Below is an article that I co-authored with my colleague, Jason Thacker. The article was originally published at ERLC.com
In our digital age, one thing that seems to mark the conclusion of every year is the abundance of “best of” lists making the rounds on the internet. These lists chronicle everything from the best books of the year, to the best movies, songs, cars, employers and even viral videos. As more-than-casual observers of culture, we find these lists fascinating and insightful because of the picture they offer us of the world we live in. And from these lists, we can discern not only the kinds of things that capture people’s attention, but also why. So we were particularly intrigued when we stumbled upon Google’s version of the year-end recap of top search results.
Google is ubiquitous in our culture. Being a search engine, an internet provider, ad manager, email service, and so much more, Google is one of the preeminent tech giants whose influence is seen throughout most sectors of our society. For millions of people across the globe–ourselves included–the tech juggernaut is fully integrated into our everyday lives in ways we are not even conscience of, seemingly serving as an extension of our own minds. By examining the trends and patterns revealed in internet searches during 2017, Google discovered an interesting result: this year, the world asked “how?” And to showcase these results, Google put together a video.
Our questions ranged from the humorous to the urgent, and from the practical to the existential. Many of our questions came in response to tragedy. In 2017, the world witnessed dozens of devastating natural disasters. We watched as Mexico suffered an earthquake that killed nearly 400 people and injured thousands; we watched as historic wildfires raged across California; and, we watched as multiple hurricanes inflicted horrible damage upon Texas, Florida and the Caribbean including Puerto Rico. Even more, we once again witnessed unspeakable horror as we saw nearly 100 people either injured or killed during mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. In response to these and other disasters, Google recorded an outpouring of compassion. Millions of people turned to Google to find out how to help. But that wasn’t the only response. In addition to compassion, we also revealed our fears and frailty, asking how we might protect ourselves from experiencing the very same things.
We also asked practical questions: how to be a better parent, how to run for public office, how to view the solar eclipse. And each of these things tell us something too. We see that in an ever-changing world, some things stay the same. Parents still want to do right by their kids, offering them the kind of love, support, and guidance needed for them to make their way in the world. Record searches inquiring how to run for office or how to make a protest sign indicate that in the midst of a year of political chaos and turmoil, many people are motivated to do more than just talk or stand on the sideline. And the fact that millions sought to view the eclipse reminds us that even though nature can wreak havoc through its destructive power, it can also stun us with its remarkable beauty.
Some of the questions we asked were even more serious. We asked about the threat of nuclear war, about immigration and caring for refugees, and about how to be a strong woman. These and similar questions are clear reminders of the brokenness of our world. Throughout 2017, the world has watched with fear each time North Korea ratched up tensions in the Pacific by testing another intercontinental ballistic missile. Likewise, we have watched for years, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as refugees are driven from their homes in the wake of a brutal civil war that continues to drag on, all the while grappling with our nation’s own treatment of immigrants. And as we close the book on 2017, we do so under the shadow of the #MeToo movement, where week by week new accusations are brought forth revealing the contemptible and predatory culture that has for too long permeated so many of our country’s most significant institutions. All of which shows us the reality that women are often not afforded the honor, dignity, and respect that they deserve as beings created in the image of God.
A window to our souls
It might come as a shock to many that companies like Google keep a record of our internet searches. We understand why the idea is off-putting. In many ways, our search histories provide a window into our souls. In a world where so many things are artificial, our Google searches can show us something real. As Russell Moore recently remarked, “Google knows who we are, sometimes better than we know ourselves.” He adds, “people don’t like to admit certain things about themselves, or to themselves. But they’ll tell Google.” And this is true. Though we can’t help doing it with others, we don’t filter or mask the questions we ask Google. Perhaps this is because we feel secure in the relative anonymity of the internet. But regardless, these search results tells us a great deal about both our greatest fears and desires.
Through these results, we see some basic human traits: People are fearful, so we seek to mitigate disaster and avoid danger. People are compassionate, so we seek to help those in need. People are joyful, so we seek out opportunities to live life to its fullest and to make the world a better place. People are fun, so we ask questions about how to become superheroes. But the biggest thing that these trends reveal is that people are seeking answers because we all understand at our core that we are not in control of our lives or the things around us. We are not God.
The answer the world needs
As Christians, we need to have answers to some of these questions that people are asking. We need to be the ones who lead the way in responding to tragedies, loving our neighbors, equipping parents, protecting women, and so much more. But beyond all of that, we need to be the ones pointing to the answer to the fears behind many of these questions. In a world full of danger ranging from nuclear war to mass shootings to natural disasters, we need to be the ones pointing to the Son of Man. Jesus is the only one who has the answers. And Jesus is the only one who holds the power to make an end of our suffering and bring us peace.
As we start 2018, the world is asking perhaps the most important question, “How to move forward?” The church has the answer that we all are searching for. As God restores this fallen world, we must be the signpost pointing forward to the day when Christ will make all things new. Jesus is the true and lasting hope the world needs.