We live in a virtual world. Some people’s lives on social media and online computer games feel more real to them than their real lives. “My online persona/avatar is the real me.” In this virtual climate it can be difficult to grasp the actual. We’re challenged daily with the meaning of “real.” Is the traditional sense of real really “real” or do we assign with our minds and emotions what is “real?” Have we lost altogether the meaning and sense of “real” and who really knows anymore? Who cares?
Online has never been “real” to me. In my early teens AOL stormed the world. I still remember the cheesy commercial promoting their platform and the CDR that came in the mail so you could install AOL on your home PC. Everyone had a “handle” and you could talk to friends from your bedroom all night on instant message. I wasn’t allowed to get a handle or even an email account of my own. So I missed that induction into virtual living.
Then in my late teens, blogs and blog networking sites came onto the scene. I had my own blog on Xanga that I was very proud of at the time. Most of my posts were abstract observations and veiled cries for validation, but a couple of friends read it so I felt I had left my mark.
In my early twenties social media was born and suddenly everything had to be “Facebook official” to be real. Suddenly you weren’t friends until you were friends online. I waited 6 months after our university campus was added to Facebook (back when it was only for college students) to make my account. I felt completely left out those 6 months and peer pressure prevailed. Every event or cute group outing had to be photographed and uploaded before 24 hours had passed. All crushes were stalked by yourself or your roommate. A double life needed to be maintained to mirror or augment your real life.
All the social media fragmented and fractured from there and we fractured with it. We had many platforms to maintain and fill with witticisms or filtered pictures in order to prove we were worth the air we breathed. You had to have so many friends to be cool, so many likes to be awesome or so many views to be somebody. I couldn’t keep up, it was too much emotional effort to keep proving myself over and over. I stayed on Facebook and let the Mississippi of the times pass me by.
About 4 years ago I quit Facebook too. It had turned into keeping tabs on my painful past, reading various soapbox rants, and reading recipe articles from clever mom-bloggers. I realized it was unhealthy to silently watch the lives of people who were basically strangers now. It was demoralizing to start every day with a myriad of rants. The only positive from my Facebook was the occasional message from my cousins living overseas, and the recipes. I could email my cousins just as easily, and I could look recipes up, or better yet, create my own.
I made my real friends my friends. I made my actions my “Facebook official.” It was time to let go of the double life and pursue the true meaning of “real.”
If it’s this hard to navigate virtual vs. real in our daily lives, how much harder is it to navigate the same tension in our spiritual lives? God isn’t Facebook official, He doesn’t send us email, or post pics of how adorable the cherubim were in the throne room this morning. Once I had a youth group girl lament, “Why can’t God just, like, text me?”
Isn’t that the problem? God is an actual God, and we’re an increasingly virtual people. God is a real person, actually moving and doing things in our lives and hopefully our churches, if we let Him. God is moving in our actual present. If we want to spend time with God we have to stop whatever it is we’re doing, and be still to spend time with Him. We have to stop being virtual and be actual to meet with an actual God.
Part of being actual involves action. You can “do” or say something online, but it doesn’t change real life. So in our minds we feel like we did something when in actuality we tapped a small computer with our thumb. This feeling conditions us to build up good intentions but not really do anything about them. We talk a lot about our intention, “Look in the sky, there is my beautiful castle of intention, and I’ve put a lot of work into construction.” We feel really good about our intentions, we’re good people for having good intentions. In the end though, it’s just a castle in the sky. What have we really done?The blurry lines of virtual vs. real life makes action important.
If you read the book of James, he has a lot to say about faith without works. To put it in gentler terms, faith without works is like an apple tree without fruit in the fall. James describes an interaction between someone in need and a Christian. The person is in need of food and clothes and the Christian says, “I wish you well, keep warm and well fed.” But he doesn’t do anything to feed or clothe the person in need, just sends him off with wishes. James says, the wishes are useless to this real person in real need! (James 2:14-16 NIV) Christ would’ve given His last morsel and His shirt, so should we. This is the context of the famous verse, “Faith by istself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17 NIV)
We may feel spurred on into action by James, only to fall flat on our face in failure. Maybe we act on an intention, but it doesn’t turn out as lovely as the castle in our minds and it’s disappointing. Luckily Paul is there to pick us up again. In 2 Corinthians Paul describes a thorn in his flesh that he prayed to be removed, but was not removed. Some theologians think it was a sickness, some a harassing spirit, some an area of failure that he couldn’t overcome but no one really knows what it was. The third time Paul prayed Jesus answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9 NKJ)
Paul’s comfort is our comfort. Our actions always seem to be smaller and less effective than we thought they would be when we first set out. We’re just people faced with mountains armed with faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our small actions activate something in the actual real world. The Holy Spirit takes our small action and does more than it would’ve done on its own. Our weakest action with God does more, reaches more than our best action on its own could ever do or reach.
We offer our five loaves and two fish and Christ feeds five thousand. We commit to pray for an unbeliever and that person becomes a believer which then spreads the gospel to a nuclear family, which then raises an evangelist who reaches the world – all from one person praying for one person. The work of the Holy Spirit is exponential. All we have to do is do something actual. Then the actual God does it with us through the Holy Spirit, and lives are changed. Families are changed. Countries are changed.
A real relationship with God isn’t a one way street. Yes, we have to be real, present, and actual to meet God, but He had to do some actual stuff and He continues to do actual stuff to meet us too. Christ actually came to earth as a baby, grew up, ministered, died on the cross, and rose on the third day. Jesus bled actual blood on our behalf.
No one really likes to talk about the blood and the guts anymore. If you’re an older millennial, like me, the movie Passion of the Christ came out right at the end of your formative years: old enough to understand and young enough to be traumatized. Why can’t we just pass over the blood and get to the grace? Because, we’re flesh and blood, and we can’t get to the grace without the blood. We’re real and the fight for our hearts and souls is fierce. Christ came and did something real to redeem us.
When sin entered the world, the consequences of sin entered with it. We live with the consequences of our own sin and the sin of others. All these consequences kill us a little more every day, until our life becomes a life of a thousand deaths. Our hearts are broken over and over until we are no longer living, but subsisting. In order to save us from our real and present struggle with this life of a thousand deaths, Christ came into our reality and died, letting His blood cover over our sin and death until it was dissolved and gone. Our broken hearts can be rebuilt in Christ and we can live again. The actual God actually bled to actually save us.
The reach of Christ’s blood is not limited to the past. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Rev. 4:8 NKJ) God was in the past, Jesus was in the past and is promised to come again. So that covers “was” and “is to come” but what about “is?” God is omnipresent, present throughout all time. He is present at all times. God is. God is now, He is actual and real today. Christ’s blood dissolves the sin of the repentant heart now, today, this very hour.
Once we are saved and in Christ the Holy Spirit can be invited to fill us and be with us as we walk in faith. He is present, with us now. The Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts and we are enabled to become the hands and feet of Jesus. We can speak actual words from God to others. We can hold someone’s actual hand out of love from Christ Jesus and communicate that actual love to others. Through the Holy Spirit we can join in the actuality of God and co-labor in His actual work of love and redemption. Every minute becomes an experience of the “is” of the Lord God Almighty.
The God who is breaks the power of loneliness. God is with you now. He’s still here in the next minute, the next now. When you invite the Holy Spirit into your heart and your life, He does life together with you. The God who is changes everything.
How empty and futile the virtual world seems in light of the magnitude and real-ness of God. Our actual despair and loneliness can be eradicated through the love of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. His companionship can fill our days with joy, and contentment in Christ. We can stop proving ourselves virtually and just be enough through the grace of God. Better still, we can share this with others, find people with which to exist in the actual real world and participate in the actual real work of Christ. We can be real friends, Christ-official, with living memories in our hearts of the glory of God and His amazing love that is with us now.