I learned a new word today courtesy of Tim Challies who wrote some advice for pastors on using Facebook. He commented that there is a risk of becoming discarnate by substituting an online presence for real in-the-flesh (incarnate) interactions with people. His use of the word ‘disincarnate’ immediately caused me to think of Christ as God incarnate (as I suspect was Tim’s intention) and now the Church as the body of Christ in the world, in contrast to the strange ethereal melting pot of ideas and outbursts that is the internet and social media.
We now even even speak of having an online or virtual presence, in effect creating (or re-creating) ourselves in our own image. The innate sinful human nature so exchanges the glory of God incarnate in Christ for a cheap lie (Romans 1:21-23) that the literal images we use in social media to represent our presence are perversely called ‘avatars‘ (the manifestation of a Hindu deity).
The more I ponder this, the more abhorrent our self-idolatry and discarnation of true relationships appears to my Christian mind. God became flesh and dwelt amoung us (John 1:14), the final commission from Jesus was to (physically) “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). As Christians we are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and while we are in the flesh we are to labour for the progress and joy of other believers (Philippians 1:24-25).
Both the first and second commandments of the decalogue (Exodus 20:3-4) stand opposed to the sort of virtual persona that is commonly used in social media and other realms of the internet. God delights to see truth in our inner being (Psalm 51:6) and out of such truthfulness we must not project a false image of ourselves into cyberspace.
Beyond that, we also need to humble ourselves in acknowledgment that it is only God who is omnipresent, only he can promise to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), we are finite — limited be both time and space. The nature of such limitations imposed by God should alert us to the importance of our physical lives and face-to-face relationships.