The Ones We Embrace

Who knew that a “thumbs up” would become one of the most recognizable of international hieroglyphs.

Never before has humanity been able to say so much with so little: enter the emoticons. With these little symbols we are able to communicate the vast range and subtlety of human emotion, evaluate our interest, announce our disdain or pleasure.

Imagine, if you will, that we applied the emoticon to actual life circumstances: walking down the street I give a thumbs up to show approval for someone eating their lunch; or I displayed a red frowny face when overhearing a conversation in passing; or, I hugged myself when hearing something nice, or eat something yummy.

I would surely gain more followers: some police officers, maybe an investigator or two, perhaps even a therapist. Not at all pleasant.

How has emoticon shorthand changed relationships? Perhaps a question best answered by social anthropologists. Still, as a shepherd, I do have some thoughts.

The Lord said of Abraham:

אַבְרָהָם אֹהֲבִֽי

Recorded in Isaiah 41:8, these two Hebrew words are often translated as “Abraham my friend,” slightly differently, “Abraham my beloved,” or a little deeper, “Abraham whom I embrace.” The word translated friend above is אָהַב/ahav, meaning to love, desire, breathe after, beloved, or friend.

The Torah says that Abraham “walked with God” (Gen. 17:1). Abraham had relationship with the Lord. They walked, talked, interacted, and lived together; apart from emoticons: real, personal emotion and intimacy.

Social media was already radically changing human relationships. Now, coupled with a pandemic (at the time of this writing), many of our relationships have been reduced to emoticons, text messages, or socially distant interaction. It has rekindled, in many of us, a strong desire for the closeness of a handshake, a friendly embrace, and crowded congregational fellowship.

In the gospel of John, 15:12-17, Yeshua/Jesus calls us friends, those He embraces, just as the Father called Abraham His friend. As our Emmanuel, Yeshua is ever-present with us (Matt. 28:20), in living relationship.

When speaking these words, Yeshua was reclining with the disciples at the Passover Meal: close, sharing food, remembering the exodus, teaching, communing over the bread and cup, creating the embrace of friendship; and real emotion as the disciples wondered who would betray Him (Jn. 13:25-26).

Emoticon approval, in most cases, keeps a distance between us. Yet, in so many other instances, they introduce a door to deeper communication leading to a real embrace, a real friendship; with living faces, living emotions, and living experience of the human dynamic in friendship.

While social media has a place in modern society, it cannot, and should not replace living, breathing social interaction. And what many of us are most certain of: it will not.

Be well. Shalom.

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