Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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By Greg Cochran, Ph.D., ICC Fellow 

Currently perched at the pinnacle of technological hype for 2024, the Apple Vision Pro has made its debut. Apple CEO Tim Cook dubbed the augmented reality goggles “the most advanced consumer electronics device ever created.” One reviewer on social media named the Apple Vision Pro “the single greatest piece of tech I’ve ever used.” Little wonder—given such glowing accolades from powerful players in consumer electronics—that hundreds of consumers from around the world lined up like hungry sojourners in front of the Apple Store in New York City on Friday, Feb. 2, to feast their eyes on this space-age spectacle.  

Along with fans hyping the new device, foes voiced fears of the advancing technology. With fanatical swiftness, detractors began denouncing the goggles, forewarning would-be consumers—decrying the Vision Pro’s potential for accelerating a less personal future. These techno nay-sayers foresee an unfolding “Black Mirror” situation, a dystopian scene so disorienting it feels like one of the nightmarish scenarios seen on the British TV series Black Mirror. Anticipating such fears, Apple designed the Vision Pro so the device senses the presence of other people: “When someone approaches, Apple Vision Pro simultaneously lets you see the person and reveals your eyes to them.” 

The technology is advanced, and the implications are profound. Apple purports to have bridged the gap from virtual reality to real reality by augmenting what the eyes see, simultaneously allowing other people to see the wearer’s seeing eyes. In some ways, this advance in technology is unparalleled. In other ways, it repeats an age-old practice of seeing reality through an augmented lens.  

Having digested the gospel, Christians grasp the profundity of seeing the eyes of those around them living in an augmented reality. Christians once lived virtually the same. Consider Paul and the episode of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. Paul and Silas, clearly discerning the will of God as their top priority, bump into the “real” world of paganism, upsetting the fortune-telling industry. Paul and Silas spark a spirited protest in which the chief magistrates are summoned with the focused mission of carrying out the emperor’s will (peace for Rome). The engines of commerce and political clout had shaped a Vision Pro-style lens of law and order which these rulers obeyed. Paul and Silas view the scene as simply one of living out their faith in Christ in real-time. Who sees “real reality?” 

As the drama unfolds, Paul and Silas free a slave girl from her bondage to demons. The business leaders in Philippi react with exhilarated disgust. They have had a fortune-telling racket going with this young woman, and they fully intend to continue collecting filthy profits from the girl’s bondage. In Acts 16:20, they place this charge against Paul and Silas: “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice (ESV).” 

But Luke, the author of Acts, flips this charge. As the narrative unfolds, Paul and Silas are beaten, thrown into a dungeon, and chained by their feet in the stocks. However, though bound by chains, they are free to sing. As they sing, an act of God further frees them to leave the prison, but they refuse to go. They remain. They convince the other prisoners to stay. The prison guard, who instinctively sees the occasion as one that forces him to suicide (v. 27), ends the story by washing Paul’s wounds and inviting him and Silas to his house for a midnight meal (v. 34).  

In a flash and a shake, the jailer’s eyes open, and the world becomes something new to him. At the moment of the earthquake, the power of Rome (and Roman tradition) drives him to draw a sword to kill himself. After the event, he draws water to heal the wounds of prisoners under his care. The augmented reality of Rome gives way to the real reality of the Living God about whom Paul and Silas have been singing.  

Even more, Paul understands that reality is worth his trip to prison. Not only is Paul offered the opportunity to leave, he is ordered by the rulers to go, yet he refuses (vv. 36-37). Why? Because Paul will have no part in playing along with the augmented reality of these provincial leaders.  

Paul and Silas are wrongfully charged with acting against the traditions of Rome—a serious charge in a province proud of its attachment to the empire. Paul forces the magistrates to see reality, to literally come into his presence and thereby see his eyes. In their prior encounter, they only saw Paul as a nuisance which they squashed with raw power by beating him and tossing him out of sight in a dungeon… against Roman law.  

Paul forces a lens of reality before their eyes so they might see that it was they—not he and Silas—who violated the customs and laws of Rome. No doubt Paul is paving the way for future Christians to have more acceptance in Philippi as well, but here he is stripping away the virtual reality of unbridled Roman power and introducing these leaders to real truth and real justice, especially as it is seen before the face of God.  

In this narrative, Paul and Silas model the Christian vision of truth and justice. Today, Christians must continuously execute this same stroke as reality proves the god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers to truth and justice (2 Cor. 4). Christians get aid from the one who opens the eyes of the blind. We are those whose testimony is simple: I once was blind, but now I see.  

Such a vision of reality is simple. Clear. And profoundly practical. Consider the situation in Nigeria in the aftermath of yet another round of Christmas attacks. Like Paul and Silas, Christians must now call political leaders to account—not based on a fantastic vision from God or as an impulse of the spirit of political revolution. Christians must call political leaders to see reality itself. The reality in Nigeria is no longer explainable by the default recourse to land scarcity and climate variance. Reality is clear: Violence against churches and worship services is unjust and ought to be roundly condemned by all peace-loving people. As the USCIRF (US Commission of International Religious Freedom) points out in a January statement on violence against religious sites:   

USCIRF underscores that international humanitarian law protects houses of worship and religious sites as sacrosanct. They cannot be targeted for destruction or incur incidental damage during armed conflict.  

International law, the Nigerian Constitution, and the long-recognized right to religious freedom and tolerance come together clearly in Nigeria for all who have eyes to see truth and justice: Attacking churches is unjust and inhumane and must be condemned outright with no equivocation.  

Like Paul and Silas, Christians must speak with a singular tone and a clear vision in such situations of injustice. Paul and Silas could have tiptoed quietly away and gained personal freedom and comfort, but they would not play by the rules of injustice. Personal peace is no peace if it cloaks injustice. Paul and Silas could not turn a blind eye when they had seen so clearly this injustice.  

Paul elsewhere writes for Christians to always live at peace with all people insofar as it is possible. Here in the Philippian jail, he shows that for peace to be possible it must be brokered by truth and justice. One cannot accept a lie or tolerate injustice in the name of keeping the peace. Reality won’t allow it. Christians should not tolerate it. Peace-loving Muslims should not tolerate it. Political leaders from President Bola Tinubu to each of the councilors in Nigeria’s 774 LGAs (Local Government Areas) should see that attacks against religious sites and services are not explainable or excusable by reference to land disputes. Leaders need to see the eyes of the victims and respond to them personally, upholding truth and justice.  

Perhaps the time has come for Americans and other affluent Christians to lift our heads, too, and sense the presence of others. Perhaps it’s past time to take notice of our global family under attack. The reality from God’s perspective—including truth and justice—can’t allow a tiptoeing quietly away from the victims of 10 Baptist churches in Mangu County (Plateau State) which have been shuttered by violence. One of the church facilities is reportedly now being used as a mosque, while hundreds of villagers in the region are internally displaced victims of violence.

God, of course, sees these Christians. Do we