Private World, Public World

In an age of social media, perhaps more than ever, what is whispered in the dark will be brought into the light

"Imagine if every thought that ever passed through your mind were projected up on a movie screen for all to see." Ever hear a pastor bring up that idea in a discussion of sin? Me too—more than once.

A couple of months ago, that image came to mind when word broke that Facebook had accidentally posted old private messages on users' public walls for all to see—amid widespread outrage and frustration. Just like on that fabled screen, private, closely-held information suddenly was broadcast in a way that was never intended—or desired.

The Facebook glitch also brought to mind these words Jesus said to his disciples:

"The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!" (Luke 12:2-3).

The topic here was a warning against the Pharisees, with their tendency to hide behind a false mask of piety. Now as then, leaders can be the worst offenders when it comes to hypocrisy. But it's all going to come out at some point.

Of course, "whispering behind closed doors" isn't the same as a private conversation—and there's nothing wrong with private conversations. In fact, there are many things right with them. When Facebook first launched, some took issue with the whole public "wall" feature: why write something intended for receipt by one person in a public forum, for everyone else to see? Why say publicly what could be said privately? And in a world where social networking can feel synonymous with over-sharing, there's some fairness in that question.

But we all quickly grew accustomed to this kind of public-access communication between individuals. It's most of the fun of Facebook—and Twitter, and social networking in general. Why? Because social media excel at enabling surface-level information-sharing and community participation. It's all about getting things out to the masses and having group-style conversations about facets of our private lives. But it's not so good at taking individual friendships deeper. That's why the majority of us utilize the public-forum functions more frequently than private messaging.

Social media, like many facets of modern life, stretch and blur the lines between public and private. Today we want robust private and public lives—the best of both, without the costs associated with either. This, I think, is why that Facebook privacy breach is relevant to Jesus' comments about private and public worlds. They're as pertinent today as when he said them because they emphasize two key facets of his call to holy living: authenticity and care with words. These may be even to harder to navigate today than they were in Jesus' day.

December 06, 2012 at 9:29 AM

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