The Reverend Margaret Legg
I met up with some friends last week and we wanted to know the opening hours for a local attraction – what to do? 'Google it,' we jokingly suggested and we all laughed and said of course and found the times in seconds.
Google is one of many search engines – Yahoo, Bing, which are information sources, but it is Google that has entered everyday speech. Then someone said they’d heard Google described as God. Really? If all we hope for in God is information, what does that say about being human? This got me thinking! For instance, Google could be said to be ‘omnipresent’, to be found everywhere. Well yes, so long as you can get broadband! And it doesn’t extend beyond earth. The whole of creation – the universe and beyond – bears witness to God. And Omniscient the closest thing to an omniscient (all-knowing) entity in existence which can be scientifically verified. OK. So in the light of today’s Gospel, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, I Googled‘How can I feed 5000 people?’
I was expecting at best a recipe from this omniscient power, at worst to see a ‘nothing matches your search’ response, rather as the disciples reacted: 'Send the people away,' they suggested, 'to buy something in the villages.'
So what popped up? Top of the options list were adverts. To remain in business requires money and the ads pay. God never charges. The disciples did not take a menu and price list round! God gives freely: Planet Earth has water and food aplenty for everyone, air to breathe, our very lives – there is no charge. And there is a Search Engine pecking order - Google prioritises. Those who pay most go to the top of the results. In God’s sight all are equal. All were fed the same selection and all had ample. None went hungry.
After the Ads came the Biblical references and commentaries, and then some websites, the best being one which offered a chance to watch a video, showing how a cruise ship manages to feed thousands of people every day; none of them quite what I was after! Christ’s response is a miracle. From meagre resources he satisfies everyone’s hunger with plenty left over. Indeed 12 baskets, which signify the 12 tribes of Israel, and show that here is the long awaited Messiah, come first to his chosen people and then to all peoples.
This was a miracle -not magic, with a method known only to the magician or conjuror, not luck, but an inexplicable action quite beyond our understanding. Search engines are a human invention, fed by humans; fed data so that, having analysed and categorised it, we can receive information on demand. God on the other hand feeds us. Sometimes in ways we cannot explain, meeting needs we did not know we had. What he gives is not regurgitated info but complete renewal of life: food for the body mind and spirit.
The taking of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, the blessing, breaking and distribution all point to Christ’s death and resurrection, to the pathway he opens for our renewal, by restoring the broken relationship between God and humanity. It all points as well to God’s presence with us, always, a presence we receive in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. A presence which even death could not vanquish. God never dies. Search engines do. They run out of charge, we can switch them off and we re-activate them.
Which brings up control - we can control these search engines, but have you ever tried to control God? I had a go – (I didn’t realise this was what I was doing at the time) my calling in my early 30’s. Nothing further from my mind. No track record in the family. They would think I was potty. Just a mad flash in the pan moment! Of course it wouldn’t go away. After a few years I trained to be a Reader. Thought that would keep God quiet. It didn’t. So finally I accepted God knew best and here I am!
Search engines are just the tip of an iceberg. Artificial Intelligence pervades our lives, whether we’re on the Internet or speaking to a voice assistant on our iPhones: ‘Will it rain today?’ I heard my son asking a couple of years ago. ‘No’ I called out in response, only to realise, when a strange automated voice said ‘No’ that he wasn’t actually asking me!!
Robots like Alexa could one day be our virtual butlers, in Japan they already have a role in caring for the elderly, and in China they are being deployed to mete out justice. This is challenging. We’re used to compartmentalising people, machines and animals. Artificial Intelligence blurs the boundaries and so blurs our understanding of what it means to be human.
So here’s a question on which to reflect during this August holiday season:
‘What does it mean to be human, made in the image of God?’
Answers on a postcard please!