Being a cynical person has its perks. Bogus “miracle” products don’t fool me. Fads or re-hashed trends don’t sway me with their hip pressure tactics. I didn’t fall for mom jeans in the ’80s, and I’m not falling for them now.
Persistent doubt has spared me from crushed expectations and helped me view the world accurately in its fallen, fractured condition. But while I’d like to chalk it up as godly discernment, I’m learning that cynicism isn’t the most Christ-like outlook on life.
God has been showing me recently how unchecked hyper-criticism harms me, mistreats others, and, worst of all, offends Him. To expose this sin, he chose an unexpected tool, one that routinely tempts, tries, and vexes me: social media.
I’ve written before about my tension with social media, especially Insta-sham, er, gram. Even though I recognize that content is curated – that people are trying to tell a story or display their art or “find beauty in the mundane” – it’s still jarring to me. I want to know real people sharing real information about themselves, or who are teaching actual truth from Scripture.
Over time, my approach to social media degenerated from skepticism to spite, particularly toward other female Christian bloggers, writers, and speakers. I’d scroll through my feed and feel contempt rise in my throat like some vile aftertaste. As my fingers flicked the screen, my head screamed at each post: “Fake! Fake! Fake!” I judged the content they chose to share and assigned them horrible motives: “She’s just trying to drum up followers,” and “Her posts tickle ears to get more likes.”
Pretty nasty stuff. That’s what happens when you accuse others of the same temptations and sins that challenge you.
In the throes of pessimism, I forgot that people using social media are real people – with flaws and failings and masks they try to use to obscure their junk. But that’s true of anyone. Who among us can cast a stone against deception? We’re all guilty of faking goodness, whether on social media or in “real” life. But we’re also invaluable human beings made in the image of God. Those who know him are continually being refined, just as I am, and are tripping along the same path of obedience, just like I do.
Bad attitudes like this are hard to break. When you’re wired for criticism, your judgment reflex is as snappy as they come.
Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how to consume social media as a realist, and as a Christian. Scripture urges us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). God gave us brains and his Word; we should use them to pierce the inspirational façade sheltering bad theology.
But attributing impure motives to Christian writers or influencers goes beyond discernment to the point of projecting logs in others’ eyes. Assuming the worst about people doesn’t make me a better Christian; it makes me a more hypocritical one.
If you’re cynical like me, you might struggle with similar hang-ups over social media. You suspect others’ words are disingenuous, and perceive their photos as staged. The showy nature of visual platforms simultaneously intrigues and repels you, drawing you in with aesthetic appeal, yet frustrating you with lack of credibility. Or maybe I’m the only Negative Nancy in the room.
The problem before us naysayers is a matter of weight. How can we tread nimbly along the true/false tightrope of social media, steadied by equal parts wisdom and grace?
For perfect balance, we know where to turn our eyes.
Jesus knew the extent of human depravity, yet he treated others with dignity and compassion. He healed a chronically ill woman deemed unclean because of her blood. He called the most loathed member of society, a tax collector, and invited him to eat together. He held a private nighttime rendezvous with a critical, questioning Pharisee. He spoke gently and directly with a woman who had sinned, repeatedly, and remained unfaithful and restless, never quenched in her thirst for love.
Christ’s attitude toward others wasn’t glass half-empty or half-full. He was fully aware of the darkness, fully surrendered to the Lord, fully given to save lost souls and grant them abundant life through union with Him. His commission to us, as his followers, leaves no room for doubt: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Sin is a given for everyone using social media. We don’t need to highlight it, and certainly don’t need to invent and ascribe it to others. Only God knows the true intentions behind what anyone posts. We can trust him to convict his children as he sees fit, not according to our assumptions.
I thank him for reminding me that the Christian woman on the other side of the screen isn’t merely a persona; she’s my sister in Christ. She hasn’t “arrived,” and neither have I. We’re both redeemed, yet still struggling; saved for eternity, yet stuck in the flesh.
For those of us who need to swap our dour shades for freshly cleaned lenses, we can learn from and apply Ephesians 4:29 as a filter for social media output and intake: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
May we see what is good, excellent, and praiseworthy about our sisters and brothers online and give grace to those who post.
[Photo courtesy Becca Tapert on Unsplash]