How to live out our faith in a digital fishbowl

There’s an old cliché that the famous live in a fishbowl. Every facet of their lives seems open to the public, and countless have fallen from grace as a result of the increased scrutiny. I look at the world in which they live, grateful that people aren’t paying nearly as much attention to the details of my life. That’s not because any skeletons are in my closet, but rather because it’s nice to enjoy a bit of privacy. I imagine the same is true for most of us.

Still, that hasn’t stopped nearly three-quarters of us from putting a good chunk of our lives on social media for all to see. We pity those who live in a fishbowl, then voluntarily sign up for the same treatment. And while few of us will ever know the pressures of being constantly hounded by paparazzi, every little thing we put on the internet is potentially there in perpetuity. An offhanded and otherwise innocent comment can easily be screenshot and shared with the world to define our lives by a single sentence.

That’s not to say that social media is an inherently negative force in our culture, but rather to point out the way it has fundamentally changed how we relate to other people. As Yahoo‘s Garance Franke-Ruta writes, it has “reshaped how we have conversations with one another, moving casual speech from the auditory ether to the realm of the written. And it has vastly expanded the audience for conversations that used to happen in small communities of relatively similar people.”

Essentially, whereas people used to openly discuss topics in an environment with the added security of knowing just how far the conversation would go, now countless people who have never met us are often privy to every thought we choose to share. While there is some level of accountability to the situation that can prove helpful, it also inherently limits the degree to which we can engage in an open and robust dialogue on issues about which we might disagree with one another. As a result, the temptation is often to engage only with those who share our thoughts on a particular subject.

While living in a metaphorical echo chamber might make life a bit safer, it also makes it all but impossible to grow as people. As author Eli Pariser warned, remaining closed off to the perspectives of others is essentially “indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.” That sort of lifestyle is unacceptable to the God who tasked his people with being a light to every facet of the world around us (Matthew 5:13–16).

Of course, Scripture is also clear that we are to be ambassadors for Christ as we shine his light on a culture increasingly adverse to receiving it (2 Corinthians 5:20). So how are we to represent the Lord well to a world that often focuses most on the times when we don’t? Ironically, our best witness is often found in embracing our mistakes or, more precisely, the grace God gives in the midst of those mistakes, rather than in living a perfect life.

As Paul makes clear, God’s grace is never an excuse to sin (Romans 6:1–2). Still, the people who devote the most energy to pointing out the mistakes of others are often the ones struggling most to find freedom from their own mistakes. They tear others down because they don’t know any other way to look them in the eyes.

Our God chose the opposite approach. He willingly met us in the depths of our depravity so that he might then lift us out of our sin and restore us to a full communion with him. While we may not always represent him well, we must never let our mistakes—or even the fear of making a mistake—prevent us from sharing that message with a fallen world that desperately needs to hear it.

Social media places all of us in a fishbowl to some degree, and odds are we will all say or post something we regret over the course of our digital lives. What we do from that point will often define our witness, either for good or bad, to those watching from the other side of the screen.

Post wisely.