New research about social media has proven what Scripture told us about ourselves some 3,000 years ago: whatever we pursue consumes us.
Over the course of two years, researchers from UC San Diego and Yale monitored the Facebook usage of 5,208 adults and the data showed using the social media platform decreased people’s physical and emotional health.
Significant time spent on social media also leads to “negative self-comparison” and gives the “illusion of closeness” to other people without providing any of the joy real-life, healthy relationships should bring.
“Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being,” researchers told the Harvard Business Review. “These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health a later year.”
None of that, though, is surprising. On top of the fact there’s been plenty of research to suggest there are dangers in disproportionate social media usage, Scripture — in both the Old and New Testaments — warns us against investing in that which cannot give us anything in return, in pouring our affections and attentions toward the worthless and temporal.
In Ecclesiastes 1, Solomon cautioned against pursuits in this world. “I observed everything going on under the sun,” he wrote, “and really, it is all meaningless — like chasing the wind.” Earlier on, he described everything on earth as “wearisome beyond description,” adding, “No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.”
The hollow promises of this world — like the ones we tell in our perfectly manicured Facebook posts and Instagram photos — will never bring us true contentment or satisfaction, but only a fleeting escape from our dissatisfaction.
Scripture, on the other hand, promises to never leave us empty-handed. In Isaiah 55:11, the prophet wrote, “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”
The apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:8, encouraged believers in Jesus to fix our hearts “on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” And in Colossians 3:2, he told us to set our hearts on “things of heaven,” putting aside the temporary desires of this world.
We don’t turn to social media, though, only to be distracted. At times, we open up our social media apps in hopes of finding justification, belonging, and praise — at some level, we all want to be liked.
There’s nothing wrong with our natural longing to be desired. The problem comes when we fill that emptiness with retweets and Instagram hearts, a cheap and speedy substitute for a God offering total approval, acceptance, and salvation to anyone who trusts in Him.
In John 5:41, Jesus told his disciples: “Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you.” Then, just three verses later, he said: “No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.”
These problems aren’t new or unique. They didn’t originate with Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. They began in Eden, when sin entered the world, continued into Jesus’ earthly ministry, and persist even today. Social media is just the latest tool the enemy uses to distract us from our good and loving God.
Social media and technology has value and is incredibly helpful. It has enabled millions — yes, literally millions of people — to have access to Scripture for the very first time in their lives. It has granted abused, at-risk, and incarcerated women the chance to hear and learn about the Bible from other women. It has connected the body of Christ in ways that have revolutionized how we see one another, giving those in the West the opportunity to pray with and for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the globe.
But just as with anything, moderation is key.
We need to see social media as a tool to be leveraged for the Gospel, for good and for spreading love. Social media offers valuable opportunities to connect with one another and to foster community. But it can’t give us fulfillment in and of itself; it can never bring peace, joy, or lasting satisfaction. It can, though, point us to the God who promises all those things.
The amount of time and treasure we pour into social media is a good indication of where our affections and attentions are.
“Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal,” Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-20. “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”