It is crazy to think that I joined Facebook almost 16 years ago…and it was SO much different then. You had to have an email address from a college to even sign up for the app. Most of my “friends” were my classmates that I saw almost every day. We share pictures of our lives: our family, our friends, our trips and our lives during the summer. We shared stupid videos and helped people get more land in some goofy farming game you could play inside of Facebook.
It crazy to think the way that this social media app was described at the beginning of the millennium doesn’t sound remotely like the app as it is consumed today. Gone are the days where your “friends” are the people you see every day in class. Now you only see your “friends” via the app. Sharing pictures and albums is rare (that’s for Instagram) because we share opinions now. Posts are oriented around political prognostications. Straw men are built up and then torn down. We paint a gloomy picture of the other side and try our best to fix them – if they would only listen.
The faces have all but vanished from the app. Now many of us would characterize our interactions these days on Facebook – and even Twitter – as draining, bombastic, caustic and volcanic. It has been bad enough for many (including myself) to have to take breaks from social media because of the toll it takes on our emotional and spiritual well-being.
What in the world happened? Did the app change that much that our behavior on it slid from cordial to “crucify” in under two decades? Not exactly. Facebook didn’t change as much as we did. Once the faces from our everyday life were exchanged for faces solely on a screen, we saw them differently.
We have traded people for profiles. Faces for followers. Being for branding.
Once we turn a “friend” into a digitized representation of themselves they are stripped of their personhood. They become easy to oppose and hard to love. We can label them, place them in a category and move on. That can become the mode of operation for our time of social media.
Yet, what if this social media age has seasoned the way we see others in the real world? Away from the screens and profiles, what if we learned the behavior of categorizing and labeling from the social media world only to have it shape our social lives?
That “what if” isn’t so absurd. It is all around us. Liberal or conservative. Woke or racist. Reformed or Fundamental. Black or white. The grey is gone. You’re either with me or you’re not. It is us or it is them. We’ve been conditioned to see someone as defined by their perceived label but that places us in dangerous place.
Labels are hard to love. And that’s why God reminds us of the fact that we are made in His image. Our identity and worth transcends our circumstances and our labels. We matter because He made us. He “fearfully and wonderfully” formed each human in the womb to display the works and wonder of God to the entire planet. The imago dei gives each one of us a personal, rich, robust identity and value.
But the imago dei does that for THEM as well. The them that don’t vote like me. The them that don’t look like me. The them that don’t fall into my subculture. God made them to display Him. That is the way that I am supposed to view them, treat them and love them.
Jesus descended to this broken world to save a bunch of rebels who wanted nothing to do with Him. He clearly knew we were weak, helpless and sinful. But he had compassion because He saw us as sheep without a shepherd. He saw prodigals who needed to come home. He saw us for who were are, not what we chose – and in doing that He died for us so we could be defined by His life and not our own.
His love is what brought us from death to life and it is in that same life He has called us to live:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” ~ Ephesians 5:1-2
He knows our past and our future. He knows our sins and shortcomings. He knows our hate and our hang ups. He knows everything that I am and everything I have done and He still loves me and died for me.
That’s my example of love. To willingly choose to love someone, even with all their mistakes in view. To see someone not as a sum of sins or opinions, but as someone who can one day be defined by their trust in a Savior. They’re not an idiot, they’re an image bearer.
Once we see people as more than labels, we are more likely to reflect to them the Lord that we love. When we love people like the image bearers they are we have the chance to show them the hope we have and the hope they need.