Jan 28, 2011

Facebook is making us sad

Slate has posted a great article called facebook is making us sad reporting on a study which reveals the sub-conscious impact that social networking sites can have on our sense of well-being.  The article is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The conclusion of the study is that we feel anxious and even depressed whenever we compare ourselves with others because we almost always think that our facebook friends are doing better in life than we are. There is nothing new in those feelings but maybe Facebook exacerbates the problem because it suggests that everyone else out there is leading the perfect life.

Brian Houston makes us sad

Of course there is a Christian version of this. At the extreme end of it is the health and wealth message of men such as Brian Houston of Hillsong Church.

Houston’s book You need more money: Discovering God’s amazing financial plan for your life could only be written by a rich Western Christian. I would love to hear him try to persuade the persecuted Christians in various Islamic countries that God has a purpose to bless them financially and make them rich in this life!

Here’s a taster:

If you are applying the Word to your life, God will bless you with prosperity and good success.

And then again:

Take a bit of time to think this through and if you still aren’t sure that God wants you to prosper, ask yourself these questions:

If God didn’t want you to get wealth, why would he give you the power to get it?

If He didn’t want you to be wealthy, why would He take pleasure when His people prosper?

And why would He promise prosperity and success if He preferred us to remain poor?

Or how about this under a section headed ‘Get comfortable around money’

It is time to relax and become confortable around money. You need to stretch yourself and position yourself right out of your comfort zone.

For example. it may involve a little exercise like putting on your best clothers and ordering coffee in  a fancy restaurant or hotel lobby. Even though you could make the coffee for half the price at home, the total experience may enlarge your thinking. You may even feel better about yourself and life.

Now not only is this simply unbiblical and dishonours all those who have suffered great loss for the sake of Christ (has this man even read Hebrews 11?) but it is a dangerous teaching which also has devastating pastoral consequences. What message does it communicate to those who are struggling to find work, or to the retired wondering whether they can put the heating on as they try to make ends meet on a state-pension. What message to the single mum struggling to raise her children because her adulterous husband walked out of the marriage for another woman? What message to the church in parts of Africa or Asia who face economic disadvantage and discrimination because of their faith?

Such teaching is a million miles away from the Bible and has the effect of making those Christians who are sold such nonsense deeply sad because the only logical consequence of Houston’s argument is that they are missing out on a promised blessing in this life either because of disobedience, a lack of faith or a God who has chosen to withold his promised blessing from one person but not another for reasons no-one can fathom.

The gospel that rejoices in sadness

On Sunday  I am teaching on Matthew chapter 5 in which Jesus says not blessed are the rich but rather:

Blessed are those who mourn, who are meek, who are persecuted because of righteousness. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Why can Jesus say such things?

v.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It’s not just facebook that may make us sad as Christians, it is life in a fallen world and life in which we suffer loss for Christ’s sake. But we have a sure and certain hope because we have received a great promise from King Jesus – great is your reward in heaven.

Russel Moore makes a broader point in his challenge to the church;

Our most “successful” pastors and church leaders know how to smile broadly. Some of them are blow-dried and cuff-linked; some of them are grunged up and scruffy. But they are here to get us “excited” about “what God is doing in our church.”

Our worship songs are typically celebrative, in both lyrical content and musical expression. In the last generation, a mournful song about crucifixion was pepped up with a jingly-sounding chorus, “It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!”

And he challenges us to face up to our sadness whilst we wait for the coming of our King who in his time will wipe away every tear from our eye. Russel Moore again;

By not speaking, where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion—including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation—we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile through it all.

The gospel speaks a different word though. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). In the kingdom, we receive comfort in a very different way than we’re taught to in American culture. We receive comfort not by, on the one hand, whining in our sense of entitlement or, on the other hand, pretending as though we’re happy. We are comforted when we see our sin, our brokenness, our desperate circumstances, and we grieve, we weep, we cry out for deliverance.


  • Great article.

    Houston’s views are mind boggling!

    I think Facebook does make us sad, but because we’ve become dependent on it – phasing it out of our lives, or limiting our time on it, can be an even more painful process.

    A bit like giving up smoking – in the short term it’s very difficult, but worth it in the long run.

    Not that we should give up Facebook completely of course.

    • Thanks Dave. Houston does seem to live in a different universe from the one God describes in the Bible and from that which most of the Christians in the developing world live in or at least that was the case when he wrote ‘You need more money’. I don’t know whether he has changed his views at all in the meantime – I certainly hope so.

      I don’t think Facebook makes us more sad than much of TV (which in a similar way suggests there is a lifestyle that you ought to have but don’t) or some lifestyle magazines and there’s plenty of evidence that they are mind-altering in the same way. But it does mean we have a battle on our hands as Christians to ensure that our identity is rooted in who we are in Christ and the real promises we have in him.

      Take care mate.

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