Redefining Real(ities)—Virtual No More

July 5, 2022

The other day, someone asked me, “You don’t really believe it counts if someone accepts Jesus in virtual reality, do you?” My response, “You tell me; do you think it counts when someone sins in virtual reality?”

The Reality of Virtual Reality

I’m going to be transparent with you for a second. I twinge whenever I hear someone say “IRL” (in real life). In virtual reality terms, IRL is slang for meeting in the physical world. You know, like where you breathe air molecules. Virtual reality is the world inside the headset, but IRL is the physical world you can touch. As an active participant in both physical and virtual worlds, I know something you need to understand: physical and virtual worlds are both real.

  • Both worlds can bring joy.
  • Both worlds can bring consequences.
  • Both worlds need Jesus.

It’s easy to dismiss virtual reality as a fake, pretend reality, or even a child’s video game. The reality of the VR communities goes far beyond that. These worlds have real-life implications.

The Physical Response to Virtual Realities

Last year, I spoke on the metaverse Church to 75 church leaders. When I mentioned a virtual reality community called VR Chat, a girl in her 20s noticeably twitched. I thought she fell out of her chair. She looked embarrassed, so I continued my talk without acknowledging it.

Unfortunately for her, I said the words “VR Chat” a lot, and she had some physical twitch or reaction to the word every time I did. People in the room began to murmur. After about the fourth twitch, I realized the connection to VR Chat and dismissed the room for a break. I asked a young lady to stick around so we could talk with the girl.

Her story broke my heart. She shared about her life before Christ and being sexually active inside VR Chat. Sometimes, she was a willing participant, but other times she was forced and abused. With anger in her voice, she said, “because of what happened to me in virtual reality, the Church has no business being there.” My response was short: “Because of what happened to you is the exact reason the Church MUST be there.”

We need God in virtual reality. And where God goes, so should his bride.

The naysayers don’t care what happens in virtual reality spaces since they see it simply as a video game. There are merely pixels, colored dots, on a screen. There are no implications, no lasting damage, relating to what’s happening in these virtual worlds. Virtual reality is the equivalent of playing Super Mario Bros on the classic Nintendo Entertainment System. All you have to do is press the Reset button on the console and forget about the past. There are no lasting implications. Listening to this girl describe the emotional damage she received years ago, I can say that it’s not as easy as pressing the Reset button.

Only through Christ do we find the Reset button.

Only through Christ do we find the Reset button. Through Christ, we discover the ability to let go and find healing. Therefore, do you think that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not permeate into virtual reality? Are there environments that God does not care about us? Can Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg create worlds God cannot enter? Does God dismiss virtual worlds as a video game? 

We need God in virtual reality. And where God goes, so should his bride.

Virtual Worlds with Physical Implications

We regularly see news reports where people (or their avatars) are being assaulted (verbally or physically) in virtual reality. Does the pixelization make this less real? Does turning the headset off make it hurt less? And while it’s easy for us to believe that the Church has no business in this virtual mess, I think it’s important to remember that God did send Jonah to Nineveh. Despite their wickedness and Jonah’s desire to have nothing to do with them, God forced/fished Jonah to Nineveh. God doesn’t avoid the darkness. He runs to it.

Virtual reality has physical implications. Bullying and virtual sex can lead to hurt and depression. In addition, virtual environments amplify addictive behaviors like alcoholism and substance abuse. If virtual reality isn’t real, then who cares about these words. But we can see that these words and actions impact the soul. So, the bride of Christ must be in the metaverse.

God doesn’t avoid the darkness. He runs to it.

Virtual reality isn’t a pretend reality but a real reality. That’s a simple but complicated statement. And we’re just getting started.

Check out Metaverse Church NEXT at Exponential’s Multipliers Resource Center on Wednesday, July 20th, at 12:30 pm Eastern. Jason Poling, the lead pastor at Cornerstone Yuba City/VR and one of the strongest modern voices in metaverse theology, will discuss the “Challenge of Reality.”

Jeff Reed

Jeff Reed

In June 2000, Jeff led his first online Bible study, taking 75 people from around the world through the book of James using a text-based system called Ultimate BB. He was doing digital ministry way before it was cool. Founding THECHURCH.DIGITAL in 2018, Jeff’s passions have evolved into helping churches (and individuals too!) find their calling through digital discipleship, releasing people on digital mission, and planting multiplying digital churches. This pursuit will expand as Jeff (and others) create the DigitalChurch.Network, an organic, decentralized network for digital expressions of church, globally. Jeff also serves as the Director of Metaverse Church NEXT for Leadership Network, and works closely with Exponential and other globally facing, multiplication-friendly, gospel-centric organizations. Jeff married his high school sweetheart, Amy, and has two kids and a dog. They live in Miami, Florida.
View Author

Related Articles