Founded by a Harvard University student in a dorm room five years ago this week, Facebook.com, or simply "Facebook," has become an Internet social networking phenomenon with over 150 million active users worldwide--and it's still growing.
Though initially created for college and university students, it was not long before Facebook was opened to the Web-surfing public in general. My wife and I signed on last fall so we could share easily with our daughter, who was studying abroad, the photos and reports she was posting of her travels.
Since then, the breadth and depth of the connections and re-connections we have made with family, former classmates, colleagues and church friends have been amazing, and the timeless nature of special friendships has been affirmed, sometimes surprisingly. How encouraging it is to know we have all survived this far along in life and that God is making something of our lives.
Now it is true that to use a social networking tool, like Facebook or its competitors, there are rules to be followed, the most important of which is, to me, to be sure your time on Facebook does not replace "face time" with real human beings. One of my friends who lives in Texas said he smiled when he realized one of his around-the-corner neighbors wanted to "friend" him on Facebook. He decided to walk down the street and knock on the neighbor's door.
Still, until some genius solves the real-life issues of long geographical distances and time travel, social networking tools like Facebook will remain a place for making contact and as a placeholder for some good reminders.
It reminds me of the importance of being human and the value of sharing the truth of our lives with those for whom we care and who care about us. It reminds me that being "face-to-face" (and heart-to-heart) with God and others, whether the encounter holds compassion and love or the need to resolve tension and conflict, are moments of togetherness full of possibility built on vulnerability.
It reminds the pastor/preacher in me that the Bible has a lot to say about what it means to be "face-to-face" with God and others, and of the experiences of individuals and families who longed for, or who feared, what such intimate presence might mean.
In Numbers 6:25, the prayer of benediction Aaron and the priests were told by God through Moses to pronounce upon God's people connected the blessings of God with the Lord's "face shining upon you."
In Genesis 48:11, elderly Jacob had the shock of his life when he was reunited with Joseph, the son he thought long dead: "I did not expect to see your face; and here God has let me see your children also."
In Exodus 33:20, God told Moses "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live," but that wasn't exactly the case, of course. We knew already from Exodus 33:11, "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face-to-face, as one speaks to a friend."
As if Moses seeing God's face in friendship was not enough, which it wasn't, we New Testament types got Jesus, who was and is God's face (and presence) incarnate.
All of this reminded me of some lines from Helen Lemmel's beloved old gospel song, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus": Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
Which is fine and good--"the things of earth" growing "strangely dim" part, that is--but for now, though, Lord willing, I'll stay with seeing the face of Jesus in family, friends and strangers (friends-yet-to-be) here and now, thanking God for the strong connection to God I find in and through spiritual friends-in-Christ near and far, and praying the Spirit of Christ will help me more resemble his face in love and service to God's world today.
Bob Guffey is pastor of First Baptist Church in Conway, S.C. He blogs at www.lightreading.org.