I have long made a practice of reading the Bible through from Genesis to Revelation and then starting again. Right now, I am nearing the end of the New Testament and found myself yesterday in the Apostle John’s first letter. Something struck me that I have been pondering since. Here is what I read:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. I John 2:15-17 ESV
An older New International Version renders “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” as “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” I think this captures the essence of what John is saying. Perhaps it is just where the Holy Spirit is leading me in my life, but I see yet another warning of just how destructive social media can be to us spiritually if we allow it to follow its natural course in our lives.
As I have written before, and many others have said as well, such as Francis Chan and Christine Caine, social media primarily serves to draw attention to ourselves, to what we have and what we are doing or have done. And John says this influence is from the world (i.e., Satan). Think about that for a moment.
What a dilemma for us as believers living in a world where social media is used regularly by nearly three billion people and projected to continue increasing! It is literally woven into the fabric of societies worldwide. Yet, this medium in its various forms promotes and encourages exactly what John says we should avoid. Every day, often multiple times a day, people post about themselves—what they are doing, who they’re with, their thoughts about a particular topic, how much weight they’ve lost, photos of themselves, and the list can go on and on. It can be summed up: they’re posting about what they’re doing and what they have.
Let it be known I have done many of these things. And the very fact this blog is posted on social media could be viewed as the height of hypocrisy. I am very aware of this and have been for awhile. I am in the midst of a struggle to find the proper use of social media in my life. I confidently admit I have yet to reach a definitive conclusion. All I know at this point is I am less and less comfortable using social media to promote myself, which is, ironically, the very thing that aspiring writers and speakers are told they must do—have a platform on which to promote yourself and your work.
I think one of the things that bothers me most is realizing how most of us use Facebook, Instagram, etc., is akin to gathering our friends together and forcing them to endure hearing about us, seeing all the pictures we’ve taken while at the same time enduring everyone else’s stories and pictures almost simultaneously. There’s no real back and forth, or conversations that naturally meander from topic to topic. There’s no practiced nuance that knows when enough is said or the sharing of photos has reached its limit. It is like being around that person who just cannot stop talking about themselves and telling his or her stories. It begins to get old. To be clear, it is not the stories or pictures themselves, but the limits of the medium to control the amount. People cannot reasonably handle inviting hundreds of people daily into their homes and listen to monologues, even when they are interested in every individual who shares.
I admit that it was a novelty at first and I enjoyed learning about the lives of old friends and former students, and sharing for others to know what was happening in my life. But as my social media friend group has grown over the years, it has increasingly become overwhelming and even irritating. So, in the last two months, I have cut back on my social media use and consumption. While I was on holiday in May and June, I did not look at any social media, and, to be honest, I found it refreshing. When we returned, friends begged us to post pictures, so I shared on Instagram the maximum number of ten and that was it. But my overall interaction with social media is way down, and I am struggling to keep it that way.
The one caveat is I am a campus pastor who works with students fully absorbed in social media. I have to interact with them and be aware of their lives and the needs they have, which are usually presented via social media. I would be practically flying blind in my ministry to them without using it. That is my biggest struggle right now, how to accommodate my increasing uncomfortableness with social media in light of my current vocation and what I hope will be my future one.
What is clear to me, regardless of where I eventually land in my thinking on this, is that I have to be intentional to avoid the trap set by our Enemy via social media. Intentional in discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit (do I post this?), discerning the state of my own heart (for what purpose am I posting?), and discerning my audience (do they need, or will they be blessed by, this post?).
The path of following Jesus is a countercultural one, and it is narrow. The vast majority never find the desire to walk along it because it is difficult and so foreign to human instincts. If we are to remain on it, it will be through our willingness to die to ourselves and deny our appetite to be seen, known, and lauded. These we already have from the Lord. I am thinking, even as I write this, that this may be the key to using social media in a way that doesn’t endanger us spiritually. We must be content with the love and
approval of the Lord. He is the only one that truly matters, for his love is pure and beyond measure, and he is the only one who can satisfy our deepest longings to be known and loved. If we are increasingly content with that, then the less we will need social media to do what only the Lord can do.
© Jim Musser 2019