A Look at Machines through the Spectacles of Scripture

We have machines to wake us up, machines to cook our food, make our clothing, and shelter us. Machines take us from one place to another and carry our voices around the world. Machines surround us and even work within our bodies. Something that has so profound an impact upon our lives certainly is worthy of inspection through the spectacles of Scripture.

What is a machine? Books will tell us that there are six simple machines: the lever, the wheel and axle, the pulley, the inclines plane, the wedge, and the screw. Really these could be simplified into two basic machines—the lever and the inclined plane—because a wheel and pulley can be described as a series of levers radiating from a central axis and the wedge and screw can be described in terms of an inclined plane. The basic idea of a lever is illustrated by a pole jammed under a rock with another rock under the pole to provide a fulcrum. Push down on the pole, and the rock can be moved a bit with little effort. We use an inclined plane to roll a barrel that is too heavy to lift up into a truck.

These two simple machines can help us in three ways: multiply the force applied to them, change the direction of the force applied to them, or multiply the speed or distance that the applied force moves something. For example, the lever in pliers multiplies the force you apply to the handle so that with the strength of your hand you are able to apply sufficient force to twist some wire or loosen a bolt. A claw hammer not only multiplies force but also changes the direction of the applied force by pulling a nail up and out as you apply force in the opposite direction. A screw is an inclined plane wrapped around an axis and allows the mechanic or woodworker to bring parts together with hundreds and thousands of pounds of force. A simple fly swatter multiplies the speed of your hand. This multiplication of speed, force, or distance is called “mechanical advantage.” Simple math equations and proportions allow one to calculate exactly how any given machine affects speed, force, distance, and direction.

Years ago, the only force available to build cathedrals and pyramids was muscle power. This force was applied to various forms of the lever and inclined plane so that the mechanical advantage gained would allow the movement of heavy stones. Today we are able to release the energy of fossil fuels and other energy sources to do much work, but that energy is often made more useful by applying it to combination of simple machines. A more complex machine such as a lawnmower can be broken down into a combination of levers and inclined planes. I am tempted to argue that every machine we have today can be boiled down to an assortment of levers and inclined planes, even a computer. We don’t have room to go into that in detail, but when one studies the interaction of molecules and atoms, we often find the principles of simple machines at work.

Machines are so popular because they are very helpful to man. God has designed our bodies to do many wonderful things far beyond the capacity of any other creature. In fact, God has designed the interaction of our muscles and bones using the principles of levers. God has also given to man a mind that is able to apply the principles of the lever and inclined plane so that the wonderful abilities of man can be enhanced and magnified. The ability to control the muscles of the fingers is enhanced by the levers of a piano to produce beautiful music. When man imagines something, it is only a matter of time before he figures out a way to build upon the machines available to build a new machine that helps him realize that dream.

When we look at machines through the eyes of sinful man, we are only delighted with the possibilities and amazed at the ingenuity of man. Look at what man is able to do! Even with the bare bones simple machines of a crude wooden lever and earthen inclined plane he is able to construct pyramids and cathedrals which to this day are described as wonders of the world. With the discovery of how to release the energy of fuels, and new materials such as steel and silicon to make refined versions of levers and planes, the mind of man was applied with renewed vigor to machines that would be able to use that energy. The only limit, it seems, to what man can do is his imagination. All praise and glory be raised to the mind of man!

Through the spectacles of Scripture, this very wisdom of man is revealed to be foolishness because sinful man fails to see that the mind and body of man is a creature of God. God created the world so that man could use the lever and inclined plane. God created man so that he would be able to use these machines to the glory of His name. God commands man to subdue the creation (Gen. 1:28). To heap praise upon man is utter folly because man is only discovering what God intended for man to discover, but he deliberately refuses to see the hand of God in it all. Sinful man “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25).

As we scan through the history of inventions and survey the great mountains of inventions of the past 100 years, we do not see anything evil in the machines themselves. God blesses the use of the many implements of agriculture such as the ax, cart, fan, pruning-hook, etc. Noah used simple machines to build the ark. The children of God today use the latest inventions in their service to God.

One thing that catches our attention, however, is that it is often sin and violence that inspires the great advances in using machines. King Uzziah was admired for his great war machines. We read in 2 Chronicles 26:15 “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. And his name spread far abroad; for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.” War, pride, and dreams of glory still motivates us to devote huge sums of money and ingenuity to develop cutting edge technology.

The spectacles of Scripture penetrate as a searchlight through the darkness of sin to reveal that any problems with all the machines we have does not come from the machine itself, but from the corrupt mind of man. One of the first major projects after the Flood that required the latest in mechanical inventions was the tower of Babel. The Lord looked down and said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Genesis 11:6).

Even though it seems today that nothing is restrained from man which he imagines, we must live by faith knowing that all these machines serve the will of God. Often they are used to fill the cup of iniquity to the point where God is ready to execute His just judgment. It is the power and grace of God alone in the hearts of His children that brings about any good and righteous use of these machines by man. May we thank God for everything we have, and may we praise Him for His wisdom. He has created all the wonders of this world. We give Him praise as man uncovers these treasures as he subdues the earth. We look forward to a new heavens and earth where all that is to be known, discovered, and used will not be corrupted with sin and will be used for the glory of God alone.