Maybe you’ve seen the commercials for the various online dating sites. The latest claim is that 1 in 5 relationships begin on an online hook-up hub. Those stats seem exaggerated at best, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I can think of at least 2 different friends who are now married because of a dating relationship that began online.
If a relationship begins on the web, for it to authentically lead to a “real” romance, incarnated flames must eventually test disembodied sparks of interest. You can’t get married on the internet.
Over the past few years, I’ve become a social media guy. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and websites almost every day. At times, I spend hours interacting with others and producing web-content about Jesus. This sort of engagement stimulates my mind and pushes me to explore the intricacies of Christianity within Western culture. The internet is a gift to my faith.
However, I’ve noticed a subtle and dangerous tendency. To explain, maybe an analogy will help.
In both my high school and college friendship groups, love-boats often tossed and turned in the turbulent winds of unstable relational tides. This ebb and flow led several people I knew to difficult break ups with their significant others. Upon coping with such an identity shipwreck, many of my Christian peers found refuge in a spiritual lifeboat. Although the storms of life disrupted marital prospects, these friends found that Jesus still says, “Peace, be still.”
Many times, dropping anchor with Jesus is the most appropriate response to relational woes. Unfortunately, with this response sometimes came a phrase that still bothers me today: “I’m just dating Jesus now. He’s my only boyfriend.”
The danger of this approach to Jesus is that it quickly becomes an emotional fix by focusing only on attaching romantic feelings to experiences with Christ. This sort of faith quickly becomes consumed with one’s heart, filling the romantic void within, in spite of a lack of external intimate companionship. Jesus easily is used as an emotional coping mechanism until the next incarnated significant other comes along to set a new love-boat afloat. What is lacking externally is compensated for via a metaphorical fling with the King.
Something similar happens in our online life if we are not careful.
A tendency in my life is to become consumed by the jargoning that happens in the “Christian online world.” I say things like: Can you believe what so and so said? That article was so deep. I’m so embarrassed to be a Christian right now… I’ve gotta let my voice be heard! Time to sign a petition. I guess we’re not past the culture wars afterall.
By sitting in front of a laptop each day, I convince myself that such activity is adequate for getting my Jesus fix. I read inspiring items from my Facebook newsfeed, interact in theological controversies, invite folks to read my blog posts and articles – all the while neglecting the many Kingdom possibilities all around me.
An abstract, disembodied, web-based faith satisfies my longings to truly live empowered by the Spirit of Jesus in the real world. Or, so I think.
As stated earlier, the internet is a gift to my faith. I love blogging, reading, and relating to others about Jesus through social media outlets. A problem emerges, however, when the online sphere dominates my Christian identity. Just like a young adult declaring Jesus their boyfriend to fill a relational void, I attempt to get my Kingdom fill by dating Jesus online. Simultaneously, I neglect engaging in the ramifications of following Christ in my incarnated life.
Jesus invites us to be married to the tangibility of his Kingdom of love. I believe that, read about it on my laptop, and even sometimes buy the lie that my life is really sold out to such a vision. Often that vision doesn’t make it past my 13 inch MacBook screen. This lustful pseudo-gospel-life sometimes cheapens the depths of what it means to internalize and externalize the love of God.
I’m done dating Jesus online. I no longer want my relationship to God and my commitment to the way of Jesus to be mediated through the web. I desire a life shaped by spiritual practices that empower me to actually do the sorts of things I write and read about in Web 2.0. In so far that the internet serves as a supplement to my Christian faith and not as an insufficient substance, I still see its value.
But may I never again give into the lie that treating Jesus as a proverbial online boyfriend will bring about the Kingdom of God on the earth.
Take time today to walk away from the screen and sit under a tree with your Bible. Go for a run and chat with Jesus as you pass trees, cars, birds, and squirrels on the ground. Ask God how you might take Christ’s love into your neighborhood and city. And simply be with the Holy Spirit in the real world. Maybe the online dates will give way to a Kingdom marriage, a whole life lived with and for Jesus Christ.