Every Friday evening, my family gathers for a movie. I make pizza, and we pick a film. Everyone grabs a slice and settles on the couch. When all is ready, the moment comes.
“Alexa, turn on family dim,” I say. The lights in our family room fade together. The movie begins, and we eat our pizza with just enough light to see the pepperoni poking through the mozzarella. When our plates are empty, I speak again.
“Alexa, turn on family dark,” I speak again. The room goes black. The movie continues as I watch with satisfaction. But the best is still to come. At the conclusion of the movie, I speak one last time.
“Alexa, turn on family bright,” I say. Lights flood our room, as we are brought back to reality.
Do you see what has happened? Do you recognize what I have done? I have spoken forth light and darkness. With nothing but a few words from my mouth, I have controlled light itself. The work of smart switches, connected lights and home automation has all paid off. I can summon darkness for my family to enjoy our movie. I can call for the light to bring us back.
In that moment, I feel amazing and powerful. In that moment, I feel like a god. And I like it.
My smart-home experience connects deeply with the story of how God created the world. On the first page of the Bible, God speaks his creation into existence.
And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. — Genesis 1:3
God said “let there be” and “there was.” This is the power of God’s voice.
The ancient readers of Genesis would have immediately recognized the power of a king’s proclamation. Kings spoke, and it was so. The voice of a king made things happen.
Throughout the Bible, we have repeated references to the power of God’s voice. God’s people are commanded to listen to the voice of the Lord in Exodus 15:26, and chastised when they don’t in Deuteronomy 28:62. The voice of the Lord causes terror for the Assyrians in Isaiah 30:31 and gives warning for the Israelites in Psalm 95:7. Psalm 29 is an ode to the voice of the Lord, declaring it to be “powerful“, “full of majesty“, “flashing forth flames of fire,” and more.
As Jesus begins his earthly ministry, he commands demons to flee with his voice in Matthew 17:18 and rebukes the winds and the waves in Mark 4:39. A sword comes from his mouth in Revelation 19:15. Yet his voice comforts the outcasts and speaks tenderly to the broken throughout his time on earth.
The voice of God is powerful.
Our voices carry power, as well. They were meant to: we are created in the image of God. Our calling is to represent him and his purposes to his creation. We are given authority to speak as part of that calling.
Within some deep part of my nature, I understand my voice ought to be powerful. This is why I am so easily angered when my children disobey, when my wife misunderstands, and when the things I said were supposed to happen don’t. Something innate is violated when my voice lacks power. I don’t just want my voice to be powerful. I’m convinced my voice was meant to be powerful.
This explains why sitting on the couch and saying “Alexa, turn on family bright” feels right to me in a theological sort of way. I recognize that my voice is exercising power it was meant to have.
I am created in the image of God. I am meant to reflect him to his creation. My voice is supposed to be powerful as an agent of God’s purposes.
But there is also a danger to the power of my voice.
The Bible speaks of this danger. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” James 3:6 warns that “the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” In Matthew 5:11, Jesus claims that “what comes out of [a person’s] mouth, that is what defiles them.”
God’s voice is powerful. Our voices have power. That power is good and right, but it can also be dangerous.
How then does technology affect the power of our voices? What changes are happening? Are they for better or for worse?
To begin with, technology gives my voice more power. Through simple words, I can turn on the lights in my house or compel music to play. I couldn’t do this several years ago. I would have to ask my spouse or my friend to do the task, if i didn’t do it myself. Where I used to make requests of people, I now command my technology.Where I used to make requests of people, I now command my technology. Click To Tweet
I expect my devices to obey the sound of my voice. In fact, I require it of them. If they fail, I return them, repair them or replace them. They are only as good as their capability to obey the sound of my voice.
What does that do to me? A few years ago, I couldn’t expect anything to obey my voice completely. Now I’m outraged by a lack of obedience. Has this new power changed something deep within me?
What does it do to my relationships? Am I’m getting used to being obeyed? Will I start wanting that same obedience from my wife and children, my friends and coworkers? What do I do when they fail me? Will I be tempted to return, repair or replace them?
As the power of my voice increases, the way I relate to others changes.
Just as technology is giving my individual voice more power, the same is true for society at large. The voices of others are being given power they didn’t have before.
Today anyone can say anything and make it available to everyone through social media, blogging, and podcasting. People whose voices would never be heard are now able to be broadcast to around the world. Those who have been silent for years are able to speak.
This has led to some great developments. Victims whose voices had been muffled now shout with piercing clarity. Those who suffer under oppressive regimes can speak up, organize, and reveal their plight. The abused can shine light on the violence done against them and confront their assailants. Those kept quiet by others can speak in new and powerful ways.
Technology has helped to restore the voices they were meant to have as images of God. The voiceless have been given back their speech.
But does even this benefit have a dangerous side? Now that everyone has a voice, should all voices be heard? Who gets to speak the most? The loudest? The most extreme? The person with the most followers?
Teachers lament the growing inability of students to distinguish between the voice of a researcher who has spent years on a topic and the voice of a casual blogger. Should all voices carry the same weight? How do we discern authority, truth, and overstatement? Are we losing our ability to make distinctions among voices?
As technology expands the capability of our voices, we have much to consider. How are we affected as individuals by the new power of our voices? How is our society affected by the growing cacophony of powerful voices? How do we relate to God and his creation as agents of his voice, while our own voices swell with authority?
I am exhilarated by the power of sitting on my couch and speaking forth light and darkness. In doing so, my voice echoes the first words of my Creator. I am connected to events older than time itself. Technology has filled my voice with a new power. How will I use it? How will I be changed by it?
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Father to five; husband to one; helping Christians engage thoughtfully as they follow Jesus Christ.
Pastor at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA since 2007. Graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for Oracle Corporation as a Senior Product Manager designing software solutions.