Virtual Reality?

by Clark Roush, Ph.D.

How can something be virtual, yet real? That actually strikes me as an oxymoron, yet the culture in which we live is so starved for relationships, we are creating “electronic” ways to make them! We need to feel a certain way about ourselves, so we are willing to adopt artificial as real. The creator of Facebook did not get his brain-child to change the cultural landscape using Facebook acquaintances – they are called friends. See, isn’t that nicer? Don’t we feel better about that? But are all those “friends” really friends? We strive to see how many “friends” we can add, and sometimes convince ourselves that the “reality” the virtual world presents is indeed, reality. We spend time seeing how expansive our Twitterverse can become, and enjoy the false security of believing that passing on a limited number of data characters equates to having a relationship.

I enjoy both of these tools, mainly because they allow me to touch base in a limited way with people I already have a relationship established. There is certainly good that can come from the expanded possibilities the cyber world offers. When my son was in Norway, I was very glad for Skype – but I’ve never used Skype to establish a relationship with a stranger.

And there isn’t enough space for me to comment on the lunacy of “reality tv!” It certainly isn’t reality, yet look at how our culture is drawn to being able to “join a relationship” with other people. It would appear as though we love to be at least on the fringe of these people’s lives, and unfortunately, the networks just keep cranking this junk out.

All of this virtual world stuff can lead us to a false sense of reality about our REAL relationships. It takes time, effort, and PERSONAL exposure to cultivate deep, lasting, and meaningful relationships. I worry that we’re raising a generation of people who exchange real for false, and in so doing, make it just a bit easier to do the same thing in their spiritual world.

It is possible to download the bible on your computer, smartphone, tablet, kindle etc…. We can watch incredible videos on YouTube, listen to songs on Pandora, blog, visit websites, and do amazing things with technology for worship services and presentations. All of these things are tools – but they DO NOT take the place of a real relationship with God. That takes the same time, effort, and personal exposure that making real human friends does. Having a Facebook group for my church doesn’t insure that we are highly relational – it may mean communication with mass amounts of people simultaneously is possible, but it is virtual – it is not real. Creating the perfect web site can give people an insight into who you are, but it is virtual – it cannot replace someone really getting to know you.

If we are going to have effective human relationships, we simply cannot “unfriend,” “hide the post,” or “unfollow” everyone that says or does something we do not like. We have to find ways to forgive, love, nurture, and minister. There is nothing virtual about that, but sometimes I think it’s easier to dismiss people than it used to be because it’s so easy to do in the virtual world.

I think sometimes it’s easy for us to have an assumed relationship with God. We can surround ourselves with good things, good people, good things, and good intentions, but nothing virtual is truly real – and God did not sacrifice his son on the cross to virtually remove our imperfections, edit us, and “press save.”

This is a plea to understand things for what they truly are, and to use the good in them without allowing a false reality to invade our physical or spiritual beings. Let’s be sure we are spending time with people and with God, and creating REAL relationships – the kind that foster spiritual community as He intended.