The Reasons to Believe (RTB) Voices blog publishes well-researched and dynamic articles from our Scholar Community. Though much of our content is focused on scientific discoveries, this devotional article will help you explore God’s Word in a deeper way in regard to the technological revolution we see today. We hope you leave inspired and equipped. Enjoy!
—The scholar department team at RTB
A previous article (Technology Teaches: What Does Applied Science Reveal About God? About Love?) examined how technology teaches us things about God. This follow-on article examines the temptations that can come with technology. When Scripture says that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind” (1 Corinthians 10:13), it’s easy to envision how things like technological achievements in human history have led to hubris and self-reliance rather than worship of God.
King Uzziah’s Engineers
Years ago, I was pleased to find a pdf file of the King James Version (KJV) Bible on the Internet. Today, Internet sites allow many Bible translations to be searched, but at that time searching for text in an electronic Bible was a new experience. I enjoyed looking for words and phrases of interest. As a mechanical engineer, I was surprised and pleased to find that the KJV uses the word “engine” twice.
The first is in 2 Chronicles 26. In any translation, this chapter tells the story of King Uzziah of Judah. He was a good king, one of the best. In the New International Version (NIV), verse 4 begins, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” The following text describes how Judah defeated its enemies, even receiving tribute from them. Under Uzziah’s leadership, the nation prospered and its defenses were improved. But how were they improved?
The KJV explains in verse 15 (emphasis added), “And he made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal.” The result? “And his name spread far abroad; for he was marvellously helped, till he was strong.”1 For a mechanical engineer, this is very exciting. Inventing powerful machines is our bread and butter!
The machines of 2 Chronicles 26:15 are easily recognized as catapults (for hurling stones or shooting arrows). Indeed, since antiquity, military necessity has given rise to bothengines and engineering. Catapults, for offense or defense, were designed by what we would call mechanical engineers. The fortifications they would defend or attack are the works of what we would call civil engineers. In this way, the KJV shows that engines and engineers existed long before engineering was formally taught or existed as a profession.
But what about the KJV’s description of engineers? They were not simply skillful—the adjective used in most translations—but cunning. Many people are skillful, but few are cunning.
Cunning creatures are sly like foxes. The cunning can conceive of things that would never occur to others. But there’s a dark side to cunning. Uzziah’s engines were designed to kill people and break things, the basic function of weaponry.2 Yes, their purpose was good, the defense of Jerusalem, but only in a fallen world are such devices considered necessary.3
Okay, this may be very interesting to engineers (even fascinating!), but why should anyone else care about this story? Because of what follows in verse 16: “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.”
Certainly, this result is consistent with Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” And what made Uzziah so proud? Craftsmanship gave him an extraordinary sense of power, especially those engines, the works of cunning engineers. They were the technological wonders of his day!
And why is this significant? Because today we’re no different. We are so proud of our twenty-first-century technology and its capacity to apply science to improve our lives, that we’re tempted to be self-reliant and turn away from God.
Lord Acton observed in 1887 that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”4 So, with strong armies and fortified cities, Uzziah understandably felt the power of those engines. Do we not feel the same way about today’s technological wonders? Humans seem to have supreme confidence that technology will overcome any barriers to comfortable living—perhaps even cheating death itself!
And what is the nature of Uzziah’s sin? Verse 16 concludes, “He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” In other words, he lost sight of his God-given role, to rule as king over God’s people. No longer content with being king, he fancied himself a priest. We might conclude that his will to power was stimulated.
Technology Tempts Today
Today, the beguiling power of science and technology continues to distract people from their reliance on God. With hot and cold running water; heating and air conditioning; vehicles to move about town and around the world; safe, nutritious, and tasty food in abundance; computers, cell phones, the Internet, and much more, we fancy ourselves self-sufficient—never mind that these only serve our needs and wants in this world. Who needs God when life is so good? Many people are tempted to live as though God doesn’t exist. And instead of worshipping God, humans worship the self and the created world.
The temptation to live life without God is strong. I’m an engineer. My training and experience shaped my technical problem-solving skills. When I use those skills to plan and execute a project, it’s easy for me to forget God and the gifts he gave me and my obligation to use those gifts for God’s glory. I forget to pray and thank God for the privilege it is to help build the kingdom of Christ. In better moments I strive to be conscious of the pull of power, the urge to do things for me and in my way. I must let go of the take-charge-and-make-things-happen attitude characteristic of engineers, one built on self-sufficiency, and humbly ask God to be at work in me.5
We have much to be thankful for, and technology brings us many good things. James 1:17 reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” The comforts and advances we enjoy as a result of technology are God’s gifts. They’re to be received with gratitude. Thanks be to God for the blessings of science and technology, and in using and making them, may we be faithful in giving God all the glory!
- For comparison, the NIV translates verse 15: “In Jerusalem he made devices invented for use on the towers and on the corner defenses so that soldiers could shoot arrows and hurl large stones from the walls. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.” From an engineering perspective, the noun device falls short of engine. Device is a more general term, and many devices function with little or no energy stored or released. By contrast, catapults store and quickly release large amounts of energy, the very definition of powerful.
- Note Ezekiel 26:9, the second KJV reference to engines in a prophecy of Tyre’s destruction: “And he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers.”
- As the effectiveness of weapons has increased, so has the moral ambiguity that surrounds them, as shown in the recent movie Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan (Universal Pictures, 2023).
- Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (First published 1952; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Acton Institute, 2015), 144.
- As skillful as engineers are, it seems that failures inevitably occur. Unfortunately, engineers do not always learn from failures, a fact that engineering-professor-turned-historian Henry Petroski has studied for decades, beginning with To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), continued in To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).