Sometimes children don’t understand the word impossible. As a kid, I loved re-engineering the flow of streams, rivers, and trickling creek beds. If my family happened to spend a lazy day next to a flowing body of water, I did my best to divert the flow of that water. If the river ran swift, I tried to lessen the course of the stream or the intensity of the rapids. I’d stack boulders, rocks, and pebbles to form deeper channels or dig through the sand to create new pathways for the water. If I worked in a small trickling creek, I’d try to stop the flow of water altogether, possibly enlisting other shovel-wielding kids to dam the waters back with the hope of briefly ceasing the forward flow of all water.
Eventually, nature reestablished dominance and the stream once again set its course, widening the gaps in our makeshift dam, washing away our day’s progress. Kids grew tired, admitted defeat, parted ways, and headed home with the stoic realization that nature will outlast the best efforts of even the most enthusiastic children. No one can stop a stream from streaming.
Social media is an endlessly raging, widening, deepening stream of opinions, ideas, and information. On average, every minute of 2019, users tweeted at least 474,000 tweets on Twitter, uploaded 69,444 photos and/or videos on Instagram, posted 510,000 comments and liked 4 million posts on Facebook, conducted 3.5 billion searches on Google, and watched 4,333,560 videos on YouTube. This technological torrent is so overwhelmingly vast and pervasive that talk of influencing the social media waters can appear daunting or downright simplistic.
Any call to change internet culture or to substantially transform the way we communicate online can look as foolish as a handful of children trying to hold back or reroute the Mississippi River. Our best intentions seem like child’s play in the face of these expansive, angry, divisive, raging social media waters. Honestly, some of us fear that if we wade into the rough online streams, we will be pulled under or swept away. Consequently, many of us approach the negative realities of social media with futile complacency, accepting the raging torrent as an inevitability.
Every believer is called to peacemaking. However, social media technology actively works against the ministry of peacemaking. Nonetheless, we must resist social media fatalism and reject online cynicism. No matter how strong the destructive stream, we must never give up or give in to worshiping the idol of inevitability. We must reject the myth of endless decline. Throughout history, visionary people have rejected such fatalism and through their efforts, transformative, reconciling miracles have occurred at both individual and systemic levels.
These individuals looked beyond the decay and with hope-filled imaginations and prayerful convictions, contended for better possibilities.
We may live in a world where information and darkness flow vigorously through social media platforms. Regardless, we don’t exist like little children working against the inevitability of an endlessly flowing stream of negative information. We are a different stream! We who call upon the name of Jesus have living water that will bring life to any situation. We don’t push
with futility against the corrupt or contaminated waters; we bring new, pure, life-giving water to every circumstance. We release a greater torrent of transformative water upon the earth.
Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” ( Jn 4:14).
We wade into the streaming torrent of online negativity to bring a new source of life to the stream. We stream the life and light of Christ, the reconciling good news of the gospel, the transformative love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We confront destructive online activities with the kingdom of God that flows in us and through us. We position ourselves to be vessels of God’s good news, ambassadors of his advancing kingdom, messengers of his transformative grace. No matter the world’s negativity, no matter the insurmountable problems we face, we boldly emanate God’s transformative love. We actively engage social media, confidently believing our engagement will advance the reconciling purposes of God.
We cannot change everything overnight. However, we can radically change the way we abide with each other online if we prayerfully listen to God and take Spirit-led steps that welcome the reconciling presence of God. To do this, we must be intentional, persistent, and brave. We must commit to the ministry of online peacemaking, regardless of the temporary or long-term obstacles we face. This requires us to search our hearts, examine our motivations, and proactively develop a strategic plan to better communicate and abide online in a manner that
advances the reconciling purposes of God.
We have only begun to see the strengths and weaknesses of social media communication. Although we’ve developed patterns of communicating with each other, those patterns don’t have to be normative or universal. We can actually work against the habits we formed or those technology has formed in us. This will take work, but the gospel is worth necessary work. Even if many have grown accustomed to dehumanizing, divisive social media communication, we do not have to make these realities customary. We can develop countercultural movements that provide a better way of abiding online for present and future generations.
None of us possesses enough natural ability to solve our current social media woes. We’re all ill-equipped to bring peace to conflicted and complex environments. Even so, we can place
our confidence in the power of making room for the reconciling presence of Christ. I have hope in the presence of Jesus. I know that even when we face profound disconnect within ourselves and between each other, we can still find positive ways forward if we contend for environments that welcome the loving presence of Jesus. To reveal Jesus, we must keep the goal of peacemaking a central motivator for our communication. Jesus made himself known to me and provided me with a peace that passes understanding. Therefore, I will do everything in my power to make Jesus known in every social media interaction. The peace I received I freely give.