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Technique, Appearances, and God's Will

In the opening verses of John 7, Jesus’ brothers try to convince him to go up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths to perform some miracles and jump start his public ministry. Interestingly, Jesus’ brothers make a connection between miracle-working and results. In their minds, it is miracle-working that will bring in the devotees, and this suggests that Jesus’ teaching is secondary to his power for them. It has been suggested that the brothers’ strategy is offered in the aftermath of the bread of life discourse, which resulted in the loss of many disciples of Jesus. Clearly, his teaching wasn’t getting traction, so they suggest some displays of power.

But our Lord rejects their strategy precisely because the reverse is true. His teaching is primary, and his miracle-working functioned as a testimony to the truth of his teaching about himself and his mission. For this reason, going up to the feast for the purpose of working miracles and resuscitating his public ministry would be equivalent to acting merely for the sake of appearances.

Moreover, Jesus’ teaching would eventually undermine a populist approach to ministry because the message that he had to declare was that God’s love had appeared in spite of the evil works of the world. To appeal to appearances would ultimately fail because Jesus’ message was meant to tear down the appearance that we’re all basically good and only need a pep talk and a few displays of power to inspire us. For these reasons, D.A. Carson points out that acting for the sake of appearances “would not ensure genuine faith” because the actions themselves would not be genuine faith.[1] Instead, they would just be a technique, a marketing ploy.

Christopher Watkin develops the danger of relying on technique as he surveys the rise of technology in the opening chapters of the Bible. As he lays out the foundations of many aspects of culture from Genesis 4-5, he notes how technologies and techniques, while neutral in themselves, can be wielded to manipulative ends.[2]

Watkin then highlights the rise of modern marketing and the concept of “engineered consent” that is employed by, among others, social media companies. He makes a connection between magic and the deployment of algorithms since both are "engineered to secure a particular end.” He continues, “Magic is the perfection of technique, for ‘every magical means, in the eyes of those who use it, is the most efficient one.’ It ‘subordinates the power of the gods to men’ and ‘secures a predetermined result,’ as does modern marketing.”[3]

This all relates to acting for the sake of appearances because there is no depth to it. It is not an appeal to a superior product or a better value for the money proposition. Rather, it is a manipulation of subconscious impulses for the sake of increasing the amount of time you spend on a device, in a store, or scrolling through an app—all to the financial gain of the producer, but with little to no benefit for you.

It also relates to seeking the will of God because technique undermines the chief end of man by functionally eliminating any purposeful end for man. Watkin says, “For the technical attitude everything—language, people, commodities, gods—is an instrument, a means to an end. But in an ironic twist, the end is nothing but efficiency itself, a means in end’s clothing. Nothing is to be enjoyed; everything is to be exploited and maximized, and enjoyment itself is then co-opted into this ethic of maximization as something to be exploited and monetized in return.”[4]

In a further ironic twist, a final depressing turn even, this “means in end’s clothing” comes to dominate the ones who engage with it. “Just as the ancient gods came to control the worshippers that tried to use them to control their world, even to the point of demanding the sacrifice of their children, so too the modern veneration of technique comes to dominate and shape our lives.”[5]

In the face of this, Jesus encourages us to seek to do God’s will, to reorient ourselves to man’s chief end—glorifying God and enjoying him forever. That is the antidote to living on the level of appearances and using or being used by technique, for man’s chief end grounds us in something substantial. It places us under one who is not interested in extracting great and impossible sacrifice, since he himself has met every demand. Seeking God’s will, then, is liberating in that we are freed to live deeply, authentically, and meaningfully. May we, then, not seek appearances, but God’s will in our lives and relationships.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 306–7. [2] Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022), 185–88. [3] Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory, 188. [4] Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory, 189. [5] Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory, 189.

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