Matthew 5:29-30 (NLT)
29 So if your eye—even your good eye causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
Perhaps an appropriate 21st-century addition to Jesus’ warning given in Matthew 5 would go something like this:
“If social media causes you to sin, log off.”
In a Washington Post article, Jacob Brogan admitted that he is “ashamed of the way he is on Twitter.” The way he tells it in the article, almost everything about his experience with Twitter is a source of shame, from the things he writes on Twitter to his insecurity and the way that Twitter reveals his need for approval. He’s even ashamed of the fact that his mother has four times as many followers as he does.
Here is a link to the article.
His “clearest consolation,” he says, is that he’s “far from alone” in his Twitter-induced shame and he uses the example of ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, who was suspended after a Twitter fight with Penn State fans.
Brogan’s misgivings about himself and Twitter is his springboard to discuss shame and how it relates in the age of social media. And so, he repeats, he is ashamed of his Twitter persona and then adds “you probably are too.”
While Brogan’s self-examination is praiseworthy, it does make me wonder “Dude, why don’t you just get off Twitter for a while!” After all, what he’s describing is what moral theologians call an “occasion of sin.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent describes “occasions of sin” as those “external circumstances…which either because of their special nature or because of the frailty common to humanity or peculiar to some individual, incite or entice one to sin.”
Now, calling something an “occasion of sin” is not the same as saying that it’s the cause of sin. The cause of sin is human fallenness and the “perverse human will.”
But there are settings and circumstances that make sim more likely than others. That’s why the Apostle Paul urged Timothy to “flee from youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
On one level this should be obvious, the stuff of common sense. For instance, a person who struggles with lust shouldn’t subscribe to Maxim or pick up the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. In the same way, recovering alcoholics shouldn’t visit bars regularly.
But for some reason, it’s just not as obvious that our mass consumer and entertainment culture has become for many one big occasion of sin. For example, not long ago, the Lexus car company ran a commercial promoting their ‘F’ series saying “that the ‘F’ series will provoke lust, unleash wrath, incite envy, and elicit pride.” That’s four of the “Seven Deadly Sins” cover in just one commercial.
I’m not saying that buying one of these cars is a sin, but the commercial is just another indicator of how, to rephrase the old saying, “sin sells.”
It isn’t only the advertisers either. Most of the people and institutions competing for our attention these days do so by appealing to our feelings like fear and anger, as well as lust and pride. And virtually none of them urge us to think about what is pure, lovely, commendable or praiseworthy.
Now this doesn’t mean that we should automatically shun Twitter or any other social media. But it does mean that we should be aware of our weakness and be more intentional about how and where we spend our time.
Our adversary is, as Scripture reveals, a roaring lion, a predator ready to ambush us at our weakest hour. And just as zebras avoid places where lions like to hide, we should avoid those places and circumstances where we are the most vulnerable.
For some of us, that is social media. For others, it’s something else. Either way, the solution is the same: get out of there. Sometimes when we find ourselves on social media and getting into situations that we should not be in, our best course of action might be to hit the “flee” button.