Feelings sometimes run hot in the blogosphere. That’s understandable given (a) some issues discussed, like racism, are already volatile and (b) we often don’t know the individuals we are engaging. Heat and anonymity combust, and often we end up understanding less than before the post or tweet was written.
A lot depends on the state of our hearts when we first read a piece. Are we tired? Grumpy? Fearful? Angry? Sad? Discouraged? Weak? Gullible? We may not always be aware of our emotional and spiritual state as we read. Morever, we may not be aware of how the opinions, attitudes, and views of others might be affecting our reading. Did the tweet or post that first brought the issue to our attention also pass along an attitude or perspective that we took into our reading?
It seems to me that happened a lot over this last two weeks. I wrote in an admittedly confrontational way about a touchy (to put it mildly) topic, and quite a number of people came to the post not on its own terms but carrying the angst, anger, attitude, and bias of the persons who alerted them to the post. I happily spent a lot of time in email and online trying to help people distinguish what I actually wrote from what they had heard elsewhere. People almost always responded in those discussions with some variety of, “Oh, I would say that too.” Or perhaps they still objected to my style in the post or insisted I must mean x or y, but the temperature went way down and real exchange was possible.
All of that to say, as with all things, we should be careful to read others fairly (even if critically) and should avoid as best as possible allowing our reading to be prejudiced by others. The more heated the topic the more important this is.
The warnings of Proverbs regarding strife applies to both the writer and the reader:
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” (Prov. 10:12)
“By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.” (Prov. 13:10)
“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” (Prov. 15:18)
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” (Prov. 16:28)
“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” (Prov. 17:14)
“Whoever loves transgression loves strife; he who makes his door high seeks destruction.” (Prov. 17:19)
“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.” (Prov. 20:3)
“Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.” (Prov. 22:10)
“As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” (Prov. 26:21)
“A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” (Prov. 28:25)
“A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” (Prov. 29:22)
“For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.” (Prov. 30:33)
Note the various emotions, passions, and sins that give rise to strife: hatred, insolence, anger, dishonesty, love for transgression, foolishness, scoffing, quarrelsomeness, greed, and wrath. It’s helpful to remember that along with the strife often comes these emotions, passions, and sins. It’s all rather contagious. And, sadly, those really given to these sins do not seem capable of stopping. It’s a character rather than an incident.
Well does the New Testament put such strife in the category of reprobate behavior (Rom. 1:29) and sins of the flesh (1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:20). For that reason we ought to be careful of causing strife (say, with my writing) or of furthering strife (say, by carrying the tales and attitudes of others in comments). According to some of these Proverbs, we should: lovingly cover offense, take advice, be slow to anger, avoid whispering, quit before quarreling, remain aloof to strife, drive out scoffers, and trust the Lord.
I suspect tale-bearing and strife-kindling are bigger problems than the church realizes. I suspect it’s a blind spot for many of us. The reason I suspect that is because the false brethren of Jude’s letter—mockers, grumblers, complainers and scoffers (Jude 16-19)—were able to make their way into the church without the church noticing them (Jude 4). For a time, they appeared to be Christians. Over time, their true natures were revealed—but not before they had carried some off with them and had left others doubting and endangered (Jude 22-23).
How could such people have been unnoticed in the church? Two possibilities: Either they were extremely deceptive and effective at pretending to be Christians, or the church was too comfortable with these sins and shared in them. Perhaps a combination of the two is possible. But in either case, Jude warns against such false brethren and at the very least we should be aware of any tendency in us toward mockery, scoffing, strife, and the host of motivations that might lead us to strife. We should be careful of how others may encourage these things in us as we read them online. May the Lord give us grace to do it!