“You are such a…” “I hope you…” “Look at her, she…”
I’m guessing that all of these phrases have been finished off by you, with insults, curses and condemnations from time to time. I confess they have spilled from my mouth, too, but even more frequently lounged around in the dens of my mind, without challenge or rebuke.
“You are such a pig… I hope you get what you deserve… Look at her, she thinks she’s God’s gift…” I’m sure it’s not just me, is it?
People feel entitled to abuse others on social media
And I feel like it is more evident than ever in our digital world. People feel entitled to abuse others on social media; politicians, even candidates for top office, seem to delight in slander, baiting and personal attacks. Even some leading Christian commentators are drawn into doing it. It is hard to swim against the tide of maliciousness.
There is a new willingness to say ‘whatever you feel like’ — and what we feel like is pretty rotten. Our internal conversations are often the kinds of dialogue we would expect in a murder drama, or a brutal stand-up comedy session…or in parliament. But we, lovely Christians that we are, more often keep them to ourselves, just letting our own minds stew in contempt, jealousy, rage and judgment. The great barrier between our brain and our mouths might save the world from an even greater deluge of disdain, but the work of degradation still takes place — in our own mental playgrounds.
It can be very ugly. I remember one friend telling us years ago that when she first met my wife, she was intending to hate her, and was annoyed when it turned out that Amelia was very likeable after all. Our friend (bless her) was frustrated that her internal bitterness and nastiness was being threatened by real loveliness! How dare you disrupt my inner monologue of hate! I feed on those feelings!
The problem is that God takes this kind of thing very seriously.
And I’ve noticed just how often my own mental monologue is something like this: “Can you believe what this idiot is saying? I’ll just have to grin and pretend I’m OK with it. What a goose! Why did God even bother creating this moron?” Or is it just me?!
The problem is that God takes this kind of thing very seriously. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus ups the stakes around our inner lives by teaching that anyone who calls a person a fool is, in fact, in danger of judgment (he names the fires of hell, in case ‘danger of judgment’ sounds a bit soft!). The link between actions, words, thoughts and feelings is very real for Christians, and there’s no hiding behind the privacy of your own skull.
Christianity is a religion of external and internal practice. It’s not enough for a follower of Christ simply to act well and speak well; our God asks us to renew our minds. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” Paul teaches. Various proverbs tell us (horrifyingly) that God knows our innermost thoughts. In a confronting series of wise insights, we are told things like this: “Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart.” (Proverbs 26:24-25)
But knowing this is also a burden. It can make us feel so unworthy…
This kind of internal scrutiny is a blessing and a burden. It’s a blessing because it indicates just how profoundly God cares for us. He cares not just about how we behave, but about how we think and feel! He’s a God of the heart, not just the hands and feet. His love runs that deep.
But knowing this is also a burden. It can make us feel so unworthy, as the envy, condescension and anger rise. So, part of the work of being a Christian is to attend to what is happening on the inside. But be encouraged, because this is the part of us that is being renewed and made like Christ. It’s not our bodies that are getting the work over (despite all our trips to the gym); it is our inner beings, our secret places. So the work you do here will last for eternity. As Paul tells us, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Now, if this is taking place, it should make a difference to what we are like on the outside, too, as “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:34)
There is still work to be done on the inside.
This means that all the insults, judgments and belittlement that we hear from each other are shocking evidence that the heart-and-mind work has a long way to go. All our passive-aggressive Facebook remarks, our whispered gossip to a friend over lunch, our angry outbursts to our spouses when we don’t get exactly what we want — all signs that there is still work to be done on the inside.
In the social arena, Christians would do well to pause and reflect on how we are talking about matters such as same-sex marriage, the US Presidential candidates, our own politicians, our own church leaders, our Twitter ‘community’, our celebrities and sports stars. Is our language reflecting hearts transformed by the love and mercy of Christ? Or are we still exhibiting abominations of the heart?
It’s the inner life that matters, and we see that life on display particularly in the way we talk about others. As Jesus said, if you are calling someone a fool, it’s like you are a murderer.
If you burst out with insults online, take a spiritual assessment of yourself and see what you think is going on. Because, according to Scripture, the flames of judgment are licking at our wagging tongues and typing fingers.
Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia.
Some prayer points to help
Pray that as we interact with others online that we would examine our own motivations before speaking (or typing).