“God’s Photo Shop”
by Carren Marvin
Admittedly, I am a logophile. I love words! When I was in grad school, common internet usage was still in nascent stages, so I spent hours inhaling mold and dust from the turgid volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the university library as I researched. The OED is fascinating in that it tells the history of a word, as well as its geographical locus of use. Some words have been around for centuries; others are but only decades old.
“Selfie” is an infant in the English lexicon, and most of us remember a time when that wasn’t a word at all. However, not long ago one single cell phone feature—the reverse lens camera—fertilized human nature’s obsession with self, established a social media norm, and introduced “selfie” into the English language.
The problem of reality threatened the selfie’s fame at first, though, as no one wanted to come face to face (literally) with their acne, double chins, crows feet, or extra pounds. Fortunately, social media sites, independent apps, and soon the cameras themselves offered the most soothing remedy for all: the photo filter. Now any picture could be a keeper! Filters like black-and-white, vintage, chrome, and others add beauty to an otherwise mediocre subject.
The filters’ supreme advantage, though, is the capacity to hide, cover, or completely erase imperfections. It’s amazing! Having inherited no photogenic genes whatsoever, I regularly exploit photo filters in effort to cover my flaws. My favorite filter applies a soft haze over the photo, giving my cats (unlike me, they love the limelight) an airbrushed, magazine-quality look. Stray whiskers and tousled fur suddenly disappear, convincing them that they are indeed the gods that ancient Egyptians worshipped.
I often wonder about the psychology behind the selfie phenomenon, especially what drives some people to post selfies (filtered, of course) regularly. A longing for attention? A vulnerable self-esteem? An exaggerated self-consciousness? Something about selfies suggests a desire to be looked at, to be admired. After all, we never intentionally post pictures that make us look like crumpled paper bags or bucktoothed walruses. Show any of us a group photo, and the very first person we will spot in it is ourselves. We only see ourselves in photos, and when those photos are going on the JumboTron called social media, we often crop, filter, and enhance until we look beautiful, thin, or whatever.
Laying aside the blatant vanity that characterizes our frequent selfies, I’m convicted in my spirit by what may be our preoccupation with people seeing us instead of Christ in us. The more selfies we post, the more we command attention on us. And the more we edit these selfies before anyone sees them, the more we might be unwittingly idolizing ourselves—trying to adorn ourselves with the flawless beauty and perfection that belongs to God alone.
The irony in this is that our willful daily devotion to Jesus Christ situates our flawed selves smack in the middle of His supreme glamour and attractiveness. Scripture suggests that the Almighty Himself is our filter, even physically speaking. Moses may have been taken unawares by this, as he apparently didn’t know he looked like a nightlight after some quality time with God. Exodus 34:29b says, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Stephen’s face had a similar quality as he testified in the book of Acts: “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (6:15). Obedience to God’s laws made Daniel and his friends “better in appearance” than other young people who followed mainstream culture (Daniel 1:15), and the prophet Malachi likened the kinship of God to the purifying power of soap (3:2)!
My point in all of this is that we settle for phony filters when we are situated within the graces of the voluntary Scapegoat for the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly in all of us. If we take hold of God’s Word like we capture our selfies, our “filter” becomes the radiance of Jesus Christ, whose blood atones for all the shameful parts of us that we try in vain to hide with the hazy aura of a camera filter.
Jesus might be asking us the same question He asked His disciples: “Do you understand what I have done to you?” (John 13:12). When our focus is on Jesus, our faces will show it! The Psalmist tells us, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (34:5). In fact, many prayers in Scripture beg God for the filter of His light on our faces, so I’m thinking our longing—our chief aim—should be for the glory of Christ to be more visible than the perky hand on our hip or the duck lips in our close-up. He has already covered us in His blood, and no filter on earth can compete with the beauty that imparts to us.
Dear Lord, may we care more about showing off your beauty than manufacturing our own. Make your glorious face shine upon us so that others may see you when they look at us. Amen.