“Generated Grief:” The Facebook ‘Year in Review’, the Psalmist, and the Incarnation

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1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Selah

11 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Selah

16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
the very deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

When you read the Psalm above, a number of things come to mind. The Israelites found comfort in God by remembering where God was at work in their history. They rejoiced that their God is greater than all others – as my Hebrew Bible professor might say, “Our God can kick your God’s butt.” The psalmist seems to be in a little distress in verse two, but by verses eleven and twelve is recovering by calling to mind the deeds of the Lord. You’ll even see this passage used during the Easter season if your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary. Hopefully, though, the other thing that came to your mind is that verses three through ten are missing. This is the way the liturgical Church presents the message of this psalm during Easter. What do verses three through ten say? Why weren’t they included? Have a look:

3 I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Selah

4 You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
and remember the years of long ago.
6 I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
7 ‘Will the Lord spurn for ever,
and never again be favourable?
8 Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?’
Selah
10 And I say, ‘It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’

Goodness gracious me. What a lament! It is almost like an entirely different psalm when both sections are so separated and out of context. Here is an author grappling with the fact that God may never again be favorable; whose love may be ceasing; whose promises may be at an end; who has forgotten the author; and whose absence and change have caused an insurmountable grief.

Now, imagine the psalmist’s entire life is catalogued through statuses, check-ins, photos, videos, and shared links on Facebook. Much like the Revised Common Lectionary, Facebook might pick and choose from the year’s uploads and decide what statuses and images make for a wonderful year’s review. Without knowing it, using automated programming, Facebook offers the psalmist the experiences of the beginning and end, leaving out the middle, the pain, the anguish.

This certainly seems to have happened to some Facebook users. You can read more about it here.

In the article and related links, a man takes a picture of his apartment engulfed in flames, another man has pictures of his six-year-old daughter who recently died of brain cancer. People had pictures of themselves with now ex-wives and ex-husbands. Facebook took photos that had high traffic through likes, sharing, and comments and utilized those photos for the year in review with the words,

“It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”

As a result, this automatically generated tagline was paired with some painful images. Now, the argument that many have made against Facebook is that they should not have included the images that were included. I’m not so sure about that. Facebook used the photos that we ourselves uploaded and were a part of our albums. I think if anyone were to lodge a complaint, it might be a better approach to say, “Hey! I did NOT have a great year!”

As we come to the end of the year, this intriguing social media news and the gutting of certain biblical passages at different times of the Christian Year through the Revised Common Lectionary leave me wondering why we can’t read verses three through ten in worship, even during Easter.

I don’t know a lot of things. In fact, in continuing my learning the reality of what I do not know is ever-broadening. However, here is one thing I do know: even in a season like Easter there are people in our churches whose eyelids are kept from closing, and who are so troubled that they cannot speak.

In a season like Christmas, it is so incredibly important to remember that Jesus, too, had nights where his eyelids were kept from closing while close friends slept around him. Christmas is an important time to remember times when Jesus was so filled with emotion that words gave way to weeping by the tomb of a loved one. Mary and Joseph’s baby boy will one day ask “Why have you forsaken me?” from his place on an instrument of torture and execution. We call that incarnation. Or, if we were to tweet it, #inthefleshness. Christ’s year in review from the place of the ascension includes the darkness of Good Friday. This is what the docetists missed. God did not come to earth completely divine. God came to earth completely divine and completely human. Jesus lived psalm 77 in its entirety, not just Easter 8 | Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20.

Our years in review contain painful experiences. The intimacy of the incarnation of this King of Kings and Lord of Lords is that his is, too. The creator of the cosmos invaded our time and space to know our joy and pain. It is okay to express verses three through ten in your year. It is okay to express verses three through ten in worship or petition. In fact, is appropriate to do so. It points to God in the flesh, who came into humble birth and beginnings to dwell among us.

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