Imagine you’re not what you think

“Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see?” (Ps 94:9)

Despite the promises to shrink or even remove the geographic and social distance between us, social media is really just another medium for conveying images, only broader and more personalized. In contrast to television, where access is limited to a select group with the means to use it, all any of us need is a keyboard and an Internet connection and we’re in business, so to speak.

I’ve had visitors to this blog from places as far flung as Thailand and Seychelles (islands off east Africa in the Indian Ocean; I had to doublecheck to be sure). But just like you, they have only my words with which to form some picture of who I am, what I believe or how I live. Words which at best can only convey an image.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar,” the psalmist wrote (Ps 139:1-2)–probably 30 centuries before the Internet which, with a couple of clicks, you can now broadcast your thoughts to hundreds, thousands, even millions of followers.

But with God you can’t hide behind a clever, opaque screen name or avatar. And you can say whatever you want and proclaim whatever righteousness you imagine you possess and it will not deflect or eclipse the piercing, probing light of his presence as it searches your heart.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; If I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Ps 139:7-8).

All the media platforms we now have give us the ability to craft an image of ourselves with words, music, graphics, photos, video clips—almost anything can be the digital “dust of the ground” that parallels divine creation (Gen 2:9).  

In its most flagrant form, anyone with a mind to do it can construct a persona that is a complete fraud, such as the 9-year-old “influencer” whose penthouse backdrop turned out to be a vacant property her real estate agent mother made available as needed for a prop. Not a whole village, just a Potemkin penthouse.

But since “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9), we can trace the same impulse for crafting an image all the way back to the Garden. After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve had a newfound sense of being exposed, of needing to cover something up. “So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen 3:7). But at the same time they had no sense of how foolish they were to “hide” from God.

Fallen man is image conscious. But God was image conscious as well, though in a different way. God had created Adam and Eve in his image, but saw that image marred in the fall and replaced the fig leaves with something better: “The Lord God made garments of skin . . . and clothed them” (3:21). The skin for the garments required the shedding of blood, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).

In 1 Samuel 15 God sent King Saul to carry out what we would call a scorched-earth campaign against the Amalekites. Nothing, neither man nor beast nor great or small, was to be left.

“He [Saul] took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (1 Sam 15:9).

In a word, he disobeyed. In an echo of God’s question to Adam and Eve, “Who told you that you were naked?”, the prophet Samuel might have asked, “Who told you what was ‘good’ or ‘despised’ and ‘weak’?” As if you can pick and choose which of the Lord’s commands you will obey.

But then the writer provides an interesting detail. When Samuel goes looking for Saul to convey how the Lord was grieved by his disobedience, he’s informed, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor” (15:12).

There are no details about what the monument consisted of, if it was a tablet or a stone or something inscribed with Saul’s accomplishments on that day. It needn’t have been a naturalistic figure of the man Saul. Like any monument—including the ones being toppled across America recently—it would have been essentially an image conveying something about its subject, and whatever form it took it put Saul in the best possible light.

So, it is not surprising that Saul greets Samuel, not with a contrite heart, but with this: “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

To which Samuel simply pointed out the obvious: “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is the lowing of cattle that I hear?” (15:14)

What was this monument of Saul’s but another set of fig leaves? For we make ‘monuments’—images boosting ourselves rather than accepting the truth—to ‘cover ourselves’. Even our own self-image.

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Ps 139:12).

Note: I do not use social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. I’m not opposed to them per se, just not convinced of their value.

Photo by Pixabay

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