What to do if social media is causing you to covet?
She was wearing a black fleece and jogging pants the last time she saw her ex-boyfriend in person. He came over to her townhouse to break the news gently. As he walked out the door she thought she’d never see him again. Then he showed up in her living room five years later – this time on her computer screen.
Social media was becoming popular with people of all ages – not just the college crowd – and she decided to open a Facebook account. Suddenly, she had direct access to almost anyone from her past. She spent hours searching names of childhood friends, old teachers, and yes, even ex-boyfriends. Their lives were like murals on a wall displayed for anyone to see and for anyone to join, if only in their minds.
Sometimes she would click on her ex-boyfriend’s page when she was bored at work or tired of doing housework. She would also click on the days when her mind whispered “What if?” or “If only.” And other times she clicked when she was just fed-up with her marriage and wished for something different.
She critiqued her ex-boyfriend’s home, compared herself to his wife, and examined pictures of his kids. At the same time, she remembered all the good memories with him. She told herself that their differences weren’t that big-of-a-deal. They could have worked through their issues. She convinced herself that she was the one he was supposed to have married.
No longer was her ex-boyfriend only a part of her past. He was now a part of her present. She could enter his world whenever she wanted with just a click on the keyboard – and pretend. Pretend there could have been a happily-ever-after.
Has this woman ever described you?
No other time in our culture’s history has our past remained a part of our present like it does today with social-media. Before, when your ex-boyfriend walked out the door that final time, it was the last time, and he became nothing but a memory that eventually faded. However, now with social media, memories of past romantic relationships never fade. They’re always one click away.
Of course this becomes a problem when it affects your current marriage or dating relationship. According to research from the University of Missouri, “individuals who use Facebook excessively are far more likely to experience Facebook–related conflict with their romantic partners, which then may cause negative relationship outcomes including emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce.”
However, for a Christian there’s an even deeper issue. What if it doesn’t directly affect your marriage? What if no one ever finds out you search your ex-boyfriends, scouring their pages over and over again? What if it’s just between you and the computer screen? Is entering your ex-boyfriend’s world through social media then okay? Or what if it’s not an ex-boyfriend but just a guy you have a crush on? What’s the harm in just looking?
Social media creates façades for people’s lives and presents them as reality. Looking at that two-dimensional screen, our imaginations take us to places we think will make our lives more exciting, romantic, and less mundane. We begin to resent the life God gave us and instead dream an imaginary story of what could have been. This is the start of a hidden adultery that, even if it never becomes anything more than searching, has the ability to wreak havoc on women’s emotions.
Although there are no direct instructions in the Bible in regards to social media, God gives us wisdom for us to use in this context. It first begins with His command against covetousness. “And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Deuteronomy 5:21).
We may be tempted to dismiss this ordinary command since it’s a part of the Old Testament and it’s obvious that wanting other people’s blessings is not God’s will for us. But let’s look a little deeper at the reason God instructed us to not covet. The word “covet” means to desire what belongs to another in a way that is not usual, normal, or proper and exceeds reasonable limits. Covetousness is thoughts, excessive thoughts, and these thoughts lead to the actions in the other nine commandments. Covetousness is a root sin of all other sins – including adultery.
Adultery is most often thought of as lust manifested either emotionally or physically with someone other than a person’s spouse. When you search other men’s social media profiles, you are involving yourself with emotional adultery because you are lusting after a life God has not given you.
However, there is a hidden adultery that also takes place. Because Jesus died on the Cross so that we could become His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27), anytime our affections are taken off of Him, His blessings, and His will, we are committing adultery against God in the same way we commit adultery against our spouse through an emotional relationship.
This is how adultery against God takes place:
Our thoughts convince us that we have the right to whatever it is we desire. We tell ourselves that we deserve her life, that husband, and those children. Then we begin to question God’s goodness, which leads to distrusting Him. Finally, we focus on ourselves instead of God. We think we must take matters into our own hands because doing it God’s way hasn’t brought us any good. Anything that consumes our thoughts, emotions, or desires becomes a god to us. We say to God, “I want all of these other things rather than You and what You have given me, and I think these things will meet my needs more than You will.”
Even if your marriage does not seem to be affected, or even if you are a single woman, there is still a break in your relationship with God when you misuse social media because you are not trusting God’s goodness in your own life. The “death” that James talks about describes this break in relationship. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
So what do we do to protect ourselves from adultery against our spouses and God? In some cases, you may need to stop using social media completely, per Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 5:30. It is also wise to not become “friends” with past boyfriends, to block updates from men in your newsfeed, or, if you are married, to get a joint account with your husband. Regardless of what works best for your situation, go to whatever extent necessary to guard your heart from the temptation of hidden adultery.