Grasping at Smoke
By now, we know the dark side of technology-the impatience, loneliness, and comparisons it breeds. News stories and study results seem to remind us each day of its dangers, and thankfully we’ve been given tools to help take action.
We set up apps to limit screen time. We trim our friends lists. We mute words in an attempt to hold back controversy. We can feel the hope of freedom, yet despite our best efforts to control our news feeds, each time we we get done scrolling, we still feel a pull of despair.
We can’t seem to shake it off through disciplines or strategies because it’s embedded in the very nature of our feeds.
This despair weighs us down each time our finger scrolls past first-day-of-school photos followed by the news of a friend’s miscarriage. It ignites our anger while we see a beautiful eulogy for a friend’s grandmother beneath an add for hair dye.
In our haze of scrolling past an array of contradictions we are forced to ask, Does anything even matter?
Does it matter that the painful end of marriages affecting children for a lifetime will scroll so quickly past our fingertips? That we could be a society who so quickly elevates the latest viral sensation, only to quickly drop them and run for the next?
We watch as news reports tells us about shootings in a Wal-Mart or the devastation from a hurricane while a sponsored post scrolls by promising our best tan.
It all feels meaningless.
Despite our best efforts the feeds we scroll past will always bombard us with a litany of contradictions. Joy next to deep sorrow. The ridiculous next to what should matter. Whether we realize it or not, the constant confusion takes its toll on us. We sign on to keep up with friends, but underneath, the overwhelming information leaves us feeling meaningless.
An Old Story
Lest you start to think this is the straw that broke this generation’s back- this is not new. Though the technology has changed- the story is still the same. You see, though we may not realize it, each time we open up our social media accounts we get a good dose of Ecclesiastes. In this book of wisdom literature, King Solomon repeats that life is “hevel.” The word is often translated as meaningless, vanity- or more precisely, a vapor. Like a wisp of smoke, it is here. Then gone.
We see that smoke in our feeds. It’s seen in people and relationships that come and go. It’s seen in new fads, trending stories, celebrities- one day gone and the next lost. It’s seen in authors fighting for a platform, or YouTube-wanna-be’s clamoring for their fifteen minutes. It’s seen in the constant wave of contradictions we take in each day.
No wonder we find ourselves fighting depression, loneliness, and anxiety. No wonder we see generations searching for identity in anything they can, whether it’s their sexuality or the latest cause. We all scroll through our phones grasping for a stronghold, and we find only smoke.
We may not be able to live like King Solomon, but the small box in our pockets hold a vast world to reflect on. And that world is meaningless.
The fact that the death of an image-bearer can so easily go unnoticed in the midst of our busy feeds keeps us wondering with Solomon on the “futile life that [we spend] like a shadow” (Ecc. 6:12). When we can’t quite reckon the sorrow of devastating news with the latest reality show gossip, we too mourn along with him that the race is not always to the swift or riches to the discerning, but that “time and chance happen to all” (Ecc. 9:11).
Our stronghold in the smoke
While social media forces us to face our futility, we must not forget the hope that is ours. Because the story does not end with smoke. Solomon sums up his thoughts on life by penning the final verse, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc. 12:14).
Everything is meaningless. But everything matters.
The friend who struggles faithfully through chronic pain is not just another update in a thread. She matters. The grandmother whose funeral has passed and seems forgotten so quickly- she matters. The faithful plodding of a writer hoping to encourage one person- his small obedience matters. The vitriol spilled on the pages of the internet that we take in each day- those evil words matter. Nothing, whether good or evil, stays secret from our holy God.
Since God created us with purpose- our tiny vapor of a life matters. And because He brought us out from the death sentence of our sin by the blood of Jesus, our life once again has meaning. Our transient lives no longer end in destruction, but our future is with Christ.
For now, we live with the extremely hard next to the beautiful, and we will see these realities in overload each time we grab our phones. But we don’t have to stay discouraged. The good news of Christ reminds us that we await an eternal glory with our Savior (2 Cor. 4:17-18). And it reminds us he is working his purpose in his children amidst every seemingly forgotten, short, and tiny piece of their life. Because of the gospel, everything matters.
Remind yourself of this each time you log off social media and start to feel the pull of discouragement over its futility. Remember the God who will not waste anything, whether it’s good and forgotten, or whether it’s wrong and awaits judgment. He is the stronghold we are searching for, and he will not fail us.
We can push away the smoke that blinds with the truth of the gospel. Then we can go back to tell those still lost in it.