Being cynical - by nature, choice and desire - the recent fad on Facebook for girls posting pictures of their faces without any make up on provides much ammunition. While the end result, over two million pounds raised for a cancer charity, is undoubtedly a Good Thing there is still a lot of room for perverse amusement.
As a typically unobservant guy I can struggle to really tell the difference. Maybe if their face colour has changed from the usual orange to a more natural colour... The other thing that amuses me greatly is the irony of seeing a #nomakeupselfie taken with just the right light, just the right angle, just the right background to basically achieve the same effect as make up.
On further reflection, it is a brilliant concept. Consider a hypothetical woman wanting to take part in the trend. A #nomakeupselfie makes her appear brave for sharing her non dolled up face with the world and makes her look morally good for being willing to do this for charity. Not only that but any likes or nice comments are doubly pleasing for her vanity! It's a win-win situation. And all this combined with a veneer of humility, how can it be about pride and vanity when money is going to charity and a potentially awful picture is being shared with the world?
Human nature being what it is the answer is: very easily. We are masters of false humility, experts in self righteousness, phd graduates in convincing ourselves that our hearts are much less self-centred than they are. And please don't think I'm being discriminatory here. As this trend has grown so has my proud satisfaction in the fact that all my pictures are #nomakeup!
#nomakeupselfie is a perfect encapsulation of our culture's obsession with self. At the very least, sharing such a selfie on Facebook says: "Look at me." And probably "Look at me I'm giving to charity!". It may also say "Look at me I'm still attractive / completely hideous without makeup". From the former comes the thrill of vanity and from the other the perverse pleasure of self flagellation. In our enlightened age it is seemingly no longer possible just to give. It has to be announced via Facebook and proclaimed via Twitter.
This may all seem rather harsh. Money is going to charity after all. Yet accepting actions without questioning motive is never going to help us. I think the whole craze is a great case study in human nature. Even when we go about achieving good (giving to charity) then our hearts demand more than just the satisfaction of doing a good deed for the sake of doing a good deed. We long for public acknowledgement of our good works, if we're going to be good then our friends better know it! We long for our sacrifices to be noted by others. "Oh, she's so brave, posting a #nomakeupselfie!"
The temptation is always there, regardless of gender. There are times when I want to shout about how I'm giving. Look at my goodness, all ye denizens of Facebook, behold my righteousness and be amazed! There is that insistent nagging voice of self and pride that erupts even when doing a selfless deed. Might well I say instead: "Behold, oh Facebook, the corruption of my heart."
Thinking the whole viral sensation over the following Bible verses sprung to mind on the whole topic of giving and public fanfare:
"Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly." Matthew 6 v 1 - 4
The first thing that struck me here was the force of Jesus' words. If you do good to be seen by other people you will have NO reward from God. Not just very little, not a lesser reward but no reward!
The application here is fairly obvious. Do not sound a trumpet before you, do not update Facebook with a post when you give, do not hashtag your giving or selfie your charitable deeds. Because if you do then the entirety of your reward is the number of likes you get on Facebook. And that's a small and petty reward.
The advice is to give in secret. There are practical limits to this - it is not always possible to give anonymously. But as far as it is possible our attitude should be to keep our giving as secret as we can. For in doing so we express a rejection of needing the praise of anyone other than our Father God. It is his reward we should seek, his "like" that should be our concern. And here's the thing: God knows what you look like without make up on. He knows far more. He knows how regular and how often you give, the generosity of your actions and the motives of your heart. He is not fooled by a Facebook post or taken in by this fad.
I think that the reason the imperative to give in secret is so strong is because Jesus knows what we are like. Giving for the praise of men is an easy snare to get caught up with. It is very appealing to have others think highly of us. It is very gratifying. But our concern should be with God. His reward is far greater than any praise of man or like on Facebook. This we need to grasp by faith and express in faith by keeping secret our giving. Giving for the praise of men is better than not giving at all but our goal as Christians is to give for the reward of our Father.
There are grey areas in this regard. One man's raising awareness of a charitable concern is another's seeking the praise of men. There are fine lines to draw some times. But the strength of the above Bible passage should give us pause for thought before we click the update button on Facebook.
Am I giving so that others might see and praise me? Can this be done in secret? Can this be done just for God? If yes then we have no business to share with others. Such is the sin within us that it is all too easily that #nomakeupselfie becomes #seekingthepraiseofothersselfie or #selfrighteousnessselfie.