Is God the Background for Your Selfie?

Is God the Background for Your Selfie?

May we never turn our back on our heavenly Father, with the camera focused upon our pathetic selves. God forbid that he would ever become a background picture for the glorification of self. May our first request to our Father in heaven, “Hallowed be your name,” put him back at the center of our Christian prayers and service. And may it put us on the lower periphery—the happiest, truest, and best place to be—looking upward and inward to our heavenly Father with praise and adoration. And may he hear our prayer, that many of the lost will come and join us in his praise.

If the Louvre is Paris’s most popular tourist destination, Leonardo da Vinci’s La Joconde is easily the most popular exhibit within the museum.

I first saw the Mona Lisa in 1985. I remember a crowd taking photos with their 35mm cameras. Every time a flash went off, an attendant would futilely wag their finger. This scene repeated about every five seconds.

In 2018 I noticed a big change. There was the same-size crowd, and people were also taking photos. But they were not taking photos of the Mona Lisa. They were taking photos of themselves in front of the Mona Lisa.

Which means that they had their backs to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.

This new phenomenon is not explained by the difference in device—the old cameras were also capable of self-portraits.

The phenomenon is explained by a difference in attitude.

In the past, people took a photo of a painting to show others. The intention was that others be able to look at and admire the art.

Today, people take a photo of themselves in front of the painting to show others. The intention is that others be able to look at and admire the photographer. Admire the selfie-artiste, who is gorgeous and cultured.

And so in 1985 the signs around the Mona Lisa warned against damaging the painting with camera flashes. In 2019 the signs warn against self-portraitists damaging each other with elbows and selfie-sticks. It’s a picture of our world, our obsession with self, and our miserable struggle to admire anything outside of us, except in its capacity to bring admiration to ourselves.

This is a caricature of course. No one is entirely selfish, and we are surrounded and blessed by the countless selfless acts of others. But it is undeniably a growing and powerful tendency in our society, a tendency that sows only frustration and misery.

What is the primary purpose of Christianity?

What is the character of our Christianity? Is its primary purpose myself? What I get out of it? Selfishness is the air we breathe, and just as it infects and damages our relationships with others, it infects and damages our relationship with our heavenly Father.

Jesus exposes, challenges, and disintegrates this selfishness with the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Hallowed be your name (Matt. 6:9; all Scripture quotes from NIV).

In order to understand this fully, it helps to engage briefly with three languages: English, Greek, and Latin, and no prior experience required.

“Hallowed be your name” reminds us of the importance of treating God’s name as holy.

The English “hallow” is a verb that means “to make holy.” So “Hallowe’en” was originally the “eve” before the holiday that celebrated the “hallowed” ones, the saints. “Holiday” itself comes from “holy day,” a day to cease work in order to worship. You can hear the similar “hal” and “hol” sounds in these related words. “Hallowed be your name” therefore means, “May your name be hallowed, may your name be treated as holy.”

The Greek original gives further important context. The verb hagiazō correlates with the noun hagios, almost always translated by the English words “holy,” “holy one,” or “holy place.” The link can be seen in the rare English word “hagiography,” which is a biography of a saint or a biography that attempts to portray someone as saintly. And this introduces a set of words built on the Latin sanctus, including “saint,” “sanctuary,” “sanctify,” “sacred,” and “consecrate.”

These are three language-groups of words that refer to the same thing: the English “hallow” and “holy,” the Greek hagiazō and hagios, and the Latin “sanctify” and “sacred.” Putting these words together like this gives us a more rounded understanding of their meaning.

Let’s come back to hagiazō, the original language word in the Lord’s Prayer. This verb was used in three basic ways:

  1. To set apart, consecrate, hallow something for a ritual purpose. So Jesus talks about the altar that “consecrates” a sacrifice, that “makes the gift sacred” (Matt. 23:19). And Paul talks about food that is “consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5).

  2. To purify something, “to eliminate that which is incompatible with holiness.” Thus, Paul says of Christians, “You were washed, you were sanctified [hallowed], you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 6:11). And he describes husbands who are to love their wives like Christ loved the church and hallowed it by “the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26). Christians are those who have been “sanctified [hallowed] in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Cor. 1:2).

  3. To treat something or someone as holy, to reverence something. Peter commands Christians, in their hearts, “to revere [set apart/sanctify/hallow] Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15). Christ is to be given a unique and revered place in our hearts.

This third sense of hagiazō is what Jesus means when he teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” We pray that God’s name will be hallowed, treated as holy, reverenced, and sanctified.

“Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD Almighty!”

It is important at this point to recall the idea of holiness in the Old Testament. In Exodus 3:5, at the burning bush, God commanded Moses to “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” God was present, and so the ground was to be hallowed, treated as different, with reverence. Footwear off.

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