When I first got involved in social media like Facebook and Instagram, I considered the whole thing just a novelty and a passing fad. Like the toys under the Christmas tree when we were kids, I figured we’d all get tired of the phenomenon very soon.
But then I found myself getting hooked. How cool to be able to regain connections with people all over the world – whether high school and college friends, distant relatives, or previous business colleagues.
At first I marveled that social media had clearly brought me closer to people I’d grown distant from. Yes, it was distasteful when people used the platform to post photos of their “perfect” family or engage in political diatribes. Yet I was generally able to filter out the unwelcome content and enjoy the rest.
Then the whole thing jumped to a whole new level. Facebook added “Facebook Live,” enabling people to engage in real-time video messaging. And soon my smartphone was enabling me to have FaceTime video calls with friends and family on the other side of the world.
For us baby boomers, it was just like participating in an episode of The Jetsons. What could be any better?
However, the coronavirus ordeal has caused me to reconsider my elation over these benefits of social media. When we first went on lockdown, social media and technology like Zoom conferencing seemed more important than ever. With social distancing in effect, technology was the only way to stay in touch with people or do any kind of business or ministry.
But now I’m seeing another side of the picture: There are certain needs that just can’t be met through technology. Screens are simply not enough. And anyone who self-quarantines long enough is bound to go crazy at some point.
Famed COVID-19 commentator Dr. Anthony Fauci has suggested the unthinkable: Personal greetings like handshakes may have to become a thing of the past. Forever gone. Far too risky in the age of pandemics!
Can you imagine? The custom of humans shaking hands has endured for thousands of years – but no more, if some people have their way.
Meanwhile, the Phillips paraphrase of Paul’s instruction in Romans 16:16 says, “Give each other a hearty handshake all round.” A literal translation involves even more bodily contact, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (NKJV). While no one has ever been able to explain to me what a “holy kiss” entails, I’m pretty sure you can’t successfully do it on social media.
While email, Zoom, and FaceTime all have their merits, there are some things that are best communicated in person. Although Jesus’ apostles thankfully left us some great content in their written communications, they also recognized that “paper and ink” had limitations:
I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete (2 John 1:12 NLT).
I rejoice that technology like Zoom and YouTube have made it possible for church leaders to address their parishioners during the current lockdown, but let’s be honest: It’s not enough! While it may be the best we can do right now, in the long run people need handshakes, hugs, pats on the back, and face-to-face communications.
So it’s fine to stay “in touch” through technology when necessary – if that’s the best form of communication available. But let’s not forget that people will ultimately need other kinds of touches as well.
A friend tells me that everyone needs 18 hugs a day in order to remain emotionally healthy. Wow. That may be a very difficult target for many of us to hit, even under the best of circumstances. Yet make no mistake about it – God designed touch and physical affection to be an important part of life.
Some have described Jesus as “God with skin on Him.” Instead of remaining the invisible God, Jesus came into this world as the “touchable” God. In fact, one of His names is “Immanuel,” which means God with us. He refused to be aloof or socially distant from the inhabitants of this sin-sick planet.
And now we who are His body have an opportunity to follow the incredible example He set. Even amid a pandemic, we’re reminded of our calling in this world to be fully present, fully engaged, and touchable.