I want to propose something: the effectiveness or influence of a message is not a given based on its content. In fact, there is a limit to the effectiveness of a message depending on how it’s communicated. Certain media can hinder or magnify the message they convey. For example, counseling is never as effective over text, email, or some sort of instant messenger. World changing speeches lose their power when simply read. Movie adaptations of great books somehow lose their depth when words are turned into pictures.
In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman says that the medium for a message is the metaphor for the message. When we communicate, how we communicate has actual implications on whatever we are trying to communicate. Postman goes further, saying that not only does the medium have direct impact on the message, but also on the culture. This means that how we communicate with each other actually tells us what our culture is like.
What Our Communication Reveals About Us
Think about the primary ways our culture communicates in Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. All of these media share something in common: they are primarily full of small bits of information, whether in words, pictures, or videos; and this information pops into existence with seemingly no context, no commitment, and no accountability. These platforms are proving themselves to be the metaphor for how our culture communicates with itself. My generation has learned how to communicate through these media.
What exactly do we learn about communication through these media? Positively, we learn to be able to synthesize a variety of informational contexts into bite size pieces and to spread that information quickly. Negatively, we learn to be apathetic because of the constant change from tragedy to humor to novelty. Recently on Twitter I read about the school shooting in Florida, a new Bible coming out, what the Miami Dolphins were going to do in the upcoming NFL draft, and a funny tweet. All of this with a few scrolls of the page with my thumb. We learn to confirm our own biases while ignoring what we don’t agree with. Or we learn to hate people with different convictions. Rather than approach people with humility, patience, and gentleness in our differences I would rather fume over some controversial comments on Facebook or simply unfollow or block the people who don’t see things exactly how I do. We learn to prioritize entertainment as the vindication of our time spent. If I explore Instagram and don’t see any new stories, or if I don’t laugh when I hit the “explore” page, or if I don’t find anything I can send to my friends, I count my time as wasted. We learn to be distracted by whatever can hold our attention longest. Lastly, we learn to bring our issues online first. In our culture the way we light our torches and hold up our pitchforks is by favorites, retweets, likes, and hashtags.
Ordinary Statement, Extraordinary Implications
The point being, all of this primed me and our college students for our study through the book of Hebrews. Originally, Hebrews was a sermon that was probably written down to be sent out to churches struggling to stick to the Gospel, struggling to identify with Christ and His people when persecution came their way. The solution to the problem, in the author/preacher’s mind, was to begin with a statement about a message that the people knew. He said, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The prologue to the book begins with a simple statement about the Son of God that should force us to wonder, “why does it matter how God chose to reveal Himself and His plan?” Well, because the final medium for the message is the greatest possible medium -- God very God, Jesus Christ, the Son. It’s a very ordinary statement with extraordinary implications.
The first two chapters go on to compare the Son with the angels, which were messengers sent straight from God to accompany the revealing of the Mosaic Covenant given at Mt. Sinai. The way the chapters are set up is sort of in a bracket that finds at its center a word of admonishment to the people who needed to hear it:
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:1-4).
The people knew the information that the author was going to discuss, yet he found it necessary to give it this extra push with a slightly altered perspective, perhaps. They needed to pay much closer attention to what they had heard. Because if they didn’t, the author says, they would drift from it. They probably knew “enough” about Jesus. They knew who He was, knew what He did, knew the Gospel, knew what they needed to know about how to live. But they needed to pay much closer attention to those things, because it was assumed that they would drift away if they didn’t. As a culture that’s very Bible-saturated, I personally find this passage very heavy. While my generation (me included) has learned to perpetually skim-read everything we come across (it’s a shame we find so many “tl;dr” options at the bottom of articles and posts) unless it suits our fancy, we need to seriously take some time to reconsider and not just pay attention to Christ, but pay MUCH CLOSER attention to Him. Further, drifting is not the final issue, it’s escaping a just retribution. While the people who rejected God in the Old Covenant found retribution in a variety of ways: the earth opening up, pestilence, famine, war, exile; the ones who reject salvation in the Son now in the New Covenant will find retribution to be eternal torment in the lake of fire.
Fight Against the Drift!
Remembering my college days, I know how easy it is to drift from Christ. There were so many things (good and bad) that were fighting for priority. The call for our college students, the call to anyone reading this post, or to anyone who reads through Hebrews, saved and unsaved, is to not disregard what you have heard. God has revealed Himself in His Son to us in these last days, and we need to pay much closer attention to the message that He has given to us so that we might not drift away.