Are you still shock-able?
Several times recently, a Christ-follower on social media has shocked me completely. The circumstances have been very different—for instance, a writer publicly nursing a private wound, or in another case, a thinker and his Twitter followers howling out against injustice. In each case, someone lashed out, using the harshest language we English-speakers have and speaking in absolutes—the absolutely unmitigated dishonor of their enemies, for example. And who are these enemies? Fellow believers who had caused harm.
There was no attempt at grace. There was no offer of forgiveness.
The writers reached for shocking words because they wanted to wake us from our stupor. Were they right? Had a Christ-follower done them wrong? It does matter—it matters to those broken hearts, and so it matters to Christ. But whether or not the anger was justified, it doesn’t honor Christ to proclaim His name in an un-Christlike way.
Long before the 70s gave us a groovy cover for the Living Bible, the early church was known as “the Way” (Acts 9:2)—as in, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). So what was the way of Christ? We get a hint in the Beatitudes: poor in spirit, mourning, meek. Hungering—yearning—to be right with God, to be merciful, to be pure in heart. His was the way of the peacemaker, the way, ultimately, of self-sacrificial, cross-carrying love. It took a while before Christ-followers were called Christians, “little Christs,” a name we might consider wearing with a tad more humility.
Perhaps plastering His name onto our bitter diatribes is really what it means to “take His name in vain.” Little Christs are image bearers.
One day my internet connection was running slow as I scrolled through Facebook. Instead of photos, an apologetic icon appeared on every post, many with the helpful tag, “Image may contain…”
There were lots. Image may contain mountains. Image may contain trees. I wondered what the tag on my photo would say. Image may contain joy? Image may contain grace? I hope so. It should.
Ponder this. If all a watching world knew of Christ came from my Twitter feed, who would they think He is?
What does my image contain?
Truth In Love
The truth of what I say is not more important than the way I say it. Truth spoken in contempt can hardly be true. Virtue stripped of love is a barren tree. So to paraphrase Grandma, if you can’t speak the truth in love, don’t speak.
We believed that Miss Manners’ instructions on which fork to use and her prohibitions against naughty words were equivalent. But “let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth,” contrary to popular opinion, is not about good manners. (Eph. 4:29) It’s about holiness. Discarding empty politeness, we threw away love as well.
Sticks and stones got nothin’ on mean words.
You can’t honor a legacy of love by spewing hatred. When the tweets rage because of someone else’s sin, they have an unfortunate tendency to invalidate themselves. If you want to promote kindness, do it kindly. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil…” (2 Tim. 2:24)
But wait. Grace is only for people who deserve it. Right?
If we shake our head sadly and say that division is the price we pay to fight oppression, or wrong thinking, it could be that our compass is broken. We thought we were following the Truth, but we weren’t walking in the Way, and we wandered right off the map. Right-ness earned at the expense of love is not righteous. We understand this, indignantly, when we see tyrants claim that the ends justify the means. But when our own cause seems so important, we often lose the way.
Friends, we can’t have righteousness at the expense of reconciliation, or vice-versa. Love and justice are inseparable. Or as Martin Luther put it, “Peace is more important than all justice; and peace was not made for the sake of justice, but justice for the sake of peace.”
Am I saying we’ve no room to get mad? No. To be awake in the world is to know grief and to feel the sting of injustice, whether it affects me or my neighbor. And so, said Paul, we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Cor. 6:10) We can’t ignore sin, or gloss over tragedy, though, so what can we do when we’re feeling betrayed?
We’re not aiming for cotton candy platitudes, but costly glory.
Perhaps you’ve seen a slick city street carpeted in cherry blossoms after a rainstorm. It has cost the cherry tree to shed such beauty. And lest I miscommunicate, we are not the tree in this metaphor. It has cost Jesus, but to bear his image well is to likewise count the cost. Perhaps this is what Fyodor Dostoyevsky was getting at when he said that “beauty will save the world.”
It’s always going to be a temptation for the people with the highest approval ratings to prance around their moral high ground like a battle station. In one generation, it’s the high church authorities who prance. In the next, it’s grassroots progressives. Daily, it’s a temptation for me. But smugness is a Shadow Land virtue that cannot pass the gate.
On the day when we tweet “in a manner worthy,” when we cry out for justice with grace, then the beauty of the Lord will rest upon us, and the watching world will see. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Eph. 4:1-7)