According to a myth from Romania, when the Earth was first created, it was transparent, like glass. You could look down at the ground and see through it to the other side. According to this myth, after Cain murdered his brother Abel, he covered the transparency of the Earth so that he could hide his brother’s body.
Of course, this myth does not describe any physical reality. Yet, in a spiritual sense, it is true. God meant for creation to be a means of communication, of dialogue with himself and our fellow human beings. Like any good means of communication, it was meant to be transparent; it was not noticed, but we could look through it to see one another. We human beings are also meant to be transparent in
the sense that our lives are called to point people toward God; people who see us should see God working in us. This is what it means to be made in God’s image.
When mankind fell through sin, creation stopped being transparent. When we began to focus on creation not as a means of communicating with God and with others, but rather as an object in itself, as something for us to manipulate for our own sake, then creation stopped being a transparent means of communication with God.
This shift in our way of being in the world has two consequences: a loss of integrity and a loss of presence. Instead of acting with personal unity and wholeness, we become incomplete, compartmentalized people with totally different personalities in different scenarios, among different people. And our minds are constantly wandering, roaming everywhere other than the actual situations that we find ourselves in, a condition that prevents us from being truly open to God and others.
On its surface, social media seems to bring with it the promise of solving the problems that we are facing as fractured, distracted human beings. And yet, there is a growing awareness of the many dangers associated with social media use. Studies from top research universities around the world have shown that social media use tends to decrease our overall happiness and sense of life-satisfaction, to increase our perceived sense of social isolation, to increase the polarization of the political spectrum, and to make us more distracted than ever. Far from solving the problems that we are facing today, social media has become our contemporary way of expressing the incompleteness that we feel at the core of who we are.
The solution to this problem is not necessarily to throw away our phones and delete our Instagram accounts. Rather, the solution is to become transparent to God and others in the way that God intends us to be. This can only be done by “coming to our senses”; by returning to ourselves and cultivating an attitude of prayer that seeks to find God working inside us. As human beings created in the image of God, the best way to get to know God is to look inside of our own selves and see the things that He is doing there. When we come to understand the truth of who we are, when we return to ourselves and start to untangle ourselves from the distractions of the world, then we have begun to walk the path toward reuniting with God and with our neighbor.
When we rediscover who we are as redeemed human beings, our interactions with others, both in-person and in the digital realm, start to reflect the wholeness that we have found inside ourselves. There are a few practical steps that we can take to ensure that our social media use is not contributing to the “noise” that is so prevalent in the world around us.
First, we need to cultivate goal-oriented behavior in our digital lives. We need to look at our expectations in using social media and see to what extent those expectations are being met. Ask yourself “What do I want to get out of my social media use today?” If I know what I want to do by using social media, then I can see how well my current habits are meeting those goals, and I can make changes as needed. But if I am going into social media use without a clear sense of what I am trying to accomplish, then I am setting myself up to have my time, energy, and happiness wasted.
Second, we should try to make sure that our behavior online is consistent with who we are in person. Do we present ourselves to others in ways that are reflective of our whole experience, or do we only show the positive, scenic aspects? From the standpoint of our culture of Instagram influencers, this may make us bad social-media users, but that is a consequence we can accept.
For some people, the option of disengaging from social media as much as possible is a very viable one. But in and of itself, that approach cannot solve the problems that we face as fallen, fractured human beings. Only a real encounter with God dwelling in our hearts can do that. And if we have had that encounter, if we truly know God through having experienced His action in our lives, then we are free to engage with others in ways that spread that healing relationship.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of The Delphian.