Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament. They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”
Does the Bible address every question and issue humanity is facing today?
The answer to that question is No. And Yes.
No, because there are myriad 21st century problems and concerns that almost certainly never crossed the minds of the Bible’s human authors. Such issues would include public vs. private education, how to dispose of nuclear waste, healthcare reform, reconciling quantum mechanics with Einsteinian relativity, the rights of private citizens vs. government surveillance, and whether corporations should be allowed to patent sections of the human genome. The apostle Paul might have asked, “What’s a genome?”
But the answer is also Yes. The Bible’s basic storyline of creation, fall, and redemption – along with the ethical teaching of both Old and New Testaments – provides a remarkably flexible template for addressing the concerns of succeeding generations.
While Scripture, for instance, makes no mention of the digital revolution that would one day turn the world upside-down, there are enduring biblical principles that allow us to speak meaningfully about the challenges that revolution has brought about.
Thus we can say that even though the earliest Christians knew nothing about FOMO, letters like Ephesians can help us grapple with its associated fears and sadness.
Paul no doubt would have asked, “What’s a FOMO?”
FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out. Actress and comedian Mindy Kaling chose the perfect title for her bestselling 2011 memoir about this condition: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? FOMO, which wasn’t even identified as a “real thing” until 2004, is the sense of dread that one’s friends are all having conversations, attending parties, and discovering new restaurants – and I’ve been left on the sidelines. Or it could signify a sense of regret that because I declined a particular invitation, I missed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy a rising stock or meet the partner of my dreams.
FOMO is the haunting suspicion that things are good for everyone else, but somehow I got stuck with the wrong job, the wrong family, or the wrong life.
What does Paul have to say? He writes in Ephesians 1:17: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
In other words, the thrust of Paul’s prayers for his readers is that they would experience more wisdom. More understanding. More of the Holy Spirit. More God.
Here we encounter one of the dark sides of social media. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by our friends’ latest vacation pics and party postings on Facebook (recently renamed Meta). There is considerable evidence, in fact, that preoccupation with such sites leaves many readers feeling depressed. Since people tend to use social media to dress up their lives, and to “fun-up” their personal profiles, what we see and read should not be confused with somebody else’s Actual Life.
But it’s hard to resist the feeling that other Christians we know appear to be having deeper, richer lives with God. They’re going on awesome mission trips. And volunteering at booming churches. They go to all the cool conferences. And have marriages that actually seem to be happy. You’re stuck, meanwhile, with a boring job and a mundane existence, laying down your life for an aging parent or a raging toddler who never offer words of thanks.
If God blesses another person, does that mean there’s less of God for me? Is there only so much God to go around?
It doesn’t work like that.
We don’t need to be afraid that we’re missing something. When Paul prays that we would experience more wisdom, more understanding, and more of the Spirit, it means there’s always enough of God to go around. And God’s desire to bless us with such blessings is renewed every morning.
Besides, we can never know the real story behind the headlines of someone else’s life, no matter how exciting those news flashes look. The only thing you really need to know is that you yourself are God’s deeply treasured child – and he will never walk away from you.
FOMO may be a new social media expression, but it was part and parcel of the world’s first sin. Satan, in serpent disguise, asked Eve: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree’? God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:1,5). Adam and Eve were afraid they might miss out. So they surrendered a healthy relationship with God to pursue unknown adventures – a choice that brought them unending sorrow.
We don’t need to follow them down that well-worn, fear-based path.
As pastor and author Ortberg reminds us, we are called to seek God’s face. Not God’s Facebook.
God is all we need, and there’s always enough God to go around.
Which just so happens to be the only known formula for No Mo FOMO.