I wonder if Jacob anticipated that his father, Isaac, would ask this question. He probably hoped and even prayed that there would not be much talking. That his father would rather silently enjoy the dish Jacob served him, then bless him, and Jacob would leave the tent. Straightforward, no complications. Now, confronted with this question, Jacob needed to respond.
But what should he say? “I am Jacob, your son?” This would be honest, but at the same time, his father would know that he was about to be deceived. Moreover, what would happen to the desired blessing? Would it turn into a curse? Jacob decided to lie and answered, “I am Esau, your firstborn” (verse 19). He pretended to be his brother in order to receive the blessing. Apparently not convinced, Isaac made further attempts to find out who was serving him. Finally Jacob succeeded in taking on his brother’s identity, and Isaac blessed him.
A few years ago, I talked with a church leader about the use of media in evangelism. He had spent about 20 years in media ministry. In the midst of our conversation, he said, “As Seventh-day Adventists, we were always pioneers using the newest media types for public evangelism. In order to share the three angels’ messages with an even wider audience, we started to use satellite evangelism in the 90s and several years later launched TV channels. Soon, we will operate the largest Christian television network worldwide.
“By using different types of media, we reached and continue to reach millions and millions of people with the good news of a loving God all around the globe. What a huge blessing!” Then he paused for a moment. “You know, sometimes I wonder if we tend to broadcast a beautiful and perfect ‘world of faith,’ which does not correspond to who we are in everyday life.” He paused again. “Do we mainly focus on showing what we should believe and how we should exercise our faith, and by doing so we distract ourselves from our shortcomings, our neediness, and our brokenness? We have a hard time admitting to ourselves and to others that we are neither as good as we would like nor as the ‘ideal faith’ that our broadcast requires us to be.”
Such questions require a personal response. No one can give an answer for somebody else. Many of us, however, face similar dynamics when we share our faith. As a faith community, we want to help as many people as possible come to know God. With this goal in mind, it’s tempting to focus on showing the ideal and not the real. Why?
First, everyone wishes to achieve and to experience the ideal. Second, communicating the ideal seems to have greater impact.¹ Stories about failure and shortcomings are not as convincing as success stories, are they? Third, sharing faith includes teaching God’s law, universal truths, and principles that are independent of culture, time, and other human beings.² Fourth, isn’t it all about God and not about us, about God’s kindness and mercy, and about His plan of salvation for humanity? Finally, we do not want people to lose their trust in God and to give up faith because of our imperfections. These are all good and understandable reasons for deciding to broadcast an ideal faith and a perfect life.
At the same time, our concern or even fear that people might shy away from God when they also see our brokenness can lead us to hide the less-pleasant sides of ourselves and eventually make ourselves appear better than we really are. We can become more concerned about being seen in a positive light than about what kind of persons we really are. Sharing faith becomes more about appearance than about being and character, more about perception than about honest sharing and real encounters. Evangelism through media makes it even easier for us to turn faith into a perfect wishful projection than it would be possible in personal encounters, because the medium (TV, radio, social media, etc.) stands between people. We can retain a distance between the well-lit, good-looking spiritual experience and the real faith experience seen in broad daylight.
Our fears of rejection seem to be at the center of this—both individually and collectively as a faith community. Therefore, focusing on God’s perfection, God’s law and universal truths, and on beliefs and principles can function as a convenient distractor or even an excuse from facing, accepting, and sharing our own imperfections. The goal of sharing faith, however, is not to convince others that the bearer is good and worthy, but that God is good, kind, and merciful. In Him people find acceptance, forgiveness, and life.
On Jacobs’s way to the East, God revealed Himself as his Saviour and blessed him. God did not do this because of, but in spite of, who Jacob was. Jacob desired the blessing but did not deserve it; he received it because of who God is (Gen. 28:10-12)..
These considerations are not only relevant for media ministry professionals. In the “social media universe,” in the midst of a constant tsunami of words, images, and clips, billions of people around the globe find themselves in the tension between their real and their mediated selves. We live in carefully constructed, well-arranged, and decorated “holy selfie lands.” Yet the fundamental question “Who am I?” is for many of us a pressing existential issue— and an issue we need to address. It’s a challenging question whether the sum of what we share with the whole world on various social media platforms reflects in the end an unreal, polished, and exaggerated fake self. Or do we allow people to see a more accurate and realistic view of who we are?
After 20 years, Jacob decided to return home. In great fear and trepidation, he prepared for meeting his brother, Esau. A fight unexpectedly ensued during the night between Jacob and a stranger, who turned out not to be human. In the midst of their struggle Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Was he still not sure of the blessing after all these years?
“What’s your name?” asked the stranger. I suppose Jacob was surprised, if not shocked, that his opponent confronted him with the same question his father had asked him 20 years before. “Who are you?” Would Jacob again pretend to be someone else in order to receive the blessing? Or would he be honest this time, irrespective of the consequences?
“Jacob,” he answered. He finally had the courage to be himself— Jacob, the one who takes by the heel, the one who cheats.
Faith is always personal, relational, and expressed in our lives. Faith encompasses our whole being. Sharing faith and life in a wholistic way requires sharing both the good and the bad, our successes and failures, our struggles and challenges, as well as our love and brokenness. The Bible does not fear vulnerability. The authors of the Bible openly and transparently shared the “whole” story and not only the presentable episodes.
During that unexpected encounter with God, Jacob had to confront himself. He decided to admit who he was. Do we dare to walk that path, making ourselves vulnerable so that others can see us? God’s love, kindness, and grace created a safe and redemptive space for Jacob. God is faithful. He provides the same space for us.
Questions for Reflection:
Why is it so difficult to be real and show who we truly are?
What is the relationship between media consumption and media presentation?
How can we help the next generation of Adventists to relate to media in a healthy way?
¹ Marketing and advertising experts prove every day that perfect smiles, perfect bodies, perfect beaches, and perfect sunsets successfully sell everything—toothpaste, soft drinks, cars, and much more.
² The apostle Paul declared, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12).