Scrolling for Significance
Why Do I Keep Clicking?
Article by Adam Pohlman, Pastor, Rochester, MN
I finally got the kids in bed. Exhausted and hoping to find something interesting in my all-too-normal day, I opened my social media network and began scrolling.
As I flicked through the feed my soul sank into further discontentment. I looked for something — anything — to grab my attention, but none of it satisfied. Advertisements bombarded me with suggestions to buy things I already purchased. Outrage spilled over from political conversations. The latest worldly proverb (on a flowery background) offered no lasting encouragement for my weary soul.
I knew there was nothing for me here, but I kept going. I was glued to it. Why?
Why do we keep scrolling when the first dozen flicks didn’t satisfy? Though my heart screams, “Enough!” why does my thumb keep moving on?
Life can feel boring at times. We rise early, toil all day, take a beating, and return home ready to crash before starting it all over again. Day after day, the same thing. We long to break the monotony. So we fall down on the couch to flip on the newest Netflix drama, settle into our chair to page through the day’s newspaper, open up the social-media feed to see whose life is more interesting. But far too easily the desire for something new becomes all-consuming.
While it is popular today to rant against the ills of streaming movies, video games, and social media, the pursuit of the new and exciting is an ancient problem. Paul encountered this problem in Acts 17 when he preached in Athens.
While Paul was waiting around for his companions, he looked around, provoked to see that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16). These weren’t unthinking men and women that filled the city with false worship; this was idolatry with great sophistication. The brightest philosophers gathered together at the Areopagus to debate worldviews and promote the best religions for society. All viewpoints were welcome to this ancient form of social media to share their perspective on the world.
They were eager to find the latest trend, the most current news that they could add to their collection and spice up their conversation feed. They spent their entire days searching for the newest nugget of information that would add interest to life: “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). They were always searching, never satisfied. So they welcomed Paul to the table. Perhaps he had something new to entertain.
Itch in Our Ears
The crowd Paul preached to in Athens was similar to a group he would later tell Timothy about: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). We might dismiss this warning as applying to prosperity preachers or religious cults, but the word Paul chooses in 2 Timothy 4:3 to warn his protégé — Greek knēthō, often translated itching— describes a curiosity to explore new things, an impulse to look “for interesting and juicy bits of information,” as one lexicon puts it.
The NET Bible draws out this nuance by translating the verse, “following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things.” It reveals a heart that is not content, always searching for good news and never finding it. “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20).
This endless journey for good news manifests itself in our lives in many subtle ways: the continuous news feed that keeps us up-to-date on current events, the allure of the message notification while driving down the road, one more click on that suggestive website, the gossip chatter when you get together with friends, the appeal to obtain the latest gadget, the desire not to be left out of the conversation about the newest TV drama or sporting event.
It didn’t satisfy last time, but we can’t keep ourselves from trying again. What itching ears we have. Who will rescue us from this ceaseless itch? We need something from outside this cursed world to satisfy our flesh’s endless search.
Made for Another World
C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” (136–37). Our desires are like that itch on the bottom of your foot while you are driving while wearing boots. They are impossible to scratch with anything in this world.
The only news that can truly satisfy our ears is the gospel. There is no new thing that will satisfy, only the old, old story which has been the best news for generations. Jesus alone avoided clawing at the itch as Satan tried to scratch his ear with temptations. Jesus endured with confidence in a greater reality to come. However, he willingly let the curse overcome him, though it could not destroy him. In his victorious resurrection, he guaranteed, to those who trust in him, permanent relief from the incessant itch to find meaning in any other news. The only path to life, fullness of joy, and ceaseless pleasures is following him (Psalm 16:11).
He promises to one day put an end to our fleshly pull into the dead ends of life. Until then, he has given us his Spirit and his word to always remind us of the greatest news that satisfies every itch. When the gossip fires flare up, when the message notification calls you to take your eyes off the road, when current events beg you to join in, let the words of God dwell in you more richly. “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9).