Missing the boat, missing the bus, missing a spouse, missing a promotion, missing a stock tip, or missing a date with friends — we have all experienced missing out.
And that’s why the fear of missing out (FOMO) is a universal experience in the human condition.
And our phones don’t make the situation any easier. Social media is a constant refresh of our comparisons with others, and a constant recharge of our fears of missing out.
I suspect many of my worst phone habits are borne from FOMOphobia. FOMO and social media go hand-in-hand, even down to the new Oxford English Dictionary entry (“FOMO — n. colloq. fear of missing out, anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website”).
We want to know, we want to see, we want to Tweet. We don’t want to be left out of a “cool kid conversation.” We want to be “in the know,” we want to hear the beeps and pings, and we want to refresh our feeds to make sure we aren’t missing anything.
The truth is that FOMO is neither unique nor modern. It predates the acronym coined in 2004, it predates wifi and our always-connected phones, and it precedes our fast-typing opposable thumbs. FOMO is an ancient phobia with a backstory that reaches back in the human experiences of yore.
The Birthplace of FOMO
In fact, FOMO is the primeval human fear, the first fear stoked in hearts when a slithering serpent spoke softly of a one-time opportunity that proved too good to pass up.
Eat from the one forbidden tree, Eve, “and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
What more could Eve or Adam want? Escape your creaturehood. Become your own boss. Preserve your own independence. Define your own truth. Become all-knowing. Delight in autonomous regality. Keep all the glory for yourself. Becoming gods and goddesses! Who could refuse the irresistible chance to become godlike with just one bite?
Oh, these words were loaded with a succulent promise too good to be true. And it was. It was false. It was flattery. It was Satan’s attempt to dethrone God, by spinning words into an insurrection by God’s own darling creatures.
In other words, FOMO was Satan’s first tactic to sabotage the God-man relationship, and it worked. And it still does.
A Spark To Forest Flame
It wouldn’t end there. Inside of Satan’s one lie was a spark that would kindle in the human heart and spread into a forest fire of FOMO that has never since been extinguished. Every day sinners are still animated by the empty promises of reaching some level of self-sufficiency where God will finally become unnecessary.
And that means FOMO still smolders in the human heart. FOMO insinuates that God’s fallen creatures are missing out, and that makes it the easiest dupe in advertising. Any marketing novice can pull off a successful FOMO-based marketing campaign with minimal ingenuity.
FOMO shapes our desires from childhood into adulthood. FOMO is there in midlife crises and falls into our empty nests. FOMO burns into the elderly years when the sting of missing out becomes more and more obvious.
So if such fear is primeval and universal, where do we go from here? How do we think through FOMO as Christians? Where does FOMO die?
Where FOMO Dies
One of the longest running object lessons on the FOMO phenomenon is from Jesus in Luke 16:19–31, in a story about eternal loss and eternal glory.
The story begins with a rich man (who is socially and financially not missing out in any felt way) and Lazarus, a poor man (who is pitifully and reproachfully missing out in every possible way). But this contrast is merely temporary, because both men die and face eternity.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is the grand story of FOMO role-reversal. By the end, we find a formerly rich man (who lost everything) and a formerly beggar (who gained everything). The former rich man now faces eternal torment as a beggar who must plead for a drop of water to cool the agony of judgment. The beggar now faces eternal delight as a redeemed sinner whose regrets and fears have been washed away in the eternal joy of God’s restorative presence.
So the rich man, turned eternal beggar, focuses on FOMO for his loved ones. He pleads: Resurrect the beggar Lazarus and send him back into the world to my five brothers, to tell them of eternal life, that they will hear and believe and escape this wretched eternal missing out. This is the desperate cry of the Rich Man’s FOMO (Luke 16:29–31).
The moral of the story is made obvious by the storyteller (Jesus): Where God’s word is opened, read, and embraced by the hearer, there is no eternal fear — only eternal restoration of all that was missed out on in this life.
One Legit FOMO
In other words, there’s one legitimate FOMO we should all fear: the fear of unbelief and missing out eternally.
If you see God’s wrath, if you feel it in your bones (because you take the words of Scripture with deep earnestness), and if you have escaped that wrath in the Blood of Jesus Christ, then your one legitimate fear in life is gone and the chains of FOMO in your life have been decisively broken forever. FOMO is now dead to you.
In Christ, the sting of missing out is eternally gone. This is one of the promises of the gospel that drives needy, FOMO-plagued sinners to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. In him is the promise of no loss eternally. All that has been lost will be found in him. All that we have missed will be summed up in him.
The wealthy man in Jesus’s parable paints a portrait of the greatest tragedy in this life. In the rich man’s life, any FOMO could be silenced by money. He grabs and grabs and fills his arms and fills his belly and fills his life with pleasures. He grabs everything but Christ. The wealthy sinner played the fool of God-ignoring self-sufficiency, and never embraced God as his greatest treasure, and filled his life with everything but what his soul truly needed (worship).
In this condition of unbelief, the rich man now incarnates the one most dreaded missing out, an eternal missing out, a weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth kind of missing out.
FOMO is nothing to play with — it’s real, and unbelief is really frightening. “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” (Hebrews 4:1).
Unbelief is a FOMO worth losing sleep over — but it’s the only one.
For those in Christ, eternity will make up for every other pinch and loss that you ever suffered in this momentary life. The biblical doctrine of heaven proves it.
Heaven is the restoration of everything broken by sin in this life. Heaven is the reparation of everything you lost in this life. Heaven is the reimbursement of everything you missed out on in this life.
Poor Lazarus learned this blessed truth: Heaven is God’s eternal response to all of the FOMOs of this life. Heaven will restore every “missing out” thousands of times over and over again throughout all of eternity (Acts 3:21).
Or to slightly alter the words of Paul: I count every deprivation in my life as no expense at all in light of never missing out on the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for all eternity (Philippians 3:8).