By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
Social media can be a good thing. From Facebook to YouTube, Instagram to Twitter, social media can be an effective tool in our lives. This truth has been uncovered in various new ways during this time of pandemic and physical isolation. Connections made via Messenger or WhatsApp can be both life-giving and healing. Personally speaking, I have found it quite amazing how much pastoral care can occur 140 characters at a time.
This is not to say, however, that social media is the saving grace of our lives. There is a dark side to the use of this technology. This dark side does not merely refer to unseemly uses, such as sexting, or cyber-bullying. Rather, if left unchecked, and if not diligently fought against, social media can easily undercut the very biblical foundations upon which we base our lives.
Social media, in short, lies to us. These heretical lies are implicit in the very nature of social media itself. They can be easily missed, and easily bought into. I term these lies “heretical” because they actively work against our life with God. Thus, these lies are ones that Christians ought to take seriously. There are two lies of note.
Lie #1: You Must Compare Yourself to Others
Social media creates an environment rooted in constant comparison. Users post about their lives, either in picture or story form, attempting to present a picture that is both flawless and unrealistic. Difficulty and struggle are rarely disclosed; photos are staged and cropped in order to effectively manage one’s desired image. Added to this is the constant ranking of our popularity through followers and friends. How is my count today? What was my reach? Why did so and so’s post get more likes and comments than my own? How can I be more popular on this forum?
This creates a false-life and a false-self. The life projected is removed from the authentic person God created us to be. Ultimately, this false-life and false-self condemns us.
We mistakenly believe that our lives must look a certain way. In the past, we called this “keeping up with the Jones.’” Well, social media has taken the Jones’ and increased the pressure exponentially. Social media presents to us, front and central, the metric by which we are able to judge our identity. Instead of recognizing that we are created in the image of God, we spend our time attempting to contort ourselves into the image of others.
Comparing ourselves to others, as the source of our value and worth, necessarily involves rejecting who God has made us to be. In attempting to keep up with the Jones’, we judge ourselves to be incomplete, lest we have the adulation and envy of others. Of course, as we compare ourselves to others, we become tempted to judge others in comparison to us. We judge, just as we feel judged. The cycle goes around and around.
When we step away from constant comparison, we uncover a deep and abiding spiritual freedom. This freedom grounds our life in the reality of God’s loving and gracious acceptance of us. Our identity as the beloved of God depends not on skill or aptitude; nor is God’s love contingent upon another’s vision of who we ought to be. Our identity as God’s beloved is grounded in the fact that we are made in the image of God. God chose us before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4), offering us the free gift of love and identity. Scripture uses many terms to refer to our fundamental identity: saints, God’s children, free, forgiven, God’s workmanship, beloved, God’s own. This is who we are. There is no earning with God; we have nothing to prove. As Paul remarks, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33).
Lie #2: You Must Remain Connected
The instantaneous nature of social media naturally leads to an endless stream of information. Whether it be posts about one’s cat or tweets about political matters, there is always something new to be seen. Yet, this ever-present newness of information, paradoxically, does not make one feel confident in his/her grasp on current events. In fact, it does the exact opposite. The constant barrage of what is new in the world actually creates heightened levels of anxiety and fear. It even has a name: Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
FOMO has become a recognized expression of social anxiety, one plaguing roughly 70 percent of social media users. One fears not being included in the current pulse of social or cultural expressions. Yet, with social media, things change instantaneously; being late to the party may mean you miss the party altogether. Thus, one carries within themselves the constant pressure to be up to date. Those battling FOMO must remain connected to the stream of information. Thus, for many, social media is the first thing observed in the morning, and the last thing observed in the evening. Social media demands constant attention.
This is a lie.
The world will not end if we disconnect from our social media feeds. In fact, by disconnecting to social media, we may find that we become more able to hear Christ speak in our lives. Our connection to our Lord may actually increase the more we decrease the attention given to the whistles and whirls of social media. “Come away with me, to a quiet place, and get some rest,” Jesus called to the disciples (Mark 6:31). That same call exists for us all.
Stepping away from the demands of the world, to connect with our Lord more deeply is the normal way we are called to live. There is something profound in the biblical understanding of how we navigate life. In biblical times, the new day began at sundown. We see this reflected at the start of the scriptural text, in the book of Genesis. Throughout the telling of creation, the text repeats the phrase “There was evening, and there was morning, the nth day.” Each new day began, not at sunrise, but at sundown. This means that the first order of business in the new day, for the Israelites and early Christians, was to go to sleep!
Consider how profound this may be for our spiritual lives today. Instead of opening the day by stressing over the tasks and demands awaiting us, instead of poring over the news-reports in fear of what may have been missed, our first task of the day is to leave the running of the world in God’s hands. It is to take one’s self out of the constant barrage of sights and sounds and rest our bodies and souls in the presence of the Lord. We need not worry about what occurs during the beginning hours of the day for it is all held in the hand of our creator, and sustainer.
It is a heresy to believe that our time asleep keeps us from that which is current or exciting. When we base our life on this internal fear over disconnecting from social media, we render ourselves incapable of fully being present with our Lord. Thus, we never experience the freedom found in knowing that, ultimately, Jesus is in control.
Biblical faith calls us to recognize that the running of the world is not held by circuits and computer chips; nor is it dependent upon our involvement or comment. The running of the world is in the hands of God. We can, in love and trust, release our lives into God’s hands, confident that as long as we are connected to the Lord of heaven and earth, we will not miss out on the life that truly matters.
Reclaim Your Life from Social Media
These two lies of social media may not seem like much, that is until we realize they pertain to fundamental truths of the Christian faith. Social media lies about who we are, and how we are to live. In doing so, it tempts us to base these two fundamental realities on the bells and whistles of our online engagement, rather than on an active engagement with the presence of God. In this way, social media will always create in us a sense of fear and judgment. It will always lead us to vices such as comparison, envy, pride, and judgment.,
This is not how we are called to live our lives. As Christian people, we are called to live our lives rooted in God’s vision for us. Identity is not based on what others say of us, or how others perceive us. Our identity is rooted in the richness of God’s love.
You are uniquely, and awesomely, crafted in God’s own image. Spend your time and energy, therefore, in exploring that God-given identity. Release your life into the hands of the Savior, rather than the socially constructed trend of the moment. He is in control, and he will lead you into the life that truly is life (1 Timothy 6:19).
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/eugenekeebler
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.
This article is part of our larger resource library of Christian practices and disciplines important to the Christian faith. From speaking in tongues to tithing & baptism, we want to provide easy to read and understand articles that answer your questions about Christian living.
10 Things to Know about Speaking in Tongues
The Fruit of the Spirit - What Are They?
What Is the Tithe?
What Is the Sabbath and Is it Still Important?
Baptism - What Does it Mean and Why Is it Important?