Five years ago, after I was arrested, there were numerous newspaper and online articles written about me. The arrest and even the articles themselves were not nearly as painful as the comments from Internet readers. Men and women who never met me and who never really knew the true story of what happened felt free to let their comments fly like popcorn kernels bursting in a hot microwave. I quickly learned not to read the comments in those articles, but I also learned the value of withholding some of my own article, blog and Facebook comments. Even if my judgments are correct, what do I really gain by putting someone in their place through a social media comment?
Although the Scripture’s teaching on how to do good to our enemies never changes, our day to day application of doing good has some new dimensions in this Internet age. We can now have enemies whom we’ve never met with whom we can instantly interact on a very personal level. When we engage in this type of Internet communication, however, two problems often arise.
- Tone and Feeling are Hard to Detect – This is true especially in e-mail communication. E-mails can often be direct and to the point while things like feeling, heart and attitude are left to the interpretation of the reader. And if an e-mail is interpreted to be negative, our temptation is to automatically trump the negative e-mail by sending back something a bit more vitriolic in nature.
- It’s easier to be unkind with electronic communication – It is much easier to write something unkind about someone than to say that same thing to the person’s face. With face to face communication, I may still think that person is dead wrong, but I’ll naturally modulate my communication based on their ongoing response to what I’m sharing. I’ll also care about changing their opinion for the right reasons, rather than just to point out that I’m right.
A few weeks ago a brave Facebook friend posted about her divorce. She had friends and a pastor who were already walking with her through this painful time, but she wanted to share more openly with others and ask for prayer. Almost anticipating the oncoming barrage of well-meaning advice and not so well-meaning criticism she posted this,
Unsolicited advice, even well-meaning, can sting and feel like I’m being kicked while I’m down. However, give advice freely if I ask for it, which I happen to be doing a lot, mainly because I’ve never walked through this before and I’m a bit clueless. No one can know all the details of any situation. If you want to, you can ask me the questions that you’re wondering deep down, and then listen with gentleness. And please, hand it over to Jesus. He’s the only one who truly knows my heart in this situation.
I’m not encouraging you to refrain from commenting on online articles and social media. But I’m asking you to examine what you write in light of Scripture. For example, how would your Facebook comments look different in light of Romans 14:17? Or how would you read that internet newspaper article different in light of Matthew 5:44?
Whether it’s an enemy or even a friend, it can be easy to hurt someone through an offhand social media comment. And if you feel the urge to say something hurtful online, in the words of my friend, “Please, hand it over to Jesus.”