Helmut Thielicke and Social Media

To begin, here is an excerpt from Helmut Thielicke's book The Prayer That Spans The World: Sermons on the Lord's Prayer. It is from the sermon entitled "Hallowed Be Thy Name."

"When a man gets away from God he becomes like someone who is deprived of the sun and is therefore artificially isolated from the element of life which is part of his nature. Then symptoms of decline immediately begin to appear because the life-giving element is lacking. This is a fact that can frequently be observed in everyday life; for example, in workers who are cut off for days from the sunlight or dwindle away in unhealthy factories, or even our brethren in the Far North. When this happens, a paralyzing weariness and listlessness settles down upon a man. He is literally cut off from the source of life.

So it is not surprising that he seeks artificial stimulants; he swallows caffeine, or he gives himself a lift with nicotine or a coke or vitamin pills. But the bit of specious life that he stirs up in himself in this way is only a delusion. In the long run he only becomes more miserable, and as time goes on his hangover becomes worse and worse and returns at shorter intervals - unless he leaps into the sunshine and restores connection with its life-giving rays, unless he goes back to his real destiny, which is to live beneath the sun.

And this is exactly what happens to the person who separates himself from God and goes into the far country where he hopes to be independent and run his life on his own steam. He runs away from the sun, to which he belongs by nature, and thus robs himself of its life-giving power.
Then he tries (he simply has to try) to get along with artificial stimulants. He whips himself up with ideas of duty, he submits to the knout of the eternal 'Thou shalt,' the scourge of the Law. He attempts to galvanize himself by pursuing great examples and ideals, or he may turn to some very cheap anesthetics and stimulants. The cheapest of these may be ambition: for example, the will to impress his fellow men at all costs, to put on a show and 'be someone.' So he tries to arrange everything he has as skillfully as possible in the show window of his life, and there can be no doubt that this passion for the show window can produce all kinds of exhibitionistic accomplishments that make people gape and gasp, 'Oh, how wonderful!' 
But we must realize very clearly that all these things are merely artificial stimulants.

Even the honest people who have tried this have found that they, too, get what I have called the 'hangover' that comes from being deprived of the sun. They have found that they got nowhere, that something central was lacking. Why else should the rich young ruler have run up to Jesus and asked him what he was lacking, and why, in his quiet moments, he was always falling into that disillusioned, crapulent 'headache' that comes to the moral activist. (For there can be no doubt that he had this 'hangover headache,' even though we could describe it more politely and discreetly by saying that he had come to a 'critical point' in his inner life where he needed the help of a pastor.) And Jesus proceeded to tell him straight to his face: 'One thing you are lacking.'"

There is much here that is good and worthy of discussion but I want to highlight only one thing.

Thielicke identifies the effects of being cut off from our source of life, whether that be our sun or our God, as "paralyzing weariness and listlessness." These are all too common maladies modern individuals suffer and I do believe that much of it is caused by being cut off from our source(s) of life.

We suffer these from being cut off in an ultimate sense; being cut off from God. We also suffer these from being cut off in much more proximate senses as well: From community, family, ourselves, and nature. We are meant to live in communion with each of these five things and each of them supplies us with both life and identity. In the absence of such connections we do experience paralyzing weariness and listlessness.

But what do we do about it? Clearly we are not all sitting around paralyzed and doing nothing. We feel these things, but we move on. How?

As Thielicke notes, in the face of these symptoms we turn to artificial stimulants.

Our world is awash in options for those seeking out artificial stimulus. Some, perhaps extreme, examples include drug addictions, video-game addictions, and pornography addictions. Thielicke, however, goes further. He mentions material stimulants but his focus is primarily on behavioral stimulants (duty, legalism, and idealism are the first three he mentions). Then he comes to consider what he calls the 'cheapest of these': Ambition. Specifically, ambition with the goal of impressing, of putting our lives in such an order that we cause those who see to be impressed.

Read the second last paragraph I quoted above.  Does that sound like social media to anyone else? Or is it just me?

"But we must realize very clearly that all these things are merely artificial stimulants"

What if, for many people, social media is becoming, or has become, an artificial stimulant taken in order to mask the symptoms of living apart from our rightful sources of life?

One thing you are lacking... 

No comments: