Wednesday, April 25, 2012
WHAT IF GOD 'UNFRIEND' US?
WHAT IF GOD ‘UNFRIEND’ US?
(A Reflection by Fred Vergara, Chapel of Christ the Lord, 815 Second Avenue, New York City, April 25, 2012)
Recently on the plane, I was seated beside two teenagers who were having a very animated conversation. From what I overheard, they were into social networking. One of them said, “I’ve just unfriended Ashley?” Oh really? Why?” replied the other.” Oh she’d been annoying me with her tweets but this time in FB, she really messed up. Our friendship is over! I say, over as in over!” And she proceeded to tell her companion about what Ashley did, even though she knew, I was overhearing it. After which, her companion said, “Good for her. She deserves to be unfriended.”
When I reached my destination, I could not wait to find out if there is a word “unfriend” in my old dictionary and I could not find it. There is a word “unfriendly,” an adjective which means “hostile or antagonistic.” But the word “unfriended” that I heard is a verb. So I googgled “unfriend” in my computer and I found it in Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia. Actually, I found two words “unfriend” and “defriend” which obviously means the same thing.
The definition of unfriend in Wikipedia is this: “Unfriend is the act of removing a friend from your Facebook account.” It goes on to explain, “Compulsive people prune their friends list periodically, removing people they no longer have contact with. More often however, unfriending is done when a particular friend’s update or self-promotions become so annoying that you can no longer stand hearing or reading them…you may also unfriend someone when they piss you off.”
One example use of the verb is this, “Suzy thought Joe was being rude, so she had to unfriend him from her page.” One story tells of a Facebook fan who committed suicide because someone had ‘unfriended’ her on Facebook and MySpace. The last words she uttered, “OMG, I was unfriended!” And she jumped from a building!
I think it is unfortunate that friends can be tossed aside with nothing more than a few taps on a computer keyboard simply because they messed up. Scriptures tell us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all imperfect, we all make mistakes, we all stumble and fall in our words and actions. Friends are there to help us stand when we fall.
The age of computer has given us plenty of opportunities to communicate. Often we act, in the words of Bill Gates, “with the speed of thought.” We write our message via email, text, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and many other social networks. We respond in matter of minutes or seconds. The problem however, is that when we read emails or tweets, we do not see the person and could not read his or her facial and bodily expressions. Sometimes they are tweets not necessarily for us. And so we judge the message based on what we read. And without having seen the person at the time that he or she sent the message, we can get pissed off and decide to “unfriend.”
One of the modern pop songs (by Joan Osborne) that is very popular among teens, says in part “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us, Just a stranger on the bus ,Trying to make his way home?” The incarnation of God in Christ is one of the great mysteries of our faith. God became human like us. It is a mystery hard to fathom but it is comforting to know that in this mystery of God-in-man, “He was tempted in every way as we are, and yet did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
In the Bible, God had wrestled with the temptation of unfriending His people. Israel’s idolatrous tweets and self-promotions were pissing Him off. The prophet Elijah said that the people of Israel were “limping in two opinions” and challenging them to choose one or the other: “If God is God, follow Him; but if Baal is god, follow him.” In the contest of miracles at Mount Carmel, Elijah tried to execute what he thought to be God’s “unfriending” only to find out later that God was not willing “unfriend.” This “ritual of the limping dance” (theologian Kosuke Koyama has a wonderful reflection about this) continues because “people continue to be people and God continues to be God.” (Read the entire story in 1st Kings 18).
Another prophet Hosea said that Israel was being unfaithful and they “will be destroyed for lack of knowledge.” The prophet said that the people did not know, or that they forget, that the gold and silver and the oil, they lavished on Baal, the false god of prosperity, comes from God. But in spite of their unfaithfulness, God was not willing to “unfriend.” Listen to the soliloquy of God:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my Son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to the images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms, but they did not realize that it was I who healed them, led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love….But how can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not carry out my anger, for I am God, not a man, the holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:1-9)
In other Scriptures but in similar fashion, God says, “I will not leave you, I will not forsake you…for I have inscribed (tattooed) you in the palm of my hands.” (Hebrews 13:5, Isaiah 49:16)
I think it is quite liberating to know that while God has become “one of us, “He also continues to be “not one of us.” Unlike the two teenagers on the plane, God would not unfriend us no matter how much mess we make of our lives. God’s forgiveness, love and grace are always ours, regardless of our nasty tweets, updates and actions. All of us mess up, all of us are imperfect, and all of us err, one way or another. But no matter how much we mess up, God’s love for us is unconditional. We are God’s “friends forever. “
Maybe that is the kind of godly character that we, humans, should have, to be “friends forever,” with God and with one another. Amen.