Imagine if you could go back. Imagine if you could race back through time and see all of your Google searches plotted out with the date and location of each one. In that unusual way, you would have compiled a short biography of your life. You would have compiled a short narrative of your marriage and parenting.
You would see the time your child was going through those temper tantrums and you searched for ideas on how to make it stop. You would see the time you and your spouse were struggling with satisfaction and you went looking for some tips to spice things up. You would see the time you decided to start paying your children an allowance and you headed to the blogs to see what others do. There would be all these searches, and countless thousands more; assembled together they would form a fascinating portrait of your life. Google may know you better than you know yourself. Google remembers things about you that you’ve long since forgotten.
Google has become such a part of our lives that we tend to forget its newness and its historical uniqueness. Just a generation ago parents and spouses had to find answers in an entirely different way. And I wonder what we’ve lost along the way.
God has got his own version of Google and, until recently, it was the one Christians relied on. God’s version of Google is called the local church. When we have questions about life and marriage and parenting and so much else, there is rarely a better place to go than the local church. When we want to see marriage and parenting modeled for us, there is no more natural place to turn. “I want kids like your kids, so let me spend time with you. I want a marriage like your marriage, so let me observe and ask you questions.”
The beauty of the local church is that it allows us to receive truth filtered through people we actually know. We know the people giving us counsel and are able to gauge their skill and credibility. We get to see real marriages and real parenting, and we learn who is worthy of imitation. And then we simply observe and ask questions. Why do you do things that way? How do you deal with this situation? Where do you go when struggling? What are some of your most formative books?
There is something so deeply and helpfully humbling about having to approach another person rather than simply typing a few sentences into the search engine. But there is something so rewarding about telling the other person, about meeting together, about receiving counsel, about being prayed for. The relationship is so much deeper, the reward so much greater.
On the other hand, there can be something concerningly proud about going online first. You head straight to Google and go looking for answers to your questions and problems. You collect information that sounds so correct and so fresh. (It’s from the Internet, after all, and from a pretty site plastered with well-composed photos of a happy family) What you learn from a peer on the Web may seem like the new thing, whereas it is easy to write off what you learn from that grandmother in the church as hopelessly outdated. But here’s what you forget: It is not just the answers you are looking for, but the wisdom, the relationship, and the prayer.
Now look, the Internet is awesome. Google is awesome. There are many reasons to use them every day. But only one of these things is God’s ordained means for our sanctification and only one of these things will last forever. Go ahead and Google, but don’t neglect the beauty and wisdom of the people who worship right beside you each Sunday.
It is so easy and so natural to go online to look for answers, that we may just pass over the most obvious means of help. It is here, in the local church, that we have people who are deeply invested in us and specifically called and gifted to assist us. Church first, Google later.