Last year the word selfie – (noun, informal) “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” -became the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year and while it is not yet included in the OED it is being considered for future inclusion. All of this because both the term and the practice skyrocketed to the higher echelons of popularity in 2012. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a plethora of other social media websites have since been inundated with selfie after selfie as people compete with one another for likes, retweets, favourites and shares.
There is nothing inherently wrong with taking a selfie, remember those old-school photo booths we use to get passport photos at ridiculously exorbitant prices? That’s a selfie! They were providing selfies before the iPhone came along.
But it’s not all fun, games and the occasional selfie. There is a dark impetus in our hearts to be self-centred; to be overly concerned with ourselves: how we see ourselves, how we want others to see us whether that be physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. Most of us care deeply about what others think of us. It’s not just that we want to be loved and approved of but that we need to feel the love and approval of others. This is a legitimate desire because we were made for unfailing, unchanging, unending love and approval. The problem is that we look for it in all the wrong places: from our family, our friends, from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The difficulty with trying to find unfailing, unchanging, unending love and approval in these places is that they are incapable of providing love and approval in these measures because we know that we ourselves are incapable of giving love and approval in such quantity and quality so why should we expect others to do what we ourselves cannot?
Before Jesus began his public ministry he went to the river Jordan to be baptised by his cousin, John. Afterward, he was praying when heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended, resting on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven proclaimed:
In this moment, God the Father was publicly reaffirming the unfailing, unchanging, unending love and approval he had shared with his Son from all eternity. But he was also doing something profoundly subtle. As Christians we have been adopted into God’s family, made sons and daughters, through faith in Jesus and because of this we too share in Jesus’ Sonship and consequently God’s declaration of unfailing, unchanging, unending love and approval toward us.
On account of our adoption through faith in Jesus God the Father is able to say to us, “You are my son/daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” And through this same faith we are able to believe this declaration about ourselves to be true.
Our new relationship with God through Jesus is a reality we need to continually reaffirm in our hearts and minds because it is so easy for us to forget when we are bombarded by our natural proclivity toward fixating on what we think of ourselves or what others think of us. The sad truth is that our hearts and minds naturally gravitate toward our self-perception instead of the new identity and relationship we have received from Jesus.
As we consider whether our selfies are really just a form of self worship let’s remember Jesus: God’s selfie and that the world is his stage, not ours.
We are not the hero, Jesus is.
As we learn to “fix [our] eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV) instead of ourselves we will be able to say with Paul,
“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4 NIV)
The weight of others’ opinions, and our own opinions of ourselves, will fade as we relinquish the belief that this is our story and instead enter into Jesus’ story wherein we can experience the unfailing, unchanging, unending love and approval of God. We are enabled to do this as we incarnate Jesus’ story in our lives through reading, and meditating on, Scripture, prayer, and sharing in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will consider these practical means of grace in more detail next week because further elaboration is necessary in order for us to really benefit from them.