Remember the good ole’ days when your social media timelines were filled with balanced, useful, and encouraging words from all your friends and family? Yeah, me neither! I find myself commonly thinking two thoughts as I scroll social media: (1) What were you thinking when you posted this?, and (2) What was I thinking when I posted this?
I don’t want to be overly optimistic but there is hope for social media. If we are going to notice any real change on our timelines it has to start with each one of us having some theological awareness. Specifically, what I am arguing for is that we discipline ourselves to filter our social media habits through the theological truth known as the image of God.
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
When we talk about the image of God we are talking about how God’s likeness is imprinted in us as created beings (Genesis 1:26). Human beings stand alone as beings created in the image of God (Psalm 8). No other being, whether it be an animal or angelic being, is created in the image of God. That being said, to be created in the image of God means that we are like God, not that we are God.
In a 2016 ERLC post titled ‘What does it mean to be made in God’s Image?’ David Closson convincingly argues that the image of God in man boils down to both who man is and what man does. First, when we think of the image of God in man as who man is we are talking about our capacities. Specifically, we have in mind our intellectual, emotional, and relational capacities. These are all things that are possessed by us because they are true of God, whose image we are created in. Second, being created in the image of God has to do with what we do. God not only gives us certain capacities He has designed us to use those capacities for His glory. Kyle Gangel summarized this aspect well in his post ‘My Worth and My Unworthiness’ when he says that God “commands each person to reflect his image by obeying his Word. […] We were created in the likeness of God, so that we might represent him as living, breathing pictures (images) of him.”
As a result of mankind’s fall into sin (Genesis 3) the image of God has been negatively impacted. We still retain the image of God in some sense (James 3:9) but imperfectly so. Rather than use our God given likeness to love God and serve God, we use our image bearing qualities to love and serve self. God transforms us through the Spirit to be more like Christ to restore image of God in us because Christ is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15-16).
How does the image of God impact the “big” things?
Being theologically aware that we are created in the image of God impacts how we see and interact with the world around us. For instance, as Christians we are quick to point out that the basis for racial equality and protection for the unborn is that all people are created in God’s image. Because we are made in the image of God every human life has intrinsic value, dignity, and worth. If being created in the image of God impacts how we see and do everything, its relevance cannot be isolated to just these particular big issues. We have to allow this theology to work its way through all dark areas of our lives and bring us into the light.
How does the image of God impact the “small” things?
One area we often fail to see the relevance of the image of God is how it changes our engagement on social media. The people we disagree with, or struggle to get along with, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect on the basis that they are created in the image of God. Our posts, comments, likes, shares, and retweets must be theologically aware of the reality we are engaging with (and about) those who have intrinsic worth.
To mock or ridicule someone through clever memes based on their looks, voice, demeanor, intellect, or personality is to belittle and attack the image of God. Furthermore, to capitalize on a person’s misuse of the image of God by mocking them in their sin is equally unhelpful. At the very least this type of interaction fails to communicate the grace and mercy of the cross. Unfortunately, how funny something is often takes precedence over whether or not it meets any other criteria before being shared. As image bearers we can choose to function better than this.
James actually makes a connection between our talk and the image of God in James 3:9, “With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (ESV, see below). We think our words are a relatively small thing but God has a much different view. Sometimes the things we think are small and insignificant are actually vitally important to God. Our words, memes, and likes are all part of how we communicate and they make up a sizable part of our lives. Our talk matters to God because people matter to God.
God hasn’t called us to police others on social media but he has called speak the truth in love and to help our brothers and sisters in Christ do the same. Here are a couple of questions to consider as we engage on social media:
- Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way degrade or belittle someone created in the image of God?
- Does what I’m about to say, like, or share in any way monopolize on someone else’s failings in order to make a point?
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.