Reasonableness in an Age of Outrage

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One reason we should consider periodic breaks from social media is because we need time for clearing the mind and disengaging from a world marked by a profound lack of reasonableness.

In Facebook comments and Twitter threads, unreasonableness is on full display. More and more it appears people are unable or unwilling to engage in rational debate and reasonable dialogue. Online discussions descend into a free-for-all in which everyone flings feelings at each another with no regard to the helpfully constricting restraints or rules that go along with something like, well, logic.

I love a good debate. I’ve written before that we need more not less arguing online, but by arguing I mean actual argumentation between people who are committed to reasoning together in pursuit of the truth. Note again, though, the need for reasoning, not quarrels that emerge from emotive outbursts and personal animosity.

If the world has veered away from reason and kindness in our disputes, then one of the ways a Christian will stand out in this generation is by embracing reasonableness.

Let Your Reasonableness Show

The apostle Paul commanded the early Christians to let their “reasonableness” be known by everyone (Phil. 4:5, ESV). The Greek word is notoriously hard to translate. The CSB goes with “graciousness.” The NIV chooses “gentleness.” Older translations lean toward “forbearance” or “moderation.” Each does its best to capture the original sense, which includes multiple shades of meaning—being considerate, responding in dispute with kindness, and adopting a gracious posture. In a list of qualifications for elders, 1 Timothy 3:3 employs the word as the opposite of being a bully. In James 3, it’s one of the descriptions of the wisdom that comes from above.

The important takeaway from this command to show reasonableness-graciousness-forbearance is that Paul expects this virtue to be public. Contentiousness, quarreling, and bullying show up among divisive and cantankerous people. Paul doesn’t tell the Philippians to disengage from debate, but to go public with the opposite. Your reasonableness-graciousness-forbearance should be on display. The way Christians stand out in a contentious environment is by being a voice of reason, by spreading grace in a culture of judgment. Posture matters as much as principle.

Principled Voice of Reason 

Cultivating this virtue is harder than it sounds. Everything in our culture drives us away from reasonableness and toward hyperbole. Society steers away from rationality and toward emotivism. To be the “voice of reason” in the midst of ongoing conflict, you open yourself to the charge that your moderation is merely compromise, or that your reasonableness minimizes what’s at stake in a debate. Seeking to truly understand the “other side” in a world that has no patience for real dialogue will lead others to label you a traitor or an appeaser (or a squish who doesn’t have any real convictions).

The reality, however, is the opposite. It’s the principled person, secure in his or her convictions, who can dialogue with others graciously and reasonably. When debates descend into flame throwing and name-calling, the Christian who models the virtue of reasonableness becomes a counter-cultural presence. The weapon of choice is kindness. The decision to stand up to an irrational bully with reason and kindness is bold, not cowardly. Reasonableness radiates outward in a world darkened by constant cycles of outrage.

Reasonableness Flows from Joy

Where does reasonableness come from? Paul gives us a clue in Philippians 4. His command comes after he tells us twice to rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice. Show grace. Why would Paul put these commands back to back?

Perhaps it’s because God’s grace is the fountain of our joy, and the joy that comes from tasting God’s grace overflows to the rest of the world in this way: we show grace to others around us. Rejoice in God and his grace; then let God’s grace overflow from your heart to everyone else.

The joyful Christian who models reasonableness is someone who knows there is nothing to lose. We have nothing to prove. We are free to bear with people longer than others think we should. Gracious people are not easily offended. Charles Spurgeon put it this way:

“People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense.”

The reasonable Christian assumes the best, willingly overlooks someone’s faults, and in grace chooses to bear with flawed people.

Joyful Christians are not nitpickers. They’re not looking for reasons to be offended. They aren’t hypercritical. They are known for grace. Why? Because “the Lord is near,” Paul says. Whether that means “God is with you” or “Jesus is coming soon,” the point is security. You who are beloved by God and empowered by hope in the Savior’s coming—you are free to show grace, you are free from the cycles of vengeance that plague our online conversations, you are free from anger and bullying outbursts, and you can rest secure in your convictions, trusting that the Lord will vindicate his name and reward his people.

Let’s not miss this opportunity! In an unreasonable world, let’s put on display the reasonableness that brings glory to God.

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