At the close of the 20th century a popular phrase about the internet was that it, “makes the world smaller.” The internet making the world smaller seems to offer a greater familiarity and understanding with diversity in the human population and greater sense of being a part of one community. However from the theological viewpoint that human nature is fallen, greater connectivity with others brings a greater experience of connectivity with a world community effected by the consequences of the fall. What is unknown is to what extent greater connectivity with those online who manifest faith may encourage positive measures of spiritual connectivity in marital relationships. From the perspective of Bonhoeffer’s description of Christian community as found in his book Life Together, there is no guarantee whether members of the online community will function online as positive witnesses to Christ. Compared to the opportunity to encounter God’s truth in a congregational or other physical space setting, connectivity on the internet offers less certainty of providing spiritual nurture.
Social media use understood theologically represents the contrast between seeking to fill a need for intimacy through social media and seeking to fill this need through God and through God’s order for creation as found in the setting of marriage. The often quoted opening of Augustine’s Confessions poetically captures the theological truth that humans cannot find true relational fulfillment apart from a life that first praises God. “because you have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you” (Pine, 1978, 21).
James Nestigen, noted historian of the Reformation and the Lutheran confessions, summarizes scholarship on Luther’s doctrine of marriage. The doctrine of vocation and the Theology of the Cross provide two double layered sources for understanding marriage (2003, 32). The theology of the cross applied to marriage means that marriage is viewed through the perspective of suffering and the cross. The cross explains the source of the hardship and sufferings of daily life, and provides healing redemption from this suffering. Luther describes the cross as “in the first instance God’s attack on human sin” (Forde, 1997, 1). Because of the presence of sin, marriage will inevitably serve as a means by which people are confronted with their own sin. In the case of problematic social media use, marriage is the setting by which relational jealousy, hurt feelings, mistrust, or misunderstanding can occur.
In the second instance the cross is salvation from sin. The cross experienced through marriage as condemnation of sin also serves as the focal point in which forgiveness and salvation is experienced. The awareness of sin manifesting itself in a marriage relationship leads to the awareness of forgiveness through the cross. The theology of the cross in marriage highlights the existence of forgiveness in whatever difficulty social media brings to marriage.
The doctrine of vocation speaks of issues of freedom and fulfilling the law. It means marriage calls marriage partners to fulfill expectations to one another. Martin Luther described marriage as a distinct vocation of service for the Christian and non-Christian alike (1520/2008). Within the marriage relationship the vocation of husband or wife is understood to be more important than any other role of service in life. Writing on the sixth commandment Luther states in the Large Catechism:
He endorsed it above in the fourth commandment, “You shall honor father and mother.” But here, as I said, he has secured and protected it. For the following reasons he also wishes us to honor, maintain, and cherish it as a divine and blessed walk of life. He has established it before all others as the first of all institutions, and he created man and woman differently (as is evident) not for indecency but to be true to each other, to be fruitful, to beget children, and to nurture and bring them up to the glory of God. God has therefore blessed this walk of life most richly, above all others, and, in addition, has supplied and endowed it with everything in the world in order that this walk of life might be richly provided for (Kolb, 2000, 414).
In describing marriage as a divine and blessed walk of life Luther paints a picture of marriage as a gift from God that deserves to be cherished and valued with the first fruits of a believers attention. Nestigen quotes an excerpt from Luther’s Wedding sermon in 1531 featured at the close of Princeton professor Scott Hendrix’s article over Luther’s theology of marriage.
The quotation provides a moving description of how one’s spouse may be viewed as a unique gift from God.:
God’s Word is actually inscribed on one’s spouse. When a man looks at a woman as if she were the only woman on earth, and when a wife looks at her husband as if he were the only man on earth; yes, if no king or queen, not even the sun itself sparkles any more brightly and lights up your eyes more than your husband or wife, then right there you are face to face with God speaking. God promises to you your wife or your husband, actually gives your spouse to you, saying: “The man shall be yours; the woman shall be yours. I am pleased beyond measure! Creatures heavenly and earthly are jumping for joy.” For there is no jewelry more precious than God’s Word; through it you come to regard your spouse as a gift of God and, as long as you do that, you have no regrets (Nestigen, 2003, 39).