I stopped using instagram about two years ago. Then, I stopped using Twitter as my new year’s resolution. On some level, I realized that these apps were consuming my time and making me a less happy, more anxious person in return. As an outsider looking in, the amount of times that someone in my life has had a relative or parent become transformed through social media grows with the days. It seems almost ironic how a technology that was supposed to connect people more effectively has, in some respect, begun tearing them apart. Being connected to others is great, but no one stopped to consider what kind of relationships could be fostered online. The resulting digital landscape can often leave people feeling more isolated, self-conscious, and valueless than anyone could have anticipated. However, there is always hope. The bible offers keen advice for fostering not just connection, but true community.
Unlike most of my peers, I actually didn’t get consistent access to the internet until I was in high school. For better or worse, this distinction provides me with a certain level of perspective. I was someone who went from seeing the world plainly to someone dropped into a new era where performance and reality start to blend together. I watched as friends and acquaintances grew more and more involved with the technology in their lives. Some people were able to adapt and use this new digital paradigm to their benefit, others struggled to try and gain footing in this new age. The only common thing linking these people and their relationship with technology is the fact that digital social relationships would become more and more important as time marched onward.
When the pandemic hit, no one saw just how much technology would become a central facet of everyday life. Classes went online at my college near the end of the school year. I assumed we would be back next fall. Then fall came, and next winter, spring and so on. During that time, I spent a lot of time talking with friends and family members online. Even so, I could not abate a growing and pervasive sense of loneliness, a sentiment I’m sure others experienced during this period in time as well. Being limited to mainly digital forms of communication began to expose just how much of the digital world exists as a reality unto itself. The internet is a place where anything is possible, but also a place where authenticity is hard to come by. It’s nice to be seen and heard, but fully appreciating others for the qualities that make them unique is almost impossible when you also have to cut through the fog of artifice that pervades social media.
The biblical solution to this problem of connection despite obfuscation is eloquent and simple. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Matthew 22:39 is one of the most famous verses in the bible but it is also one of the most important. In the final days of his life, Jesus visits the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem and stops to speak to a crowd of Pharisees, Sadducees, and lawyers. During the speech, a man asks Jesus what the most important commandment is. The man was a lawyer and a religious man which alludes to the personal and cultural significance of this question. Jesus replies simply “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
The first part of this statement has become so foundational to Christian belief that it is almost a given, but the second and equally important part of the statement can be harder to put into practice. Yet, out of the hundreds of laws that make up the Hebrew legal system, these two laws were selected as the most important. One cannot help but ask why?
At the heart of this plain statement lies a simple emotion, empathy. You might not know everything about the situation that another person is in, their life could be great or incredibly hard. It is easy to focus on disparities like these when empathizing with others but this is merely a distraction. We are all human beings living here together on this planet, we are more alike than we realize. On that most basic level, we are connected. We’re born, breathe, eat, sleep, and eventually pass away. Through this experience of living we are connected and as followers of Christ, this experience is precious since it was given to us when God first breathed life into Adam.
One of the reasons that I believe we are first instructed to love God with all of our hearts is so that we can learn our value as creations of God. One the other hand, the reason that we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves is because they too are creations. Appreciating others as not just sources of affirmation, love, or entertainment, but as unique individuals created and loved by the same God who created us provides a pathway to more genuine, authentic relationships both online and in life.