Is authenticity always good? Is it a virtue to be so real with people that everyone knows what you’re thinking and feeling all the time? After all, isn’t that what Facebook is for? Isn’t that why everyone and their dog has a blog (myself included)?
We despise phoniness, and for good reason. However, there is a kind of authenticity that is all to easy to fall into – especially in the age of social media – that is just plain dangerous.
Psalm 73 is a wonderful example of the authenticity in its time. Here, Asaph lets us in on a period of intense struggle in his life. He looks at the world around him and sees evil people succeeding. They are healthy, wealthy, and seem not to have a care in the world. On the other hand, Asaph, a man pursuing righteousness, is suffering intensely. He comes to a point in his desperation where he says to himself, “All in vain I have kept my heart clean, and washed my hands in innocence.” (v. 13) His internal monologue is telling him that it seems useless to follow God because he is suffering while the wicked thrive.
One really important thing to note here. Asaph did not open up his Twitter or Facebook and say “Life sucks. It’s useless to follow God cuz all the good things are going to bad people. I give up. #SAD”. Asaph tells us himself that he didn’t share this internal struggle broadly. Why? Verse 15 holds the answer, “If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.”
He realized that what he said publicly mattered. There were people whose faith would have been shaken to hear him express his authentic self at the time, and it would have caused major damage. The reason we know all of this is because he came to his senses when he put his experience into an eternal perspective. He recognized that he was being bitter and brutish in his thoughts. And after wrestling through what he saw in the world around him and what he knew about God he came to the conclusion that fellowship with God was his highest good. Asaph found peace in the turmoil, and it is from perspective he wrote, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart on my portion forever.” That is one of my favourite declarations of faith in the Psalms!
This psalm rings with authenticity, but it is a timely authenticity. Asaph shares the darkness of his heart with all who would care to read, only when he can share the whole story in a way that builds the faith of others, rather than tearing it down.
Similarly, the apostle Paul commands us: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) Displaying our every struggle to an unsuspecting world may be “authentic”, but it can also be corrupting to those who hear. When we damage the faith of others, or discourage others, or are simply being an unmitigated downer at an inappropriate time, we may be being truthful, but we are not building up and giving grace to those who hear.
This current season of life has been pretty rough for me and my family. My wife is permanently disabled and may need constant care for the rest of her life as a result of multiple strokes. Yes, there are days when my anxiety seems out of control, when despair nearly cripples me, and I feel like the best thing for me would be to get hit by a bus, but if I put that on Facebook, or blogged it just the way I was feeling it at the time, I would be betraying a generation of my Facebook friends. There are a few people who I let see to the bottom of me most of the time, which I believe to be a precious and healthy thing. Even Jesus had a depth of relationship with Peter, James, and John, that the other disciples weren’t privileged to. However, these relationships are the exception, not the norm. After all, who could bear to carry all the burdens of all their friends all the time?
What I say publicly and without hesitation, is that when I am not thinking like a brute beast, I joyfully assert with Asaph that “for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of your works.” (Psalm 73:28) The Lord is so good and gentle and faithful. He sees smoldering wicks like me and tends to them carefully until the flame is going again. I can testify that it is better to know Jesus than to not know suffering.
My hope in writing this is that it builds up, encourages, and gives grace to any who read, and that we would take a lesson from our friend Asaph: authenticity is a great thing in its time, given perspective of eternity, when God will be will be lifted up in the hearts of those who hear our story.