The last hundred years has graced us with some ground-breaking inventions that have changed the way we see the world and ourselves. Few can imagine life without Facebook, email or the Internet. A world without aviation would be a world far removed from our current reality. Being unable to text, call or Snapchat any of our friends seems almost inhumane.
Yet one of the most earth-shattering inventions around often goes unnoticed by technological commentators. Siri.
For those who are not faux-creative enough to own an iPhone, Siri is a virtual personal assistant who you can interact with at a push of a button. She can search for directions for you, read out your messages and respond to your verbal commands. Best of all, Siri is always there when you need her and won't say "No" to any of your requests. With a hint of sass and a sense of humour, Siri is the servant you always wanted.
Siri on Steroids
Spike Jonze created Siri-on-steroids for his latest film, Her, describing the journey of Theo (a single, lonely man) meeting and falling in love with his intelligent operating system, Samantha. After struggling through a painful divorce and failed attempts at dating, Theo embraces the safety and security of Sam, a virtual lover who is always awake, appreciative and accepting.
In one telling scene, Theo confesses his emotions for Sam, saying, "I've never loved anyone the way I've love you."
In a sense, Theo is right. He has found the perfect lover - one who he can be sure will never reject him, will laugh at his jokes and won't get frustrated at his idiosyncrasies. This virtual love will never have bad days, won't nag him about leaving the toilet seat up or place large demands on his life.
Sam's love is a safe love, leaving Theo in blissful control of their relationship, protected from the pain of unrequited love or words sent in anger.
But in another more chilling sense, Theo is even more right in his confession than he could imagine. His declaration of a new type of love is not really a different in quantity, but in type. Although he may enjoy his new relationship and relish the attention and intimacy of Sam, what he is experiencing cannot be described as love. Love allows freedom. Love is mutual. A love that we control is not a love at all.
Novelist Frederick Buechner calls this our 'terrible freedom' which must not be overpowered for love to occur.
Pornography & Idols
As tempting and appealing this controllable love may sound, we were created for something much more authentic and real than any counterfeit could fulfill. The desire for true intimacy demands something much more than safe, robotic love. Our culture's response to pornography - perhaps one of the most obvious examples of a love-imposter - reveals the lack between what love desires and porn delivers.
Dr Gary Brooks, a psychologist from Baylor University, illuminated the "pervasive disorder" that pornography users experience, with most expressing a strong feeling of loneliness after each viewing session. Despite the promises of a sexual partner who is always available and willing to meet your desires, the human response reveals our longing for a more free, more real, more alive person to relate with.
This intrinsic relationship between love and freedom is also at the core of who God is. As the Israelites encountered this new God at Mt Sinai, one of the first messages He gave them was to not make any images of Him. At the core of this command is a polemic against trying to control God and others. Other gods at the time were represented and embodied by small statues and idols, placing the control back in the hands of the worshippers. They could go and see these gods, they could meet them when they wanted, they could choose the terms.
A God Who Is Free
But this God was different. He didn't seem to appear in any consistent physical form. He spoke from common bushes, from clouds of fire, through foreign prophets. He would appear unannounced and share messages that were challenging and wild. He would be silent for months on end. This God was free.
In the book of Hosea we see the freedom of this God pushed to the extreme. In one breath, He is mourning for His people, speaking of favourite memories that He has of teaching Israel to walk and feeding them in their weakness. In the next, He calls down fierce judgment on the people for their rejection of Him - but then he sings one of the most free loving lines in all of Scripture.
"How can I hand you over, Israel?…My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger." (Hosea 11:8-9).
This God is a God of intense loving freedom. He is not controllable but He is enigmatic and full of life. When pushed by Moses to ask for His name, He responds with the mysterious definition, "I am who I am". Even language cannot pin this God down, for He is free - and He uses this freedom for love.
Don't Tame The Lion
In C.S. Lewis' novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the protagonists of the tale have just heard about the great lion, Aslan. As they try to understand more about who Aslan is, Lucy - the youngest of the children - asks Mr Beaver, "Is he - quite safe?"
Mr Beaver replies with the famous phrase, "Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course He isn't safe! But He's good. He's the King I tell you!".
Perhaps some of us have been guilty of trying to tame this lion and re-make God into a being who is more controllable, more predictable, more safe. Yet our hearts desire more - need more - than a God we attempt to make. Our hearts are restless until they find their home in the free, good, wild, unpredictable God that is full of surprises.
May we be open to the twists and turns, the mountains and the valleys, the depth, width and height of this furious, consuming, free, gracious love of the God who is beyond definition.
Jeremy is a student and Innovation Consultant (www.creativate.co.nz) who has never tamed a lion or flirted with Siri. His iPhone 4 isn't good enough.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html