A few weeks ago I wrote a blog focussing on the problem of using the language of ‘them and us.’ Instead of seeing our common Humanity, sadly many dehumanise those who are different to them. In that blog I asked a number of questions about why injustice and racial prejudice continue, recognising that these are also global problems.
I argued that the Church needs to speak prophetically into the cry for racial justice and equality bringing God’s perspective; I also explored a few helpful examples of what Jesus said and how He ministered. In this blog today I want to specifically look at how ‘Them and Us’ is manifesting online, consider this in the context of what the Bible says about the last days, once again seek to present Jesus’ perspective, and explore the nature of human friendship as a possible way forward.
Social Media and the Internet are amazing ways to connect with others, learn about issues, and to be engaged by the great, and often not so great, topics of the day. Anyone who engages online will quickly see funny videos, pictures and the comments of ‘Facebook friends,’ news and newspaper feeds, and just about everything we can think off, plus many things that that we shouldn’t watch or think about. Why? There is also the outworking of the darker side of human nature – even the downright evil.
We are living in an age when people are becoming more entrenched in their views, less respectful, more prone to use vulgar language swearing and cursing at others, and more sexually promiscuous. The amount of profanity on Social Media is really sad. Watch any video thread and before long you will hear people using the most profane language shouting at others and being aggressive.
What the online reality is telling us is that society, whether here or in many countries, is divided, fractured and polarised according to race, wealth, ideology, politics, culture or religion. Instead of respectfully listening to others and really trying to hear what the other is saying – people shout at each other and misunderstand the intent of the other.
Social Media, particularly the comment sections on it, have become a place for venting, for attacking other views and other people, for using the language of division. If you don’t agree with me – I will shout at you or write against you. Character assassinations and deliberately misrepresenting another’s views have become the norm while using strident terms which label another or identify them as hateful, ignorant or stupid is commonplace. As a result a number of people are closing down and saying nothing, withdrawing or burying their heads in the sand afraid to engage in case they become a target. Others simply say, ‘don’t talk to me.’
The Last Days
The Bible has a lot to say about the Last Days and how terrible society in general will be. It is worth doing a study on what the New Testament in particular has to say. I want to highlight today an example found in Paul’s words to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NLT), about the nature of society in the days before Christ comes back. It is worth reading the following:
‘You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. 2For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. 3They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. 5They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!’
I will not exegete the passage, that is for another time, but suffice to say that there will be difficult times for God’s people – also selfishness, greed, arrogance, rebellion against God, and governing authorities, family strife, blasphemous words and behaviour, lack of self-control, cruelty, pride, unforgiveness and holding to a form of anti-Christ religion will be prevalent. ‘They will betray friends’ is a terrible indictment.
Words of Jesus
Christ is still the ultimate hope for each person. As we think about moving from a ‘them and us’ society towards a more ‘we are in this together’ one – this is only truly possible as god originally intended when a person is born again in Christ. Jesus stated that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind, and the second equally important one is to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).
Most people quote the second commandment without ever referring to the implications of the first. It is only as we truly love God, only truly possible by a living, real relationship with Christ, are we then enabled to love our neighbour and ourselves without prejudice, selfishness or ulterior motives.
The Power of Human Friendship
What does it mean to be a true friend? It is important to state that friendship with God is the basis of developing human friendships. Everything we need to learn about being good at the personal and relational are developed in how we walk with Jesus. There are three recurring themes in classical and Christian writings about the nature of friendship:
- Love – friends phileo love you – when it’s easy to do so and also when it is difficult. This love does not overlook nor condone illicit behaviour, challenges it when appropriate but is a strength for life
- Mutuality – friends encourage each other, support each other, are accountable to each other and grow in character together
- 3. Responsibilities – they share life together.
I believe it is important to reflect on the power of friendship to change the prevailing ‘Then and Us’ narrative – there is power in being intentional about making friends – the power to heal division and create a bond of trust. The following may be helpful in trying to become better at developing lasting friendships. It helps us to understand the nature of friendship, what is involved at every stage, and how to become intentional in developing this most human bond. I have listed six levels below:
- The first stage is the most basic – a person who we say hello to when our paths cross – a totally non-personal interaction and which is not relationally based
- The second level is Facebook Friends who are only friends on Social Media. This is often only a surface deep friendship when you get to see what people want you to see. Sometimes people send you friend requests on Social Media because you are connected to someone else – sometimes it is because they believe they will gain something from you – other times it can be that some of the people on Facebook only have online ‘friends’ and the more people they say they have as Facebook friends, the better they feel about themselves. Rarely does our interactions on Social Media platforms become personal or relational
- An acquaintance who we meet at times and talk to because we live in the same street, work together in the same company, or socialise in the same venue. This is still a non-personal and non-relational stage
- The Casual Friend stage is when we start to develop what could be termed as a friendship. This stage usually happens around work, an activity, hobby or in church. We can talk to each other about the things that we are jointly interested in. It is still a non-personal and non-relational human engagement. If the person is no longer around – we will never contact them nor keep in touch, we soon forget they ever existed.
- Friend stage is when we begin to invest emotional capital into the friendship – we begin to plan our meet ups, share more of ourselves, and develop bonds of trust; willing to share our pain, joy, hopes and weaknesses with others. Trust becomes deeper and we are drawn into a common bond of seeking to help the other to reach their goals, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and are willing to hold each other accountable.
- Close Friend is a rare stage. We only have a relatively few of these levels of friendship during our lives. The people we develop this level of friendship with are often friends for the rest of our lives who know us, sometimes better than we know ourselves. They see that part of us that we are ignorant about because we only see ourselves from within, but they also have the perspective of seeing the bits of us that we are oblivious to. There is a vulnerability to this friendship, and yet great strength in it. It is completely personal and relationally based.
We are living in extraordinary days. Society is emerging, partly through the power of Social Media and the Internet, into an even more polarised place where everyone has got an opinion, everyone thinks they know and understand the issues, and everyone is clear about what, and who, they like and don’t like. The language and lifestyle of friendship, reconciliation and moral integrity are increasingly difficult to get people to listen to and to live out. On a human level – this really concerns me; as a Christian I also recognise the power of God’s prophetic words in Scripture about the Last Days and rest in His faithfulness and purposes in Christ.
As a Christian, I am challenged to think about how I engage with other people. There is always a cost in doing so – am I willing to pay the price to create a more ‘we are in this together as friends’ society? I can’t control how others react to me or think of me, but I can control how I engage on Social Media, the example I set, and how I go about building strong friendships. I know that only Christ can transform the human heart, but He ministers through the power and presence of His Spirit – most often revealed in the lifestyle, witness and ministry of His people. Father, save, heal, cleanse and renew human relationships in Christ. Amen