With the amazing pace of technological advancement, it comes as no surprise that the answering machine may be on its way out. That medium-sized plastic box which greets the voice on the other end of your phone line with a “Hello. No one is available to take your call. Please leave a message after the beep. BEEEEP!” may soon be obsolete. This comes as sad news for the traditionalists and welcome news for the environmentalists and smart phone proponents.
We still have an answering machine in our home. In fact, we have had this particular answering machine for nearly twenty years. It has played the same recorded greeting for almost as long. If it were possible to replay all the messages this machine has collected, we would hear the story of our lives. We have preserved a few memorable messages by simply not erasing them so we can occasionally listen to them again. This explains why our answering machine always has ten messages on it and thus why it fills up so quickly. My apologies if you have called our house and been told “this answering machine is full.” My sentimentality is the cause of the problem.
Part of the reason we like answering machines – or voicemail these days – is because we value the person and the information. We want to hear from people, even if we are unable to listen at the precise moment. Before answering machines, we valued just the phone call from a far-away friend. Before telephones, we loved getting a postcard or letter in the mail. Before mail, we longed to hear news from other places sent by messenger or friend. The value of the written word or spoken word is both universal and timeless.
In the Old Testament we read of a king named Saul. This king, who found himself in trouble on several occasions, was on one occasion shaking in his boots because the Philistines were coming to get him. Samuel had died, so his source of spiritual advice was no longer available. Saul then prayed directly to God, hoping for an answer to his current dilemma. But God did not answer him in any manner. Total silence.
So Saul did the only other thing he could think of – he found a witch and sought her help to speak to someone in the spirit world. The witch called up the now-deceased Samuel, who is quite bothered that Saul disturbed him. Nevertheless Saul was thrilled to see his old friend and mentor, so much so that he fell down and worshiped Samuel right then and there.
Worshiped him? Just a short time ago, Saul had been seeking wisdom from God.He got none. If God had answered him, would Saul have fallen to his knees in worship of the Almighty? Perhaps. Why? Because Saul worshiped whoever gave him answers. Ironically, after worshiping Samuel, Saul learns from him that within the day Saul and his family will be joining him in the spirit world. Maybe Saul should have waited to hear the answer before bowing before Samuel.
I find it easy to be critical of Saul. How could he stoop to such low behavior? And yet, if I am honest, I sometimes worship who or what provides me with answers. Do my parents or siblings give me answers to my hard questions? Does a particular preacher or Bible study leader provide me with the insight I want? Do I turn to an online community or virtual connection to meet my need? If so, I may be inclined to worship, cling to, or depend on these sources instead of God. While these can be valuable, God-given resources, I must be careful not to forego my communication with God in exchange for human messages. Otherwise I become guilty of worshiping the answering machine instead of the source of all wisdom, God himself.
I am sure you will never come to my house and find me bowing down before my answering machine. But I must still choose to not become a person who worships the spiritual answering machines in my life. I must choose to worship God alone, whether or not He gives me the answers I want to hear at the time I want to hear them. Only He alone is worthy of my worship, at all times and in all ways.