Just about every blogger can identify with the frustration. You write an article that is kind and well-reasoned and, at least in your estimation, displays the fruit of the Spirit’s work in your life. With some excitement you share this article with the world and, yet, within minutes, you face a barrage of comments that immediately turn it into a battlefield. The entire tone changes from kindness to all-out warfare. While bloggers have rightly been criticized for being too negative at times, blog commenters can be equally ruthless. You don’t have to keep a blog to be a large part of the problem.
A reader recently sent an email in which he identified just this issue in Christian blogs.
While the content of the articles of the blogs I read is usually discerning, gracious, loving, and “seasoned with salt, giving grace to those who hear”, the comment threads are commonly not NEARLY marked by the same Christlike characteristics, but are rather characterized by sarcasm, anger, backbiting, and sometimes, what even appears to be out and out hatred.
I’d like to address this briefly today in the hope that I can help us all think well about how we interact online.
One of the strange realities of the Internet is that it gives us the illusion of being somewhere together, and yet at the same time it dehumanizes us. We speak of the Internet as “cyberspace“—a space or place where we go and gather. We tacitly understand that the Internet provides a level of interactivity that was not present in many of our previous means of communication. And yet even as we believe that we are actually somewhere together, we ignore the rules that govern the way we communicate when we are face-to-face. In this relationship mediated by computers and blogs, kindess, gentleness and self-control seem irrelevant.
Do you see the tension here? We feel like we are together in a real relationship, and yet we dehumanize the person we communicate with. This leads to exactly the kind of ugliness that reader identified.
There is one part of the problem. The second part of the problem is much older than the Internet: We underestimate the power and importance of our words.
Proverbs warns us of the power of the tongue, which is to say, the power of our words: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). Bruce Waltke’s comments are insightful:
The deadly tongue disrupts community and by its lethal power isolates its owner from community and kills him. The life-giving tongue creates community and by its vitality gives its possessor the full enjoyment of the abundant life within the community.
People who understand the power of the tongue use their words carefully and thoughtfully. “They search for chaste expression and precise meaning, and they have an end in view which they will reach because they know what language is for and how it can best be used to achieve its purpose.” Yet this is hardly what you expect when reading blog comments.
What Scripture teaches in both the Old Testament and the New is that everything you say online, just like everything you say in your home and church and workplace, is a reflection of your heart. The Bible tells us time and again that the tongue is connected to the heart. The words that come out of your mouth simply reflect what’s going on at a spiritual level. This is equally true of the words that fly off your fingers when you are tapping away at a keyboard. Angry and bitter words are necessarily the product of an angry and bitter heart.
So we are dealing with a two-part problem: We underestimate the power of our words and this allows us to misuse them. Meanwhile, the Internet enhances our ability and even our desire to use words carelessly. And before we know it, we are leaving harsh, angry, unkind, sarcastic comments on blogs.
Can I propose that the solution is actually very simple? I think Christians can be prone to complicating the solutions. Maybe the solution to this problem is as simple as just growing up. So much of the Christian life comes down to maturity—to believing what the Bible says, accepting it, and obeying it. Can’t we just believe that our words are as powerful as Scripture says they are and allow that to then change our behavior?