Season 3 of Black Mirror debuted on Netflix earlier this month.
The first episode explores a highly advanced technological future where people are attached to a digital catalog that represents all of what they’re perceived to be by others. This portfolio is showcased and available whenever someone looks at you in person. It then allows others to rate you anywhere from one and five stars based on an interaction with you, a photo you post to your social presence account or simply the way you look.
Tasha Robinson at The Verge writes, “The script, written by Parks and Recreation‘s Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, turns social platforms’ self-curation and validation-seeking into the backbone of a future society.”
Social media as it stands can be terrifying. But Black Mirror asks how much worse it would get if your physical being was at all times attached to this digital extension of yourself by exploring how toxic the subtle desire for validation through social media (and thus, social standing) can turn. The story follows a woman named Lacie as she strives to elevate her social standing in the world and compares her life against a higher-rated peer who projects an image of perfection.
Although you may not find yourself rating your peers with a five-star ranking system, your subconscious evaluations of the Facebook and Instagram profiles of your peers, and whether you withhold your likes or apply them freely, sends a message about whose media, or contributions to media, you value and whose you ignore.
Alternatively, you may compare yourself to someone who appears to have their prayer life together, seem like they’ve got their career trajectory in seamless order or just keep your eye on the Jones’ next door. How many times are they upgrading their car anyway? These seemingly natural assessments of comparison will erode contentment in anyone’s life.
But when left unchecked, this can be an especially dangerous practice within communities of believers. In 2 Corinthians 10:12, we are urged to follow the example of the disciples: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
A lot has been written about the danger of comparison but what do these comparisons do to your spiritual life? What does it steal in your ability to seek God? Recently, I asked these questions myself and I realized the answer is that it robs a lot more than we should be willing to give.
Subtle jealousy steals the identity you’ve been given in Christ.
Recently, Lisa Bevere spoke at a Bethel concert I attended and she said, “Once you realize who God created you to be, you’ll never want to be anyone else.” The words have been ringing in my mind since. I work with exceptionally talented and creative people. I also have extremely accomplished peers and my friends are beautiful in a myriad of ways, both inside and out.
In the midst of all of these people who are exceptionally cooler, more clever or even more gifted at communicating gentleness or love than I am, it’s easy to wonder what my own gifts are and long to be recognized for their gifts instead of my own.
I realize that this happens most easily when my eyes are not on Christ but on someone else. And this toxic way of thinking usually gives avenue to conformity. Whether it’s conforming to Instagramming the same photo of pool floaties you’ve seen all over your feed or conforming in dress, speech and style, looking at the lives of others too long is an easy way to lose the beauty of your own.
Subtle jealousy steals your peace.
With no judgement in mind, how much time have you spent in the last few months on editing your Instagram photos or retaking a photo for the “perfect natural-looking” shot? Has scrolling through your Instagram feed, or even walking into the myriad sequence of social cues at church, given you anxiety?
God has so much more for his children in mind.
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
When you find your desires and longings are stirred up when you see other people post “relationship #goals” or squad pics, ask yourself where the source of this desire is coming from. If it’s truly your heart to find a partner or you’ve been praying for more friendships, God sees these desires already and He’s the source from where all good things flow. He doesn’t resent your longings and you shouldn’t either.
Be encouraged that He hasn’t forgotten you. On the contrary, He delights in the edification and enjoyment that His children can experience through the good things available to people on earth like a feeling of belonging, a partner, fun memories or anything else your heart may cry out for.
The Bible exhorts us: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6)
But the reality is, your source for peace and satisfaction has to be God because all of the other things, and this is real in the lives of those in your social networks too, are temporal.
Subtle jealousy steals your story.
If we call ourselves saved in Christ, he effectively becomes the conductor of our life symphony. He’s the author and finisher of our faith, which means He has a pretty cool story for us in mind as we partner with Him to bring hope and restoration to the world.
When you’re watching the life of others unfold and are overzealous about how they’ve been handed gifts or a journey that is more desirable, you miss what God wants to provide you with. You also insult His goodness and wisdom because you’re telling Him that you as His creation are not good enough and that your own life is not interesting, He can’t work with it to inspire others.
That’s insulting to God, who created a world out of nothing, the most creative artist in the universe.
God wants the outward expression of our lives to be a “light on a hill” or a fragrance to others, calling them to know and get acquainted with Jesus. But more importantly, God is concerned with the transformation of our hearts and our growth as humans into the likeness of Christ. How is that going for you? What is He teaching you? What lessons is He writing on the tablet of your heart?
It’s essential that we check in on the inside of our soul to ask, “If our insides turned into our outsides one day, would we still be beautiful?” Subtle jealousies steal us from this ever-important work.
After all, your life may not look like someone else’s but with God’s touch upon it, it may very well have the same glory as a sunset. And that’s not something you can Instagram.