The world of Facebook has its own language and culture. And lies. To someone new to social media, it’s like touring around a foreign country. You’re not sure what to consume, where to go, or who to talk to. And to make matters worse, you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not.
As a rule of thumb, I suggest this: assume at least a tiny lie lurks behind everything you see. If Facebook is anything, it’s the land of opportunity for presenting to the world an edited version of ourselves.
Inside scores of smiling family photographs is a couple who’ve been sleeping in separate beds the last few months. Behind many boastful status updates about successes at work is a soul plagued by self-doubt and on the verge of career collapse. Optimistic, life-loving memes are posted right after popping the day’s antidepressant. A wife puts on her wall a picture of the dozen red roses her husband bought her, but doesn’t mention it's been two weeks since she discovered he was sleeping with his secretary. A pastor praises the work of his congregation on their Facebook page, but edits out the fact that he gets drunk after Elder’s and Voters’ meetings because he loathes this hellhole the Lord has stuck him in.
We teach our children to be careful what they post on social media because, once it’s online, it’s online forever. And that is sound advice. But we also teach—by our actions if not by our words—to be careful to post on social media only the edited version of yourself by which you want to deceive the world into thinking you’re better than you know yourself to be.
We’re seeking affirmation (“like” what I post), or love (PM a flirtatious message), or praise (comment on what a great job I’m doing), or attention (remark how I look pretty in this picture), or sympathy (tell me how sorry you are). Lurking behind so much of what we do on social media is the attempt to control what others think of us. We crave all the things above—affirmation, love, praise, attention, sympathy—but we know they can’t be ours unless we project just the right image. So we Photoshop our lives. We recreate ourselves online to be better, stronger, smarter, prettier, holier, or even more pitiful in order to elicit the responses we desire.
Whether we realize it or not, all these online, self-editing actions are nothing more than our admission that we believe that we are so deeply flawed that no one will love us just as we are. They will love us only if they see our good side, only if we are successful, only if we are happily married. These “only ifs” unveil a fundamental truth about us: we spend our lives in pursuit of that which is unattainable, all the while ignoring the fact that God pursues us with a gift he has already attained.
We pursue other people as god-like figures. We crave their acceptance and affirmation of us. We long for their acknowledgment, their love, their embrace. And so, online and offline, we wear our masks and do our self-editing to attain that goal. And when it comes, because we know that they accept and affirm only a fraction of who we really are, their response never really satisfies. We’re always wondering, “Yes, but what if they knew the real me? They wouldn’t like me then. Therefore, I must continue to edit, to Photoshop, to lie, to control my image in order to achieve the acceptance I desire.”
While we are pursuing this vain goal, God trails behind us with the very gift we desire already in his possession. He sees through the smoke and mirrors of social media; beneath the masks we wear everywhere from the boardroom to the bedroom; around the lies we concoct to make ourselves appear happier, healthier, and more successful than we are. He sees us as we truly are. All the self-hatred and self-love, the ugly envy, the doubt and despair, the dead relationships, the nasty fights, the pills and booze. He sees it all. And he loves us nonetheless.
But he loves us in a weird, God-like way. He loves us into death and back into life. He is a God who kills and makes alive. He finds us ugly and hurting and hateful and mean, and he wraps his arms around us and falls with us into a watery grave. There with him, in him, embraced by him, we drown. We die. We die to self. And in the shock of a lifetime, we open our eyes outside the watery grave, standing alongside our Lord, as newly resurrected people who are the apple of God’s eye.
The Lord with whom we die is Jesus, the Son of God. In that watery grave we are crucified with him. We die and are buried with him. We rise and live with him. And in so doing, who he is becomes who we are. He is the Son of God; in him we become the sons of God. He is beloved of the Father; in him we are beloved of the Father. He is holy, righteous, perfect; in Jesus we are the same.
All we sought to achieve by controlling our image was in vain. The image that brings true peace and contentment in life is not one we achieve but one we receive. It is the image of Christ, likeness to him, that we receive in the watery, crucifixion grave of baptism. There, in Christ, we are accepted, affirmed, loved, embraced by the Father. All of who we are—not the edited us—is enveloped in the Son of God, dies with him, rises with him, and lives with him. And that is no virtual reality.