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Friday, 6 October 2017

The Incarnation of the Son of God - and Social Media

Someone needs to write a short play
Talking to a friend of mine who is studying theatre the other day, we realised the potential for a (short?) play to illustrate the limits of all social media - and the relevance of the incarnation of the Son of God to this modern problem.

During the very same conversation we met a friend who has teenage children: he bemoaned the distraction of his children by social media; social media's boast to connect peopled together was in fact causing anxiety and distress.

The blessings of social media
No-one can doubt that social media has brought benefits. We are able to "keep in touch" with friends and family near and far in the same way that letters, telegrams and the telephone did in a bygone age. The problems with social media are when it is used as a substitute for human contact, and here is why.

Three Big Problems 
(1) Social Media can easily be misunderstood. Electronic means of communication, and most especially short sections of text can be easily read wrong. There is simply not enough information for the reader to get a full picture. This is the central fault with every form of social media, all the way up to and including Skype/Facetime.

(2) Social Media is too intrusive. We can find ourselves at the mercy of anyone who wants to contact us, rather than having control over when we have the resources, the time and the energy to talk.

(3) Social Media is open to deception and manipulation. Since the information content is so limited, anyone can deceive. A family in chaos could give the impression to the world that everything was at peace through selective posts - and consequently give the impression to those that read the post that their own family life was poor by comparison.

The Incarnation of the Son of God
A Christian once wrote, "God has yet more light to bring forth from His Word", by which they meant that God's Word contains untold gems for the whole history of mankind, which would be unearthed at the appropriate time. A sentence here or a truth there, which we can simply not see the value of today, suddenly shines in a new world setting. This is one reason God's Word is timeless and eternally relevant.

It contained all the seeds for the destruction of slavery for example so that in the fullness of time, Wilberforce and others could see clearly the abhorrence of the new world slavery of their day.

Here is another example: on first reading, Paul seems pedantic - "But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (1 Cor 7:2). Why the "each man" and "each woman." Why didn't Paul say, "But since there is so much immorality each one should have a partner" and assume people would read husband/wife from the rest of the chapter and Bible? Because Paul was writing for all time, and for our time when homosexual behaviour is not seen for the wickedness that it is. He is being as pedantically specific as it is possible to be - no misunderstanding of that text whatsoever: a man for a woman and a woman for a man, not ever a woman for a woman or a man for a man! He wrote for our times.

The Word of God is eternal. "Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens." (Psalm 119:89)

The doctrine we need to restore for Social Media is the Incarnation of the Son of God in human flesh, and here is why:

(1) Speaking through words is good
God has spoken through the Scriptures, and words are good. 

(2) Speaking through other people (ambassadors/ prophets) is better
God used his prophets - real people -  to communicate his message. Rather than a purely written word, God sent real men who by their lives, words and often their actions added to the "bald" word. Ezekiel, for example, symbolised the siege of Jerusalem in a little play (chapter 4) involving a clay tablet and an iron pan.

(3) Speaking through yourself is best
As good as words and messengers are, the very best way to communicate is by yourself, your own, visible, bodily presence. A letter or an ambassador are secondrate to the presence of a king. God sent his Son in human flesh to communicate most effectively to us:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In the incarnation of the Son of God lies the greatest theological and philosophical resource mankind has to advocate face to face communication. Jesus spent three years with his disciples. He didn't write letters to them or ask them to attend talks, he lived with them day by day. This is what discipleship entails and requires - deep meaningful communication with others. 

Back to Social Media
No form of social media - including Skype - can contain the amount of information required for effective communication. God has given us faces and body language which communicate emotions to add to  pure words which can only communicate  propositional statements of fact or information. 

Texts can be misunderstood and used to manipulate because I can say in a text "I am feeling rotten" whereas in fact if you were in the room with me you could see I was fine from my face, my body language and my circumstances.

Physical body to physical body is the only way to communicate effectively: that is what the incarnation of the Son of God teaches us.

We all know that the only proper way to talk is face to face, but Christian doctrine provides the reason: God used face to face when he spoke to us. And heaven is wonderful, not merely because there will be no mourning or death, but primarily for this reason:

"Now the dwelling of God will be with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." (Rev 21:3)

 That short play must be written, and when it is, it will be a Gospel play.

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