We’ve all been there; we’ve all seen it. Three beautiful children, a handsome husband, the new Lexus making a slight appearance in front of their Anthropologie-esque home with their new puppy making its debut on your Instagram feed. One of these pictures was in my feed recently. The caption read “I’m so in love with these people. #Blessed #Godisgood.” In that moment I was genuinely thankful with her. Then I glanced down to read the comments.
“You’re so lucky.”
“You ARE blessed!”
“God must be so pleased with you.”
“How do you look that good?!”
"God HAS been good to you! I’m so happy for you, if only I were that lucky!”
Then I thought of all the people who didn’t comment. . .the burned out mother, the lonely single woman, the spiritually destitute and the financially broken. Were they happy for her too? I hope, for their sake, the answer is yes.
Matthew 5:4-6, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."
Clearly these verses are not saying that those who have things of this world, comfortable relationships or pretty pictures are blessed. If this mom didn’t look like a beauty contestant, if her children didn’t make it through childbirth, if her husband had lost his job or a train crushed that Lexus, would we be so quick to proclaim and celebrate God’s blessing upon her? If she posted a picture of the chemotherapy room, would that have been the same caption and hash tags and would those have been the same responses? I hope it would have been. My intention is not to be shallow or judgmental, but bring to our attention what it is we are displaying through our social media moments.
It leads me to ask the question: does she say #Godisgood only because her family has all the things, looks, money or the appearance of familial bliss? Let's think the best of her and say probably not; we all know it can’t be picture perfect for her all the time. But if we really believe that blessing is more than worldly comforts then why are we so quick to name those in our social feed as “blessed” when we see them traipsing children around in designer outfits posing for the world to see their amazing life? Should they hide their happiness under a bushel? Well, no. Should they let it shine? Possibly, but maybe not.
Proverbs 23:4-5 "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle."
James 1:10-11 "But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business."
What should our response be to this thriving social media world when, as Christians, we shouldn't be striving for worldly riches like outward beauty, fame or monetary things?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautiful picture. I can even appreciate aesthetically what some social media conduits have been able to accomplish. Shauna Niequist wrote an article in Relevant Magazine about being honest with your Instagram and choosing community rather than comparing yourself to others. She wrote, "Some days it feels rich and multi-faceted. I learn and I’m inspired. I find recipes I want to try and stories I want to live. I feel connected and thankful to be part of such an intelligent and creative internet community."
And to all that I say Amen!
The concern, however, is what we view as good or blessed. We cash in on sinful desires to look great in the eyes of the world, lust after someone else’s gifts or social medial capital, when instead we should be asking: what are we really trying to communicate with our pictures, comments and hash tags? Instagram can be both fun and encouraging. I certainly don’t want to write this just to get more people criticizing my child’s pictures or the food I need my friends across the world to see I am eating, and I often post pictures during some of the richest moments of my life. Partly because my phone is my only camera, and partly because when we are overflowing with joy, God has made us to share that with others.
He created us so that we would be inclined to share him. But that’s just it. He created us to share with him and therefore with others our joyful, rich moments. Not just the things he gives us, but himself. I live in one of the most amazing cities in the world. People often confuse my life in New York City with the latest romantic comedy and have this expectation for what it must therefore look like on a daily basis. So let me be clear: city life is hard. What you don’t see are pictures of the legless homeless man trying to grab me, the trash on the sidewalks, or my two-year-old's melt down on the crowded subway. I don’t capture the spiritual battle of being a missionary in an incredibly hard city. I would probably never snap a sweaty selfie as I schlep groceries uphill both ways while looking like a pack mule. Most people don't want to see that mainly because our culture has inundated us with a certain definition of beauty. If, on the other hand I did post that, it could also come across as a desire for people to feel sorry for poor me.
In light of this, should I limit other's exposure to my feed so that I'm not tempting them to think more of my life than they ought? My brother gave a great example. He said, "I can post a pic of our new car. People in my Life Group know that I drove my previous car to 200K miles and we bought this one with cash from a family member for far less than it's actually worth. People I went to HS with and haven't seen in 15 years could be jealous of what looks like a $25K car. We don't have enough relationship with the latter person for them to understand how I acquired the car." Is posting things like this the same as wearing tight fitting or revealing clothes that tempt others towards lustful thoughts? Do we confront in love the social braggarts as much as we'd call out the friend who wears low cut shirts?
How do we do we live a life worthy of Christ with our social media? How do I strive for honesty and holiness and genuine, authentic relationship, and keep up photo ops for grandparents thousands of miles away and glorify God with all of it?
1. Consider others.
There are 38 “one-another’s” in the New Testament. That means there are 38 commands in Scripture of how we should treat other people. Seriously. Google it. Read through them. Do any of those commands stop you from posting that picture. . .more than that, does it change your caption? Does it change the content of your pictures or the way you comment on others? On the other hand, do you remember that the beautiful woman may not have a beautiful marriage? Do you hate her when she has something you don’t? Do you assume she is trying to rub it in your personal wounds?
2. Consider yourself.
I don’t mean that as, “Consider your own needs also.” I mean, check yourself. What is your motivation? Is it ugly? Is it unhelpful? Is it unloving? If so, it’s not okay, but it can be (see #3). What is your main objection? I often don’t post certain things because I'm not naturally inclined to share with people I don't know well. Some of that is not sinful, but quite frankly, some of that is sinful pride. So consider your heart, are you loving others by displaying a God who is rich in love and full of mercy or displaying a God who seemingly gives out new cars?
3. Consider Jesus.
More than anything, consider who God is. If I weep for the hurting when I read your captions and comments, maybe rewrite it or address the comments. If we allow people to think we are amazing instead of pointing them to our beautiful God we are heretics and swindlers of God's glory. Everyone needs to know that God is faithful even when our lives don’t appear blessed. A Christian’s definition of being blessed should be different than the world’s view of being blessed. We are blessed no matter our circumstances if we are in relationship with Jesus in light of his sacrifice on the cross for our sins. In fact, I can, with full confidence, say that I am blessed even when my hair is dirty, I lose my job, my child throws a public transit tantrum, a parent gets a terminal illness or I can’t afford to go out to eat this week. It would be just as accurate for me to post a picture of another failed pregnancy test with #blessed as the caption. If you don’t understand this then I challenge you to study God’s character. C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain wrote, “When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.”
So, let’s use our social media outlets for the glory of God.
Yes: don’t compare yourself and do engage with real community which may be fostered on some level through social media. Remember that when God wrote his Word through men, He knew we would be faced with how to use social media. This means scripture is completely relevant to how our thoughts, actions and desires should be when using it. So let’s use God's Word to have this discussion. When we see those beautiful families posing for us to see their blessed lives, let’s be thankful with them. When we see people who think they are not blessed because they don’t have that, let’s pray for them, reach out to them and share the eternal blessing of God's grace. When we are posting pictures to get “likes” and followers because it will promote self-esteem instead of God-esteem, let’s repent. And then let’s worship God who has blessed us in deeper ways than just our circumstances and feelings; we are currently not breathing in the depths of hell like we deserve. Because truthfully, anything other than hell deserves a #blessed.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.