Today’s question Technology: Good or Bad? is the cause of so many panicky Time magazine covers, so many glowing reviews of the newest generation of smartphones, so many distraught essays (probably typed in modern word processors) claiming that Google is destroying our brains and Facebook is killing our friendships.

Is technology good or bad? For answers this morning, we turn to that ancient technological handbook- The Psalms. Now I know, the Psalmist writes, that the Lord will help his anointed

Ok, first stop. No, no, they didn’t really know. They didn’t know this in any reasonable sense.

Picture a map of Europe, if you will. Now, on your map, slide slightly to the east and find Turkey, the eternally half-serious candidate for European Union membership, in many ways one of the most historically useful crossroads on the globe, connecting Europe, Asia, and through the Middle East, Africa.

Now, turn the dial on your time machine back to the 14th century BC.

It’s the Bronze Age, but the Bronze Age is dying. A new empire is arising, here in what will be Turkey. A new empire possessing, as all new empires do, a new and frightening and seemingly unbeatable weapon: the Hittities know how to make tools out of iron.

If you want a sense of how important the invention of iron smelting was, consider that in 2014, we are still watching movies about a powerful superhero named Iron Man. Nobody makes a movie about Bronze Man, bronze being the substance from which all the other losers were making tools.

In the 14th century BC, iron absolutely made all the difference. Iron, you see, meant steel, and steel meant chariots. Iron meant that chariot wheels could be made strong enough to last over rough terrain. Chariots meant that battles with the Hittites were more or less unwinnable- picture the absurd battles of WWI with the calvaries charging the tanks, to get a sense of the scale here. Iron was the magic bullet.

So of course the Hittites trusted in horses and chariots! Horses and chariots were working! You get on board the iron smelting train, or you get run down; those are your options.

And then here’s the Psalmist: some will trust in horses, and some will trust in chariots, but we will trust in the name of our God. We will trust in the name of our Godname here means promise, similar to what your signature means on a formal document. We will trust, this means,, not in the new technology of our time, but in the promises made to us by God.

Does it work? Well, this is professionally embarrassing to admit, but the results are iffy at best. The Hittites fought the Egyptians all over what we now call Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. When the Hittites got tired, the Assyrians rose up and beat them. And, unless your map of these conflicts is written with Biblical studies in mind, the little tribes of the Hebrew peoples might not even be labeled.

Some will trust in the technology of the era, but we will trust in God turns out not to be a great military strategy, on the one hand. The Hebrew people never became famous for their skill in war.

On the other hand, Friends gathered here today, how many of you have gathered in groups to hear inspirational speeches made about Hittite poetry? Winning has various definitions, I suppose.

This week brought around again the sixth of August, commemorated each year as Hiroshima Day. Yesterday, August 9th, was Nagasaki Day. Eight nations certainly have nuclear weapons now: us, France, Russia, China, the UK, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Israel probably has them too, but won’t give a straight-foward confirmation.

Some will trust in horses, some will trust in chariots.

I doubt that the asker of this particular question – Technology: Good or Bad? – was thinking about nuclear technology, to be honest. But I like this Psalm, when I think about technology, because the fear of the new is hardly a contemporary problem. The tribes between the Hittites and the Egyptians would certainly have longed for a return to simpler times when everyone made their swords of bronze as God intended.

I get frustrated a little too easily when people tell me that they don’t like technology. It’s like when people tell me that they don’t like chemicals in their food, as though they’d rather eat a vacuum instead. Water is a molecule made up of hydrogen and oxygen, and most certainly a chemical, and I don’t propose getting rid of it anytime soon. Chemicals aren’t necessarily harmful.

When people say they don’t want chemicals in their food, though, what they generally mean is that they don’t want harmful or unstudied or unnecessary additives. Right? And I guess everyone knows that, but if you just say that you don’t like chemicals, then you exactly aren’t saying what you mean. I think it’s worthwhile to get the words right.

Likewise, I’ve never met someone who actually objects to technology. I mean, what would that even be like? What do you want to get rid of? Facebook and Twitter? Cellphones? X-rays? The internal combustion engine? The printing press? Buttons- considered unacceptably modern and fashionable by the Amish? Do you want to ditch windmills, and aqueducts, and the plow? Those are all examples of technology!

Maybe we should go holler at crows for using sticks to get bugs out of trees. Even crows are using technology!

When we complain about technology, I think what we mean to complain about is the unfamiliar and the unsettling. Plows don’t scare us, and indoor plumbing is normal for most of us, and the printing press is only a little bit intimidating now.

Drones, on the other hand, capture our attention because we don’t yet know the possibilities. The Internet scares us because who are we here and now if we’re also on Skype with a friend in Australia? And if I have to have a Master’s in Biotechnology to even understand what this organic substance is, how am I supposed to eat it?

None of those things are good or bad, in and of themselves. Drones kill people, and drones help firefighters put out wildfires, and drones monitor endangered animals. My life is really different than my grandparents, largely because of the Internet, but I got to see a picture of my baby niece Alice with eyebrows drawn on her face, and I challenge you to convince me that that’s a bad thing. And as for the Master’s in Biotechnology- well, that’s not too far off from Gregor Mendel’s story, back in the 1800’s, when his odd experiments on peas became the reason that we now call him the ‘father of genetics.’

Everything’s scary, right? But look- it’s not like, as a species, we’ve never before created forms of technology that drastically change what it means to be human. Sure, we can no longer imagine our lives without books, cars, and plows, but that doesn’t mean those weren’t revolutions in their own right.

Do you know about the Luddites? Picture early 19th century England. Picture newly industrialized textile factories, employing fewer people than before in horrible conditions. Picture good Englishmen banding together to smash the evil equipment and burn the factories down. Who do you sympathize with?

That’s why I like this Psalm so much- it’s a poem documenting one honest response to more-or-less the kind of technological upheaval that we’re currently experiencing. Some will trust in horses, some will trust in chariots…

The Luddites thought that technological revolution ought to serve the interests of everyone. Instead, as so often happens, it was serving the interests of the few at the expense of the many. So, in a fine example of rational human thought, they decided that the obvious answer was to burn the whole system to the ground.

I mean, seriously, tell me you haven’t been there before. Just burn it all down. We’ll start over with the chipped flint knives and the confusion about how to tan leather.

Is technology good or bad? I know I have a reputation for not actually answering questions, but I don’t think technology is either. It’s just stuff, chemicals, configured in new ways. The question really is, who is serving whom? Are we in charge, or is technology ruling us?

There’s an entire genre of literature focused on exploring this fear through stories of the Robot Apocalypse. What if, one day, we wake up and the computers are in charge? What if it’s 2001, and we’re on a space odyssey, and we can’t shut Hal down? Have we created something that we cannot control?

Wendell Berry wrote a piece in 1987 about why he was choosing not to buy a home computer, even though it was in some ways a reasonable choice for a writer and a farmer. He doesn’t want to be any more dependent on exploitative forms of fuel, and he doesn’t wish to rely on a piece of equipment that he doesn’t know how to repair, and he doesn’t have any reason to think that purchasing a computer will improve his writing, among other reasons.

I do a fair bit of writing, and I have no particular scruples about using a computer for it. I like Wendell Berry’s essay, though, because of his insistence on being in charge of the technology, rather than submitting to the torrent of newness. I may not share his conclusions, but I like his methods. I like his emphasis on his responsibility to choose how he goes about participating in the system.

Computers aren’t good or bad, any more than iron wheels were necessarily good or bad. People are the chemicals that you really have to worry about. People make the most explosive reactions. We’re the ones who are both bad and good.

It’s because of technology that I know that Amal Amjad Aweida is dead. She was the one thousand, seven hundred and seventy second Palestinian casualty since Israel started bombing recently. She was five years old.

I know Amal Amjad Aweida’s name because of technology- I read it on my tablet, while checking out my Tumblr feed. Her death was mixed in among animated gifs from Guardians of the Galaxy, which was just a horrific combination because what are these so-called Guardians of the Galaxy doing if they can’t save this little girl?

And, Amal Amjad Aweida, this girl who ought to be thinking about kindergarten, is dead because of technology- if the Israeli army were driving iron-wheeled chariots instead of firing missiles down out of the sky, she might have gotten away. Her family might have fled in time, although goodness knows where they would have been going, or how they would have know that the Israeli army was coming if their neighbors weren’t on Twitter.

Look. Technology doesn’t have a moral quality. The question, as always, is what am I going to do? What are you going to do?

Some will trust in horses, and some will trust in chariots. In what will you trust?

Some will trust in nukes, and some will trust in drones, but we will trust that the universe has a higher and better purpose than that nonsense. Some will trust in technology, but we will trust that there is more to life than coming up with more complex ways of destroying each other. We will trust in the promises of our God.

Perhaps we will look like fools. But, at the very least, we will acknowledge the source of true power – not ourselves, not anything we can build. True power comes from God alone. We may discover penicillin, and we may organize gears and wheels such that a bicycle results, and we may sequence our genomes, and we may blast ourselves to other planets… but technology is only us fooling with what God has already created.

In the story of creation that we tell, the choice Adam and Eve faced was stark. They could eat from any of a hundred trees in their garden, or they could eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They chose the latter, and you know how well that went.

But as children of Adam and Eve, we face a choice similarly stark. We know the difference between good and evil. Where we are currently on the human technological trajectory of invention and production makes no difference. We are like gods, now, in that in our souls we know the difference between wrong and right.

What will we do with our power? What will we do with this might? What will we do with our knowledge?