I’ve always thought it must have been a drag for Jesus to go from omnipresence (being present everywhere at the same time) to unipresence (present in just one place at one time). But Jesus didn’t seem to mind.
One of the most moving scenes of Jesus’ life in Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible is when Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter, who is about to die. Jesus had agreed to visit and heal the girl, so Jairus, Jesus, and his disciples were moving as quickly as they could through the thick crowd that had formed around Jesus.
Suddenly, Jesus stopped and said, “Who touched me?” It turned out to be a frail, old lady who had been bleeding uncontrollably for 12 years. Frustrated by this distraction, Peter tried to hurry Jesus along. Lloyd-Jones imagines the disciples saying, “We don’t have time!” But Jesus always had time, she writes.
“He reached out his hands and gently lifted her head. He looked into her eyes and smiled. ‘You believed,’ he said, wiping a tear from her eye, ‘and now you are well.'”
Jesus could not have loved that woman like that if he had not been incarnate among her, or present with her.
The 3 Essential Elements of Incarnational Life
One of the primary areas of theological discussion regarding technology is a theology of incarnation, which in Christianity refers to the embodiment of God the Son in human flesh as Jesus Christ. You can’t talk about incarnation without speaking into the topics of place and embodiment.
To be incarnate is to be embodied in human form in a particular time and place, as the Son of God was incarnate over 2,000 years ago in the person of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, though fully God, was limited to being physically present in one place just like any human. His ministry was carried out in an area of only about 30 miles.
To be incarnate like Jesus, to love and live like Jesus, takes focus, attention, and order. These are the three essential elements, if focused in the right direction, of an unhurried, incarnational life like the one lived by Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus always had time because his life had focus — preaching the gospel to the lost sheep of Israel and sacrificing himself on the cross for the sins of the world. That focus allowed him to give his attention to the right things at the right time — like with the frail lady. And his attention was possible because his life was ordered around the right things — prayer, solitude, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines.
Technology and Incarnational Life
If we want to love like Jesus, we must have focus, attention, and order in our lives. But the modern, technological world values none of these things. Sarah Clarkson notes,
“The habits of modern life draw us out of fellowship, away from connection, and toward distraction, absence, and autonomy. While there are certainly benefits to the world or technology, and while social media has in many ways increased connectedness, there are also profound ways in which the overuse of virtual reality and technological media is causing us to become mentally and emotionally absent from the present world of incarnational action.”
This should give Christians pause as they think through how best to incarnate, or bear the image of, Christ in the world around them. The imagination gives birth to creation. And one can only reflect Christ if one has taken the time to internalize His truth and teachings, and tasted His goodness.
“When you understand the reality of incarnation, the way that the physical trappings of our lives and our use of time and space are places where God either comes in His creative presence or remains at bay, you understand that nothing is neutral. Nothing. You can’t just waste an hour on the Internet. You can’t just miss one sunrise in its beauty. No room is just space. No hour is meaningless. No meal is mere sustenance. Every rhythm and atom of existence are spaces in which the Kingdom can come, in which the story of God’s love can be told anew, in which the stuff of life can be turned marvelously into love. We cannot change the world if we cannot incarnate God’s love in our own most ordinary spaces and hours.”
Humans were made to pay attention to the world and people around them. And not just to pay attention, but to bring the love and creativity of God to bear on the world and people around them. The inherent values of the modern technological landscape — autonomy, distraction, interruption, chaos — all work against that purpose. That is not to say technology is all bad, only that Christians must be aware of a technology’s values when thinking through their engagement.
If Christians are not careful, they will find they waste a large portion of their time and life by giving their attention to the consumption of media and products instead of cultivating the kinds of relationships God intended. Aside from technology’s ability to distract away from incarnational life, the consumption of media and products is potentially troublesome in another way.
The Importance of Place
When people are immersed in social networks (not just social media, but networks of people distributed across the Internet), they begin to lose their concept and the value of physical place and what it means to dwell where they are. Bill Gates notes this concern in his book The Road Ahead, speculating that
“the internet would change our patterns of socialization and systems of education, forcing us to rethink the nature of our relationships. The network will draw us together, if that’s what we choose, or let us scatter ourselves into a million mediated communities.’”
For many people today, the latter has become reality.
There have historically been three main understandings of the importance of physicality and place in the church. First, human beings were intentionally created by God to be physical beings, not just spiritual, so any rejection of humans’ physicality is to be resisted (such as with Gnosticism). Second, since humans were created in the image of the triune God, Christians understand humans to be created for community. Last, and most importantly, “God became flesh and blood in the form of Jesus so as to provide a fuller revelation of God.”
Simon Carey Holt sees the call of God to be a call to place:
“The Christian story is a story of places — the most tangible places — from beginning to end. We are made to inhabit. … The story of the incarnation is the story of God en-fleshed in a particular place at a particular time and within a very specific community. So too for us, the call of God is to be in a particular place and there to embody the presence and grace of God. It’s a call to locality. Quite simply, it’s a call to the neighborhood.”
Beauty in Our Own Backyards
Christians are called to neighborhoods. We are to imitate our Master who “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson wonderfully paraphrased John 1:14. When we see our place as a stage where the grand redemptive narrative is still playing out, we see that the great things we desire are not elsewhere for us to chase, but that God is making beauty from ashes in our own backyards.
 Sally and Sarah Clarkson, The Life-Giving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2016), 36–37.
 Ibid., 37.
 Ibid., 38.
 Campbell and Garner, Networked Theology, p. 5.
 Ibid., 84.
 Simon Carey Holt, God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in Neighbourhood, (Brunswick East, Australia: Acorn Press, 2007), 77.