The Analytics Trap

One million hits on the blog, and #1000 in the Amazon sales ranking!!

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Actually, this little blog has had its 1000th view, and the sales ranking for my book just passed through #1 million, going the wrong way!

I remember a colleague at my teaching college, Melbourne School of Theology, saying that she had posted something on FaceBook, and then found herself checking back to see how many ‘likes’ she had received for it. Maybe you’ve done that too. Maybe I have, if I’m honest, checked the analytics for this blog more than once or twice, to see whether anyone reads what I’ve spent hours writing. Perhaps you have too, if you have a blog or other social media presence.

I finished reading 1 Chronicles some weeks ago now, and am sufficiently Chronicled-out not to turn to 2 Chronicles for a little while, which is part of what remains in my quest to read the entire Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. But 1 Chronicles 21 struck me on the way through, the account of David’s census of the Israelites. (I remember actually having an entire class on the differences between this chapter and the parallel account in 2 Samuel 24 when I attended a Christian college in Chattanooga, TN, and they certainly are there.) The chapter plays a key role in 1 Chronicles, that of explaining the spiritual precedent for the siting of the Jerusalem temple where Solomon would build it; it occupies the place where the plague is stopped, at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. It is also the concluding chapter to all of 1-2 Samuel, illustrating the great moment of atonement in David’s career, and thus that the king of God’s people must ultimately see to the task of obtaining God’s atonement personally.

However, a puzzlng question about this story is, “What was wrong with taking a census?” It isn’t self-evident to the modern reader. Our governments take censuses (offending the Latin there) at regular intervals, and most of us haven’t a qualm about it. In our story, though, even Joab, not normally known in the OT as a man of many scruples, is reluctant to take part:

May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord the king want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel? (1 Chron 21:3)

Well Joab apparently knows what’s wrong with taking a census, and it evidently constitutes a spiritual or ceremonial sin. Commentators (the couple I’ve read so far, anyway) work hard to try to establish a reason why, but perhaps there’s a piece of wisdom here that relates to our own temptation to re-check our analytics all the time.

If it’s not about me, and it’s not about you, then it’s not about the numbers. Our society loves numbers, especially numbers that relate either to money or to ego or to both. It’s a failing. Many things (I’m about to channel the voice of Galadriel here) that should not have been monetized…have been monetized, like education, health care, immigration, and spiritual life. And many things shouldn’t be numeralized either. We shouldn’t convert our self-esteem and worth to the world into a set of numerals.

Trendlines Snapshot

Every numeral, every hit, every like, represents a person. And its people, and our relationships with them, that matter. That means that if one person reads your words and is changed in thinking for the better, that has been worth your effort.

More than this, and I’m speaking as a Christian, a life genuinely dedicated to the service of God can relieve us of sweating very much over the health of our statistics. If we’ve made God’s business our business, then he’s in charge of the numbers. We sow whatever seeds we have at hand to sow, and if they’re words, we often sow them online, where they can be disseminated most effectively. But the ‘Lord of the harvest’ is in charge of how well they do. God can look after the analytics. We might even need to be unpopular if his cause and concerns demand it. That’ll hurt the numbers, but knowing the heart of God, it’s designed to help the people.

This is actually a pretty relaxing realization. My self-worth not comes from a high profile in social media, and if it did, I’d be waiting for an awfully long time. My self-worth comes from the love and approval of God, from the sense of being a faithful servant.

But, I will admit, I do sometimes have a peek!

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