With over 2.8 billion users worldwide – over a third of the world’s population – social media is fast changing the way we communicate. In the U.S. alone, the percentage of adults using some form of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or LinkedIn, has risen dramatically, from 8% in 2005 to nearly 70% in 2018.
Increasingly, churches are among those realizing the benefits: bible apps for regular reading and study, community groups networking for prayer and service projects, blog posts for social engagement, and even the latest sermon post, with discussion questions.
Discernment and Social Media
Yet many point to social media – and the smartphone in particular – as a significant factor in disconnected relationships, a “suspect technology” replete with minefields of temptation. And while this isn’t limited to teens and their friends, they say, many parents admit to vacillating between imposing a rigid list of smartphone rules and throwing their hands up in despair.
In a recent piece entitled Social Media Isn’t Your Teen’s Biggest Problem, Kristen Hatton does a great job pointing out that amidst a plethora of social problems – from drug use and perfectionism to depression and eating disorders – social media and smartphones aren’t the foundational issue. While this may come as a surprise to many, Jesus points out that any negative behavior always has deeper roots:
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15).
The Heart of the Matter
This is not to say that rules to limit temptation aren’t necessary. Yet it’s only when we see these behaviors as symptomatic of a deeper root problem – the idol-making human heart which continually defaults to seeking a life apart from God – that we begin to address the real source of our motivations, desires, dreams, and lusts.
The reality is, our hearts crave an identity – to be approved of, accepted and loved – to fill the “God-shaped” hole. Ironically, we only find this, as Kristen notes, when we “peel our eyes away from self and look full into the face of the One who’s work in our place was perfect. Our soul will feel its worth only when we see Jesus for who he is—and who he is for us.”
Social media is indeed revolutionizing the ways in which we communicate, broadening our networks and rapidly increasing the flow of communication. But the answer is not to label communication tools as “evil” (after all, we noted how many are using them for good), and to become moralistic about their use, but to address the root desires that affect what we’re really looking for through them.
In a world where we all have “selfie hearts,” may this deeper diagnosis lead us to a place of greater freedom, self-forgetfulness, and grateful service.