Don’t Believe Every Cool Thing You Read on the Internet: Insta-Theology and the Need for Discernment

“As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.”

If I posted that quote on Instagram or Facebook or whatever your social media platform of choice is, would you ‘like’ it? Would you repost it? Would you share it with your friends? It’s true, isn’t it? God does do great things. He’s worth seeking. We should take comfort in knowing we can go to him with our cause, whatever it happens to be.

Now, let me add some context. That quote is taken from Job 5:8-9 in the Bible. It’s part of a speech that Job’s friend, Eliphaz, gives to destitute Job, who has just lost his possessions, his children, and his health. Eliphaz is scolding Job for his inability to identify what caused his suffering. He believes that only the wicked suffer and that the righteous prosper. Even though the book of Job clearly shows that Job did nothing to deserve his plight, Eliphaz insists that he did. Does that change the way you read the quote? It should. Words have meaning, and the context is vital for getting to the bottom of it. In context, Eliphaz is using these true words to wrongly blame Job.

We live in a world full of messaging. Advice is everywhere, floating around without context in the digital atmosphere. Unnamed authorities fill our minds with memes and quotes about every topic under the sun, from personal happiness to self-care to relationships. Context is rarely, if ever, provided. If it sounds good or fits your circumstances, you are encouraged to latch on to it and then pass it on to the next person.

One popular Instagram meme states, “Love yourself as much as you want to be loved.” That sounds good, doesn’t it? It even has a “golden rule” echo to it. Another says, “Do more of what makes you happy.” Who would want to argue with that? No one wants to do more of what makes them miserable.

Let’s call these contextless pieces of advice, “Insta-theology.” The problem with Insta-theology is that, without any context provided, what’s true in one context may not be so in another. Love myself as much as I want to be loved? Maybe that means I need a change. I don’t feel like my spouse is loving me very well right now. I deserve better. I’m going to love myself by looking elsewhere. Do more of what makes me happy? I would certainly be happier if I escaped these obligations. I feel so shackled by life. It would feel good to be released from these responsibilities. That would make me happy.

In our current context, how one feels has become the ultimate arbiter of truth and rightness. My grandfather worked as a farmer and toiled in the fields his whole life. I never heard him talk about self-care or loving himself. His satisfaction came from paid bills and loved wife and children. Today, however, psychological state is ultimate. Success is determined by measures such as being true to oneself, feeling happy about life, and fulfilling dreams. It’s a different world.

There are some good things about our contemporary focus, but there are also some very dangerous tendencies. As important as mental health is, the turn toward making psychological well-being ultimate has wreaked havoc on institutions that uphold society like marriage and family. Insta-theology has become popular in the absence of traditional sources of authority. When someone shares a meme on social media about being true to oneself, they are often justifying life choices they have made or are about to make. These contextless scripts become a kind of secular scriptural authority. It doesn’t matter who wrote it if it justifies what I want to do. My happiness is ultimate, and this quote serves as a prooftext for my behavior.

As Christians, we need discernment when it comes to such matters. Before we latch onto popular cultural mantras, we need to ask some very important questions. Here are three good questions to start with as you encounter Insta-theology. First, does this advice focus my heart on Christ or on something else for satisfaction? Second, does this advice encourage me to approve of behaviors that God has clearly forbidden? Finally, if I followed this advice, would I be making much of Christ or of myself?

As disciples of Christ, we operate in the same world as everyone else. However, we should not operate in the world the same way as everyone else. Jesus is Lord, and that confession changes everything. Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

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