Big Brother is watching you. That creepy idea has sparked movies, books, and conspiracy theories galore: someone, somewhere, knows what you like, whom you vote for, what you ate for breakfast. Marketing companies analyze your online habits and tailor-make ads to snare you, even varying the cost of potential products depending on your socio-economic status. “Like-farming” is a spammer’s delight. When companies can pinpoint a prospective customer’s vulnerable moments and pounce with confidence-boosting ad campaigns, or a candidate’s campaign can spin out fake news to lure new voters, we really have sunk to a new low.
According to Cambridge University, just clicking 10 likes on Facebook allows advertisers to “know” you as well as a co-worker would. Keep “liking” stuff, and marketers’ predictive ability concerning your purchases and preferences rises accordingly. What you like, in other words, reveals an awful lot about you. But truthfully, the power of like is nothing new.
The power of like goes back to Eden.
Once upon a time, a crafty-eyed serpent shrewdly observed the likes of a young lady browsing the fruit market and tailor-made a temptation just for her. You wouldn’t be far off to say that Eve’s likes led to the fall.
What you like defines you.
Researchers can detect your demographic at a glance based on what you like: your race, political party, gender, age, religion. But so much of what they uncover is surface-level stuff, the wrapping paper pasted over our thumping hearts.
How much more do our desires shape the core of who we are under the sight of God?
Subconsciously we avoid uncomfortable things, lean hard after things we love. Think about the domino effect of avoiding something over and over versus going after it gung-ho. Take, for example, two people who graduate from college with roughly the same spiritual maturity, having participated for four years in the same campus ministry. One person jumps right into church and enthusiastically participates for the next decade. His friend, however, never really liked church and attends sporadically (with great, put-upon sighs.) The first guy gets a steady diet of spiritual input, the second watches a lot of Sports Center. Will they still be compatible at age 30?
We see it play out in our children, and as parents, have a rare opportunity to influence. If one of your kids loves music and the other loves video games, you get to set limits, stake out boundaries. Insisting that your small fry put down the device and go outside, for the love of Pete! can even introduce new loves—a new-found enjoyment of biking or bug-collecting or daydreaming up a tree. As onlookers, we see their likes begin to shape them, and (with alarm sometimes) we step in. But maybe our own hearts are also wet cement. Maybe it’s not too late to shape ourselves.
What you like directs you.
The psalmists seem to have a good grasp of the truth that what we like will lead us. In particular, whether we enjoy the Lord and delight in his word is a preoccupation of the psalms from start to finish. “Blessed is the man,” declares Psalm 1, whose “delight is in the law of the Lord.” That delight “in the law” (are we talking Leviticus here?) leads to qualitative blessing. One’s life is blessed—happy—in proportion to liking, or loving, God’s word whispered to our hearts. Answering whether we like God and his word is pretty much the key question of life (no offense, Facebook).
Well, you might think, I love him. Isn’t that better? But have you learned to enjoy him? That kind of happy affection that we call liking something is a powerful motivator, maybe more than we realize.
Marriage, vocation, hobbies, location—all of these choices are influenced by whom or what we enjoy. But behind them all lurks a bigger question—do we really desire God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength? Is there a playful like that’s led to a deeper love being allowed to drive all of our other decision-making? If not, we’ve let little loves loom larger than they’ve any right to, captivating us and subtly leading us astray. Just like a spammer tallying clicks, Satan can nimbly snag us with a well-timed temptation.
Train up your likes in the way you would go.
There’s a medical condition called pica, in which pregnant women crave all kinds of things that aren’t food—paste, dirt, chalk. It’s named after the Latin word for magpie, a bird notorious for eating trash. Sometimes we’re all afflicted with pica. We crave the things we ought not eat and scorn the one thing we really need. At some point we have to put down the taffy and grab a vegetable. We have to teach our taste buds new likes.
Training our likes is slow work. If you hate avocados, you won’t wake up one morning loving them (unless maybe you’re pregnant). But you can discipline yourself to turn aside from unhealthy appetites. You can look for the joy inherent in the God-honoring activity. You can teach your heart to be thankful, and covenant with your eyes to set before them no vile thing.
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word,” says the psalmist (119:15-16), resolving admirably to choose to like God. But he’s honest; in verse 36 he adds this plea, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Oh, Lord, I want to want you. I want to like you.
If God in his grace can teach our hearts to loathe what he loathes and to love what he loves, well then, now we really can be Christians, “little Christs,” bringing his love to an internet-weary world. How many likes does it take to be like Jesus?
Catherine Morgan is a regular contributor at God Centered Life. She lives in Aurora, Colorado, with her husband Michael and three kids. She is the author of Thirty Thousand Days, published by Christian Focus Publications. Visit her blog at catherinesletters.com and find her on Twitter.