John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. He was right.
Throughout history, we have bowed down to golden cattle, celestial beings, stone animals, and even human body parts. The passage of time has only increased the number of ways we exchange the worship of the One True God for lesser, false gods. Today, we can sadly add yet another idol to the list - social media.
Social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), as technology, is neutral and harmless – even good. Social media can and should be used for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel in every possible way. But natural-born idolaters, like you and me, are no more than a few clicks away from making this good thing a god thing.
Social media carries a unique set of temptations. Much like the adulterous temptress described in Proverbs, social media offers us the invitation to come into her house and enjoy the choicest foods, only to find the meal poisoned.
The most dangerous of these tainted meals is pride. Few other creations in history have allowed us to see how "important" we (and our emotions, thoughts and opinions) are with such tantalizing immediacy as our walls, blogs, and tweet stats. There are times we check our wall, or our stats, because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus, and we forsake the true justification of who we are in the gospel for the false justification of who we are in the eyes of our friends. We do the opposite of what we set out to do in the first place - we serve ourselves instead of God and his people.
Pride creeps in through wall postings, profile changes, tweets, status updates, etc. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with mentioning what we are thinking, how we are feeling, where we are having lunch, or who we are with, we would be well served by checking our hearts before we do. Are we sharing this information to give people a helpful window into our lives as we seek to live out the gospel, or are we unwittingly (or even quite wittingly) enticing our friends toward coveting the life we are living? Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth posts.
So what's the answer? Well first, let me be very clear in that it's not to abandon these social resources God has given us to communicate and connect. Blogging, tweeting, facebooking are all excellent grounds on which we can enjoy, explore, grow and flourish in life. Can you imagine the gospel revival, and the call back to the worship of Yahweh if the Christian community invaded Facebook, took it over, and used it for exaltation of Jesus Christ and glory of God?
I'm not even saying everything we post has to be a Bible verse or, "Praise the Lord…" Those things would be great (and we should do them) but it's even more basic than that. I don't even have Facebook, but I so often hear of people posting:
• Life sucks
• I hate people
• Why don't all of you get a life
• My car is my baby
• Different abbreviations for swear words (or phrases)
I know of people (not from our church) who have actually publically ripped their church on Facebook. I've seen some Christians rip others publically on Twitter and in their blogs. Please understand that when people hear us claim we are Christians and then witness us express ourselves in such negative, hateful, materialistic ways, it is impossible for them see their need for the gospel – and so they don’t believe in Jesus.
So what's the answer -
1. Think before you post
Don't use such public forums to vomit up your emotions. It sounds simple, but stopping to think about why we are about to do what we are about to do is an amazing sin-killing weapon. Use it and use it often. It has been a great help to me.
2. Consider "fasting" from social media for a season
While this may seem extreme, in light of Jesus' counsel about tearing out our eye if it makes us sin (Matthew 5:29), fasting seems like the least we could do to expose the true condition of our hearts. If we are flatly unwilling to consider it, that should tell us something.
3. Believe the gospel
Make your solid theology soundly practical in daily life. If, when we are tempted to go to the fleeting approval of man to shore up our insecurities, we instead go to the approval of God that is ours in Christ, the approval unaffected by the abundance or absence of re-tweets, we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.
Calvin was right. The heart is an idol factory. But at this intersection of technology and idolatry, pull the plug on the bad and keep the good.