I was a latecomer to emojis. Despite my wife’s frequent requests that I use them, I refrained from doing so until she installed them on my phone for me. Even now, I still use them with relative rarity. As emojis have surged in popularity, so too have creative ways to utilize them: to describe the life of characters in popular culture; to recreate the first lines of famous novels; to define a diet. One couple even decided to text one another exclusively in emojis for a month as an experiment.
While a picture may be worth 1,000 words, emojis as a mode of communication present significant challenges for conveying basic information. Attempting to decipher strings of emojis tends to leave me frustrated rather than amused or entertained. Using emojis myself similarly leads to frustration - the quest for the perfect emoji almost always comes up empty-handed, leaving me feeling like I just wasted time that could have been better spent elsewhere. At the same time, like the couple communicating exclusively through emojis, I appreciate the broader range of emotional expressions available through emojis, reminding me of the early days of emoticons, when :-S expressed confusion and >:-| anger. Tools that help us more accurately express the broad range of human emotion in a digital age are certainly helpful and something for which we as Christians can give thanks.
At the same time, the challenges of emojis point to the deeper reality of who we are created to be. As I’ve written in regards to Snapchat, when we consider our digital interactions, we should always be reminded of the flesh-and-blood incarnational activity of Jesus Christ. While a heart emoji may have more emotional resonance than a typed out “I love you,” this still cannot live up to the power of face-to-face incarnational interaction.
When we consider our digital interactions, we should always be reminded of the flesh-and-blood incarnational activity of Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul reminds us that we await a time when our interactions with one another and with God will surpass even the best of our real-world experience here and now. As the conclusion to his chapter on love, Paul exhorts us, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” As emojis only capture in part the broad range of human interaction and emotion, so too even the best of our interactions with one another are like looking at a reflection in a mirror.
Frederick Buechner once wrote, “I believe that by God’s grace it is our destiny, in this life or in whatever life awaits us, to discover the face of our inmost being, to become at last and at great cost who we truly are.” Even emojis, then, can point to the people we are created to be - the people we are only through the experience of God’s grace and love.