In Part 1 of this three part series, “Facebook and Fellowship,” Mel Lacey explored the value Facebook can have when teens operate out of their identity in Christ. In this next article, she examines Facebook as an idol for teens.
While there are many positive and productive uses of Facebook it is important to note that Christian young people must, however, have a thorough understanding of the doctrine of sin when interfacing in the cyber world, always mindful of the implications and potential outcomes of their various interactions. An unchecked status post or a divisive throw away comment could be hugely detrimental to the truth and witness of the Gospel, and could be echoingly evident in the cyber world for ages yet to come.
A consequence for Christians living in a world that is terribly tainted by sin is the constant battle with idolatry, the desire to worship anything other than the living God. The temptation is to become worshippers of self, others or material possessions; worryingly Facebook can entice young people to do all of the above and more than that, it can create in its users a desire to be worshipped. Members can become ‘fans’ of celebrities, sport stars, politicans and other prominent people. They can also bestow their approval on others by clicking the ‘like’ button which appears under every public interaction – young people welcomingly recognise a similar response to their online actions as a vote of favour or popularity by their friends.
Indeed Facebook itself can become an idol; with Christian teenagers dedicating much more time and greater priority to their cyber relationships facilitated by Facebook rather than their spiritual relationship with God made possible through the Lord Jesus Christ. A familiar sight for many of us is teenagers checking in on Facebook on their smart phones or laptops, a process they will painfully repeat at every opportunity throughout each and every day. They habitually scrutinise or ‘face-stalk’ the profiles of others, check for responses to their status updates or recent posts and chat with friends about the trivialities of life. Is time that insignificant? Of course not it is valuable and precious, given by God in order for His people to live to His praise and glory. Every effort should be made to help our young people develop a theology of time, that they might understand the best way to use their time in a God honouring fashion, with an ability to discern the appropriate amount of time to devote self indulgent activities like surfing the web and the other many facets of life.
It is perhaps ironic that this particular social networking site is called Facebook; the question to be asked is which ‘Face’, image or identity of oneself is portrayed to the world? Sadly the anchor of identity for the Christian teenager is often loosened from its security in the person and work of Jesus Christ and allowed to drift aimlessly into the realms of post modernity. Reinvention then becomes the key in order for people to be who they want to be, and so Facebook purposefully promotes the possibilities of reinvention to teenagers who can form and reform their identity in accordance with what others think of them rather than what God thinks of them. The pressure to be pretty and witty or buff and tough is on! These things, while not wrong in themselves all contribute, especially during the teenage years, to a moulding of the ‘self’; this self then becomes the pinnacle of a teenagers identity.
Facebook highlights effectively the need, in this identity obsessed culture, for those concerned with the spiritual nurture and discipleship of young people to help them, from a young age, to clearly understand what it means to have their identity firmly and consistently rooted in Christ, so that they may then live out of that identity, confident in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and of their position and promised inheritance as children of God, living lives that are concerned to glorify God rather than themselves or others.