This week, the release of the new game PokemonGo tightened the bond between digitals natives and their smartphones. The free “augmented-reality” app uses the cell phone’s location and time, then adds a visual “layer” over the player’s world. As players walk or bike around their neighborhood or town, they can “catch” Pokemon characters that appear on screen. The animal-like cartoons are superimposed over live footage from the cell phone’s camera, so characters look like they are actually in the visible world. The game encourages physical exercise too by rewarding players the more they walk and bike to different destinations.
In the first two days, daily usage of the app had surpassed other apps popular among digital natives, including Instagram, SnapChat, and WhatsApp. And like any popular app, PokemonGo has already encountered some criticism. Players reported finding Pokemon characters inside the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is a “PokeStop” for in-game rewards. The Museum has asked the game-makers to remove the museum from being used in the game, believing that it belittles victims whom the memorial seeks to honor.
Many churches have reported being PokeStops as well. The game challenges players and nonplayers with some interesting questions about the significance of places that are important to them. Do some places have more significance than others? Are some places truly “sacred”? How do we set apart those places as special, and how should we treat them? Should we behave in certain ways when we enter places that are culturally or religiously significant?
The Bible is no stranger to sacred places or sacred behavior. When Moses approached the burning bush, the voice told him to remove his sandals “for this place is holy.” And when Jacob wrestled with the angel, he named that place Peniel because God was there. Likewise, Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, he set up a monument of stones to memorialize how God had led the way and fulfilled his promises.
We can see these stories as quaint Bible stories about times long ago, but the Bible presents them to us as a way to see our own world and God’s sacred creation, a temple made for worshiping him. Indeed all creation points us to God’s grandeur, and inspires us to give him praise. The Bible paints for us its own augmented reality, helping us to see Creation in a new way, if only we have the eyes to see it.
Perhaps the best example of the value of a place comes from Jesus himself. The famous story of how Jesus threw money-changers out of the temple is a sobering reminder that God himself has plans for every space he’s created—and every person. The Temple was not a place for Wall Street transactions. It was set apart for God’s glory. As you read this story, think about the many places you go each day, and ask what God intended for them when he created them.
Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:
My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.
Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.