It was sad to read the news that the ex-host of Love Island committed suicide. Any suicide is a tragedy both for the person who dies, and for the ripples of pain of unanswered questions that spread out to the wider family and friends. It would seem that after the alleged domestic violence incident at her home Caroline Flack couldn’t face living when she was rejected by so many of her social media followers. Newspaper headlines like ‘Caroline Whack’ would have added to her sorrow. In her last Instagram message, which was not published before her death she said “my whole world and future was swept from under my feet and my future collapsed”. It seems family and friends were not enough to console her – that she was not just understandably devastated and broken by the unpleasant social media hype – she felt finished by it, that her life was now not worth living. The thing that she lived for, the thing that she gave so much importance to, the thing that she worshipped, finally let her down. It’s a cruel world out there.
But what is it about the world of Social Media that is so toxic and dangerous? Is it the platforms themselves like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Is it nasty people being nasty? I want to suggest another reason why this world can be so destructive – it is the absence of any sense of living before the face of a glorious and majestic God. The problem with social media and with celebrity culture in general is that it is a place where people and their view of you shines big and where God and is His thoughts about you don’t figure at all.
Ed Welch in his book ‘When People are Big and God is small’ says this:
1. We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us.
2. We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us.
3. We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us.
‘These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as “bigger” that is, more powerful and significant, than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do.’
What the Love Island host needed to know about is the majesty of a God before whom ‘the inhabitants of this world are grasshoppers’. It’s this kind of amazing God that Isaiah speaks about in Isaiah 40. A God who judges even the great people of this world. ‘They hardly get started, barely taking root, when he blows on them and they wither. The wind carries them off like chaff’ (Isaiah 40:”24). This is a God who says look at the vast oceans ‘Who else has held the oceans in his hand?’. Look at the vastness of the heavens ‘Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars?’
Nothing is a threat to such a God, least of all the opinions and posturing of mere grasshoppers. This God is all powerful and yet this power is used to care for his people. ‘He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (Isaiah 40 vs 11).
In fact, the whole of Isaiah 40 was written as ‘comfort medicine’ for God’s people as they faced the scary thought of being taken from their native land by a vicious foreign power.
‘O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth. (Isaiah 40 vs. 27 – 28 NLT)’
What a difference it would have have made to Caroline Flack if she knew this God that Isaiah describes and that she knew her identity was not found in her social media popularity but in God’s knowledge of her? To live safely under God’s care. To know The Lord as that strong tower we can take refuge in in times of trouble.
The name of the Lord is a strong fortress;
the godly run to him and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
For us as parents, teachers, pastors, friends to young people growing up in this toxic environment ‘where people are big’ we need to assure our children that they can find their identity and meaning in living before God. As Welch suggests people are scary, fear of rejection by our peers can be very painful particularly in the school environment but knowing they are accepted in Christ and feeling that love and acceptance within the local church can be a wonderful comfort and support for our young people caught up in a cruel and judgmental culture. To know that we can shelter from the storms of life under his majestic wings is a wonderful comfort.
‘For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock. (Psalm 27:5)
In her book ‘Give them Grace: Dazzling your Kids with the love of Jesus Elyse Fitzpatrick says:
“Give grace to your children today by speaking of sin and mercy. Tell Susan that she can relax into God’s loving embrace and stop thinking that she has to perform in order to get her welcoming Father to love her. Tell David that he can have hope that even though he really struggles, he’s the very sort of person Jesus loved being around. Dazzle them with his love.”