Where Does Technology Come From?

2024 Scudder Lecture

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary | Kansas City, MO

This past summer, a giant deposit of phosphate rock was discovered in southwest Norway. Why does that matter? Well, this one area in Norway now “contains enough minerals to meet the global demand for batteries and solar panels for the next 100 years.” A mining company discovered the jackpot of “up to 70 billion tons of the non-renewable resource [phosphate], . . . a key component for building green technologies” that “currently faces significant supply issues.” Supply issues no more. And just two months later was announced the discovery of 40 billion tons of lithium found inside the McDermitt Caldera, a supervolcano on the Nevada-Oregon border here in the States. That discovery sparked headlines like this one: “Lithium discovery in US volcano could be biggest deposit ever found.”

These are jackpots for the future of solar and battery power. And they should feed our worship. But they typically don’t. Instead, we are conditioned to see headlines and go man-centered (“This is all corporate greed!”). Or we go Luddite (“This is all of the devil — I’m ignoring it!”). Or we go political (“Electric vehicles are a liberal fad!”). Or we go greedy (“How do I get stock in this!?”). Our minds don’t naturally move from mining discoveries to the Creator. And they will not, without a reshaping of the heart first.

And so now most of us find it easier to celebrate God’s glory in unseen, spiritual realities. By faith, we see his glory in the gospel and in our Intercessor, Christ, our ascended and enthroned Savior in heaven, interceding for us right now. Glorious! And we easily celebrate God’s glory in untouched creation, too. Mountains, oceans, beaches, the northern lights, and the Milky Way galaxy on a dark night. But when it comes to the elements buried deep inside the earth that we excavate and make into shiny new things, God’s glory diminishes. Deposits of phosphate rock and lithium are ho-hum. And by the time we take those materials and make batteries and solar panels out of them, for many believers, God is rendered irrelevant.

A Nation-Sized Gift

The Bible gives us new eyes to see the material world around us in places like Deuteronomy chapter 8. Deuteronomy 8:1–10 is where I want to go this morning. Here Moses shapes the hearts of God’s people, getting them ready to live fruitfully in the promised land. They are a people redeemed from a 430-year bondage in Egypt straight into a 40-year desert wandering. A hard life. But now God’s people are being readied to enter the promised land. A new land. A good land, furnished with everything they could possibly need, even for their future innovations. But their hearts are not yet ready.

So, we’re simply going to walk through the text, beginning in verse 1, where Moses says,

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. (8:1)

Lasting life for true obedience. That’s the deal. A verse that beautifully sets up the gospel and the obedience of Christ. But for now, if Israel upholds their end of the covenant, God promises that his covenant people will flourish in this new land. They will live and multiply. They will become a strong nation.

The small-cap Lord frames everything else we will study. The great “I am.” The great all-sufficient, self-sufficient “I am who I am.” This self-sufficient Lord promises to give his people the promised land, a promise repeated 23 times in Deuteronomy alone. This sworn land is fundamental to their national identity. This land is their national identity.

And while they will flourish if they obey, the land itself is pure gift. The Lord made the world from nothing. He laid the foundations of the world. Before any creature existed, God prepared this ground for his people. Pure gift. Not a payment for holiness. In chapter 9, this point will be made very clear. Israel is not earning this new land by its self-righteousness. It comes as a gift.

“See beyond man. Marvel at the Maker of our makers.”

This promised land belongs to the Lord. He designed it. He owns it. He’s giving it as a gift of love. Israel will take possession of it by faith and flourish in it by obedience. So Israel is warned. Don’t think that you’re morally superior to all the people who lived on the land previously to you. This land is a perpetual reminder of God’s abundant kindness to undeserving sinners, the lesson they should have learned in the desert.

Testing Hearts Through Stomachs

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (8:2)

For forty years, God has been humbling his people. Bringing them low. Testing them. Because when you are brought low, your true self comes out. Pressure squeezes out what is inside the heart. So, God sends adversity to prove the faith of his people. Like a furnace that burns away whatever is trivial and false and fake, God “tests hearts” (Proverbs 17:3). Testing proves our trust in God. Do we really trust God or not? This whole text is about the heart. So, God works in the hearts of his people, humbling them, even down to their daily food.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know . . . (8:3a)

Food’s hard to find in the desert. Manna was a miracle food. It looked like coriander seed and appeared in the desert, on the ground, every morning for forty years. God’s people woke up, gathered it daily, ground it up, and boiled manna cakes — cakes that tasted oily. And a little like honey. Not bad actually.

So, where’d this daily manna come from? No one knew. It was a miracle food from God. “The grain of heaven” made into “the bread of the angels” and eaten “in abundance” (Psalm 78:24–25). A gracious, sustaining gift from God that was sweet and pleasant. A daily gift to prove a bigger point:

. . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (8:3b)

A glaring contrast. Our hungry mouths are needy. God’s mouth sustains all things. Farmers don’t keep us alive. Safeway or Costco or Walmart doesn’t keep us alive. We are kept alive by divine miracle. Manna was a miracle food to remind Israel, and to remind all of us, that life is a sovereign miracle. If you are breathing right now, it’s because God says, “Live!” And so we live! Groceries are just a means he uses. Manna is just a means. He cares about the means, but the means point to him.

The first cause of our life is not what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of his mouth. God says, “Live!” And by it, he upholds our lives “by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). By miracle. One of many tangible miracles.

Providence and Preparation

Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. (8:4)

Forty years in the desert, wearing the same old clothes, same sandals. They never wore out. God involved himself down to the level of how fast their clothes wore out! Amazing providence on display down to the most mundane material provision of Israel’s life. Footwear. God’s generosity in the most basic provisions.

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. (8:5)

God has brought discipline — training human behavior. For forty years in the desert, God was disciplining his people, resetting their behaviors, and preparing their hearts for a new home. Preparing them to trust and obey him in a materially prosperous land. Why?

So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. (8:6)

The basic point of verses 2–6 is this: arrogance is unfitting for people about to inherit the gift of God’s land. For forty years, God was humbling his people, testing their hearts, and training their gratitude for a good land. And all this prep builds up now to the promised land itself, and that’s where I want to focus. So, what’s so special about this land?

The Good Land

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land . . . (8:7a)

The Lord is bringing them. God’s people are being led by the hand toward a gift. Have you ever bought someone a gift so big you couldn’t wrap it up? What do you do? You blindfold them and lead them to the gift by the hand. That’s God here. He’s leading his people by the hand to the gift of his land. Again, his kindness frames this entire story.

Not just any land. “A good land.” That’s its name. We typically call it the promised land. You could literally call it “the good land.” It has everything they will need to flourish. The land is useful and productive. The land is abundant and beautiful. And that means, of course, for any desert people, water:

. . . a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills . . . (8:7b)

The good land is rich with water flowing deep under the ground. Water breaks out from deep springs into fountains and flowing rivers, and God made it this way. Long ago he cut deep fountains into his creation. Descriptions of flowing water recall God’s original work. Into the promised land, God pre-cut channels into the rock for fresh water to flow. Long ago, this land was readied for God’s thirsty people, before God’s people even existed. And where water flows, grains and fruit abound.

. . . a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates . . . (8:8a)

Remember when the spies took their first peek into the promised land? The evidence they took back was grapes, pomegranates, and figs. What more do you need, right? A land of amazing and delicious fruits. Fruits to make jams and wines flow like rivers.

. . . a land of olive trees . . . (8:8b)

Not just olives — literally, “oil-rich” olives. The best olives. This land flows with olive oil. Oil for worship sacrifices. Oil to anoint. Oil for cooking and baking. Oil for skin care and hygiene. Oil for medicine to treat wounds. Oil to fuel lamps and give light. Olive oil was abundantly useful for all of life, and it was already there for God’s people.

. . . and honey . . . (8:8c)

A land of honey. The land flows with milk and honey. And you cannot have honey without bread.

. . . a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing . . . (8:9a)

That’s the punch line. It’s the chief characteristic of the promised land itself: here, all scarcity and all shortage is completely negated. There’s no lack here. Why? Because the land is loaded with everything you could materially imagine. God is comprehensively aware of the entire scope of our material lives and made a creation to meet it. And so the land abounds.

Loaded with Ore

And that means — and here’s where I want to camp — it is

a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. (8:9b)

This land lacks nothing because its rocks and hills are loaded with bronze and iron. Mentioned together, bronze and iron symbolize power and military might. Power and might already in the land. Iron could be taken from stones. Iron meant wealth. It could be traded. And iron was immediately useful in all areas of life. Iron-made tools for soldiers, tools for stonecutters, tools for carpenters, tools for farmers. Iron was used for axles, reinforced wheels, and chariots.

Even more diversely useful was copper. Copper could be excavated from the hills. It would be the most common material used for jewelry. It would be polished into mirrors. Copper mixed with tin made bronze, a hard and durable metal. Farmers would use bronze for plowpoints, threshing sledges, axes, pruning shears, yokes, and sickles. Soldiers would use bronze for chains, chain mail, armor, helmets, shields, javelins, bows, and arrows, as well as to fortify city walls and gates. Stonemasons would use bronze tools to cut and shape rock. God’s worshipers would use copper and bronze musically to make symbols.

“If we hold our iPhone up and cannot see God’s generosity in it — that’s inexcusable.”

Most importantly, David would prepare for the temple by acquiring iron and “bronze in quantities beyond weighing” (1 Chronicles 22:3). Then his son Solomon would take that iron and “bronze beyond weighing” and build the temple (1 Chronicles 22:14–16) — one to dazzle the world with shiny copper things: pots, shovels, basins, furniture, altars, entire doors. Bronze hardware would be everywhere — all by God’s design.

God’s nation has been handed all the iron and bronze needed to build a temple that gleams in the sunshine to attract all the nations to God. It is within God’s redemptive history that iron and bronze and human inventiveness find their home.

Israel’s unweighable abundance of iron and copper and bronze is as much a gift from God as the manna flakes they ate daily in the desert. All these weapons, all these tools, all these decorations to beautify God’s house — all of it God coded into the promised land at creation — by design. One reason the good land lacked nothing is because it was designed with all of Israel’s future “tool and technologies” needs in mind. All of Israel’s future tool needs were met and pre-coded into the good land by God, from the beginning of time — a gracious gift of the Creator’s design given in order to shape Israel’s material future.

There are staggering realities here, linking God’s sovereign plan for a nation’s future to its available natural resources. So, who’s getting the praise for these shiny metal things in Israel’s technological future?

And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (8:10)

There again is its name: “the good land.” A land without lack. So, praise the Creator of this good land. When you have all this prosperity, thank God for it! You have it by his design.

How Faith Receives Technology

The full implications of these few verses deserve a book. But here are four statements only people of faith can make.

1. Follow human inventions back to the Creator.

The One who laid the foundations of the world is the One who dug deep channels for water. And the One who channeled the water infused into his creation of iron and copper to inspire his people’s future inventions. So, where does material technology come from? The Lord. God’s sovereign plan for each nation unfolds according to the available resources he has given. It was he who determined, “Let’s put 70 billion tons of high-grade phosphate rock in Norway and another 40 billion tons of lithium in Nevada for them to use in 2024.” That’s one way the Creator sovereignly guides the future of nations.

If you think that’s only true for Israel and not Europe, I’ll add our friend Spurgeon into the chat. I can’t talk tech without a Spurgeon quote. He got it. And it would be unforgivable to speak here without a Spurgeon mention. Here he is landing a sermon illustration about coal. Spurgeon said this:

A man, looking at the coal mines of England, naturally considers that God made that coal with the intention of supplying the world’s inhabitants with fuel, and that he stored it, as it were, away in those dark cellars underground for this favored nation [England], that the wheels of its commerce might be set in motion.

God made coal — made it for man to discover and burn — then hid that coal until just the right moment to reveal his generosity to England and to fire her economic engine. That’s how Christians view the material world, through the lens of Deuteronomy 8.

Our inventions unfold according to the discoveries we continue to make into God’s creation, in God’s timing. And so, Israel was positioned to discover and invent and build, “being gratefully aware” that all the “material resources, imagination, planning, skills, energy” — all of it was given to them by God. God governs the unfolding story of nations by governing the story of human inventiveness by how he designed his creation. True for Israel, Norway, Nevada, England.

2. Marvel at God’s glory exposed in our mining discoveries.

We won’t go there, but Job 28:1–11 is all about mining. An amazing “hymn celebrating human technology,” specifically of man’s “technological ability” to excavate what’s in the earth. That text led theologian Abraham Kuyper to say this, long before the digital age:

Man was designed and intended for digging up what God has hidden in the earth and for glorifying the greatness of God through doing this. . . . God enclosed gold and silver, all precious metals and precious stones, in the heart of the earth, and if there had been no human beings to bring these treasures to the surface, and to let the luster of the gold shine and to bring out the brilliance of the diamond by cutting it, then God would never have received the honor and praise for these, his more delicate creations in the mineral kingdom. (Common Grace, 2:97)

Amazing. True of gold, silver, diamonds, the brass on the temple, coal, and high-grade phosphate and the resources that feed our economies. Miners continue to set free the otherwise unseen creative brilliance of our God.

3. Enjoy the Creator in your inventions.

We so easily miss the main point of why mining exists. Kuyper just said it. Many previous nations have failed here. We will too if we’re not careful. We must also heed God’s warning in Deuteronomy 8:17–18. So, what’s the safe way to go here? Should we, God’s people, just diss on material things? Hate on technology? Scoff at EVs? Ignore the Norway discovery as vain worldliness? Let’s find out.

Beware lest you say in your heart . . . (Deuteronomy 8:17a)

Here it is again. What our industries do with all that high-grade phosphate rock in Norway or lithium in Nevada is one thing. What our heart does with all that phosphate rock and lithium is the concern of God. The heart of his people is the far bigger issue. Do you see God’s generosity or not? What does your heart do with all this culture-making and city-building and human tech-making? The temptation is to say,

“My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (8:17b)

To say that is to utterly fail! Israel, when you’ve settled into this land, you’ll stand back and enjoy the skyline of your cities. You’ll look at all the houses you have made. The new shoes and new clothes you wear. All the copper and brass and iron tools you invented to make you strong, prosperous, and wealthy. Your temple will shine in the sun. You will see oil and wine flowing from your industry. You will see farmers hauling carts of grain. You will see bakeries full of bread. Your markets will be full of food. You will make banks and financial systems and succeed in international trade. And if you fail to see God’s generosity in it all, you are an idolater.

The only explanation for why anything in the world works — why tech works, why our cars work, our computers, our phones, our batteries, why we generate wealth — is owing to the power and generosity of God. So instead,

You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth. (8:18a)

God claims the glory for every penny of Israel’s wealth. He claims credit for the ultimate, final product of Israel’s industry. All the economic momentum of Israel is all because of God. He claims credit not merely for the iron and copper — or the phosphorus and lithium — but for the power to excavate these materials, and then he claims credit for wealth generated by turning those raw materials into solar panels and batteries. Why? Because all industrial wealth is traced back to its first cause: God’s generosity in creation. The God who gives out manna day by day in the desert is the same God who plants mineral deposits to spur Israel’s creativity and to spur us forward in our batteries and solar panels. Same God. Same generosity. Do you see it? Do you see him?

Every nation is held accountable here, as verses 19 and 20 suggest. Everything we make spotlights God’s abounding generosity. So, build houses. Burn coal. Make batteries and solar panels. Build economic systems. Engage in international trade. Grow trees for lumber to build homes. Harness the lightning and electrify your cities. Replicate the sun in nuclear fusion. Listen as the Creator helps you max out your farm yields. Make new things out of metal. Make new cars. Make EVs if you want. Make more comfortable clothing materials. Make new gadgets. And when you do all of it, people of God, enjoy God in it.

“The first cause of our life is not what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of God’s mouth.”

God never assumes his people will do this well! Deuteronomy 8 assumes that God’s own people will grow blind to his generosity in the shiny metal things they hold in hand. If we hold our iPhone up and cannot see God’s generosity in it — that’s inexcusable. This world will condition us — us Christians — to see mining headlines and to think man-centered thoughts. We’re wired to do everything but move from mining discoveries to the iPhone to the Creator’s generosity. Deuteronomy 8 corrects us.

4. Employ your inventions to reach the nations.

We often make the mistake of thinking technology is outside of redemptive history and inconsequential to the church. Silicon Valley is just humans doing human things. It’s Babel. It’s rebellion. Ignore it. And then we open our Bibles to find the story of human innovation woven right into redemptive history, as God claims credit for everything we make out of metal — our gadgets, cities, temples, homes, economies. Technology is there, not as some intruder into God’s redemptive plan, but as a servant within God’s redemptive plan. We have tech because we have a mission.

There’s a world of lost sinners to reach, so the temple needs brass and the missionary’s bush plane needs gas. And God is the first cause of both the brass and the gasoline. The best of our inventions is missionally useful. Israel’s iron and brass was meant to attract the nations.

In the story of the church, we could talk about the history of metallurgy and the iron nails used in the cross, or the invention of the Greek language to codify a far-reaching tongue, or the brilliance of Roman roads, wooden ships, the codex Bible, printing presses, steam trains, steamships, fossil fuels, combustion engines, off-road trucks, bush planes. Everything needed to pull off a Spurgeon sermon and then a Billy Graham revival meeting, or to show the Jesus Film in a dark village, or to broadcast the gospel on AM/FM airwaves, or for digital media to enter closed and remote countries through smartphones. Tech exists because the church exists. Tech exists because the Great Commission exists.

Here’s the bottom line: In 70 billion tons of phosphate in Norway or 40 billion tons of lithium in Nevada, never grow blind to God’s glory and generosity on display. Marvel at the Maker. Don’t watch a SpaceX rocket fire through the sky and marvel at man. Don’t watch a SpaceX rocket launch and diss on man. See beyond man. Marvel at the Maker of our makers. And marvel in your heart at the foresight of a Maker whose creation would produce rockets and cars and gasoline and batteries and solar panels and iPhones, and thousands of innovations we’re using right now and take for granted every day. God claims it all.