March 9, 2009

Browsing the Spiritual Internet
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Okay, so here’s the way it looks to me. The internet is a vast, supernatural realm containing an infinite amount of information. From my little computer station, I can peak into that cosmic library by downloading tiny bits of information. I can also send some of my own ideas, whatever they’re worth, into that other realm by uploading from my computer. I picture something happening similar to what Captain Kirk experienced on the Starship Enterprise, right after he said, “Beam me up, Scottie!” He dissolved in this realm and re-materialized in another. The same mysterious process happens to my typed message when I push the “Send” button. Some villager in Tibet can then intentionally or accidently download my profound message from the magical internet realm, and it may change his life—or not.

It’s not surprising that certain internet systems are referred to as ethernet. Before modern science came up with better answers, it was an accepted belief that a substance called “ether” filled in the cracks in space, a mysterious, invisible “something” that was posited as the reason behind many unexplainable phenomena in nature—magnetism, lightening, chemical bonding, gravity, etc. “Ether” comes from the Greek word for “sky,” so it’s an attempt to sum up all the apparently empty space up there. It’s the root for our English word “ethereal,” which means light, airy, insubstantial.

Now, my computer nerd* friends tell me that none of this is really magical or mysterious. The internet is not a vast cosmic library, but a complex network of networks between many computers, each with certain information. It’s not infinite, because it is the sum total of all the bits of information uploaded by a finite number of persons inputting a finite amount of information into a finite number of computers. Ethernet is really a bunch of wires or wireless connections originally developed by engineers at Xerox, not an atmospheric substance through which Greek gods communicate with each other.

This is what computer nerds tell me. But how can I believe people who themselves seem to have been beamed down from the planet Rham-Izad? Conversations with them can often be best described by the word “ethereal.” No, I’ll trust my original intuition, that tells me that the internet is magic. It has a life of its own in a realm of its own.

During the next few weeks, our Sunday sermons will be based on Jesus’ teachings recorded in John 14-17. In these last words of Jesus to his disciples, he emphasizes that after his death, there will be a new way for them to communicate among themselves, with their heavenly Father, and with their resurrected and ascended Master. This spiritual internet will depend on the constant activity of the Holy Spirit, who will be in them and among them. The Holy Spirit will be the means by which they will upload their prayers to God and download the power, wisdom and purpose by which they will be able to live their lives.

Now some rational thinkers don’t believe in the reality of this spiritual realm or the existence of the Holy Spirit. They think all the grace, blessings, forgiveness and answered prayers believers talk about can be explained by psychology, sociology and wishful thinking. They brush it off as ethereal.

But, together with millions of Jesus’ followers who have lived throughout the world over the last twenty centuries, I hold fast to my conviction that the Christian life, what Jesus called “Eternal Life,” can only be experienced by an active, vibrant interface with the Holy Spirit and the spiritual ether that, though it is invisible and scientifically unverifiable, permeates the environment in which I live my earthly life.

*People who think this phrase describes them should know that I am using it as a tem of affection.