must eventually return to. Third, pray and discern when and where you can shoulder other people’s burdens, and find friends who can help carry yours. This is a biblical mandate. Finally, develop a habit of giving thanks to Jesus, the one who took on our burdens. Without him, we’d be in bigger trouble and hurting even more. He encourages us to come to him and promises, “You will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29–30).

[You can listen to an audio version of this material with additional content on an STR podcast here.]