Your Screens Can Blind You: Finding Joy in the Unseen

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*Article originally published on Desiring God.

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

In the current technological world, these famous words by the apostle Paul are becoming increasingly difficult to follow. Sight has always been one of humanity’s primary senses. But now, in the age of colorful screens constantly vying for our attention, it is becoming tougher and tougher to trust in what we cannot see and walk by faith. It is a battle we each fight every day.

Through these screens, our eyes are stimulated in ways they never have been before. All the displays are crisp, vibrant, and beautiful. Our smartphones connect us to each other, and are able to inform our curiosities instantly. We have immediate access to artfully produced movies and TV shows almost everywhere we go. And not only so, but all this has now become the daily norm. Screens are constantly at our eye level, even at our fingertips. Our days are more and more filled with the entertainment, news, and social media we see on these shiny rectangles.

Massive Joy from What Can’t Be Seen

But what if the abundance of screens is making us think that visual stimulation is the place to find satisfaction? What if we’re looking in the wrong place for joy by mainly looking at our favorite TV shows, news apps, social media feeds, and games?

The Bible thankfully helps us in our predicament. God through the apostle Peter tells us that the deepest joy surprisingly comes from a reality that cannot be seen. This is crucial for us to hear in our day and age. Peter wrote, “Though you have not seen [Jesus], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that it inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

Peter is saying that contrary to all our natural inclinations to sight, inexpressible joy derives from something unseen. This means that in our increasingly visual world of beautiful screens, there are still realities that we cannot see that are so grand, so crucial, so captivating, and so amazing that they provoke greater joy than anything we can physically see.

Robbing Ourselves of Deep Joy

We need to be reminded of this because we tend to rush headlong into visual stimulation and entertainment as we search for rest, satisfaction, and joy. We each not only sometimes tend to walk by sight — only really trusting in and living for what can be seen — but we also tend to delight by sight — only really loving and finding joy in what can be seen. We default to thinking that only what we can see is what is real and enjoyable.

But we are robbing ourselves of God-intended joy. We are hurting ourselves if we think that we need to physically see something in order for it to be real, lovely, and delightful. This isn’t how we were designed by God. We cannot physically see God the Father and his love and holiness, or Christ and how he is reigning over and loving this world right now, or the Holy Spirit and how he awakens and fuels us, or the everlastingness of glory that is to come. But each of these is full of deep joy — joy larger than our screens could display. Each, when contemplated, stirs up within us true delight. 

A Wake-Up Call to Delight

As a result, the truth is that we as humans actually do not mainly delight by sight, no matter how often our screens try to tell us we do. Peter’s reminder as to where inexpressibly joy can be found is a wake-up call to us all living in this day and age of increasing visual stimulation. The deep joy we search for when we scroll through our feed one more time, the happiness we’re looking for when we watch just one more YouTube video or Netflix show, actually (and counterintuitively) comes from what we cannot see.

God created our visual sight, and so when used properly it is good. But it is not the place where deep joy was made to be seen. The “eyes of our hearts” (Ephesians 1:18) which are able to see (not visibly, but genuinely) these unseen, glorious realities are vastly more important than our physical eyes. Deep joy comes from beholding the glory of the God, who, although invisible, is more lovely than any other person. True contentment comes from seeing the mercies in the gospel, which cannot be seen on a mere screen. Serious delight comes from considering Christ, who although we have not seen yet, is more lovely, trustworthy, and delightful than all else.

Delight in Christ

So next time you are tempted to think that the most significant or satisfying realities exist on the screen of your smartphone or TV, remember that your screen may actually be screening you from deep joy. We don’t delight by sight; we delight in Christ. Our hearts see glories in the word which cannot simply be displayed on screens.

And once we realize this — once we see that we do not deeply delight by sight, but delight in Christ — although our joy competitors of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Netflix, YouTube will continue to contend for our attention, they will not keep winning.