Few things embolden us to say unkind things more than a computer keyboard. Many men and women type mean, slanderous emails and comments. They come out so fast their fingers can barely keep up with the toxic words that appear before them on the screen.
We’ve all seen these nasty messages. They seem to be everywhere we look online and often show up on our social media or inboxes.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke to several pastors and asked them, “How many of you have received a nasty email in the last six months?” Every single person in the room raised their hand—including me.
Let me be clear; I believe the majority of people are civil and respectful in their online dialogue. However, there remains a vocal minority who insist on remaining unpleasant both in tone and word. And these unkind words come from many who self-identify as Christians, who somehow believe that malice is an acceptable form of communication.
Which raises a question: Why do so many Christians persist in being mean?
The Cost of Grace
I don’t suppose I can answer that question for all who post mean-spirited comments. However, I do believe we can make some observations about our world, which may lead to greater clarity, and, more importantly, may lead to greater love, peace, kindness and gentleness when we use our words.
We should begin by recognizing this is nothing new. The people of God have been instructed for thousands of years to be kind with their words. Nearly 2,000 years ago Paul instructed the Colossian church, “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6). Now there’s that word, “grace.”
Perhaps the reason we have such a hard time honoring others with our words is because the idea of grace is something far too many of us have heard about, but few have truly experienced. That’s because grace cannot be earned, bought or taken by force. Grace is a gift. Which means it can only be given and received.
If our words are to be filled with grace it demands we give a gift to others every time we speak or write words. And too many of us are not crazy about giving grace to others, because something in each of us knows grace is expensive. If we are to speak words full of grace it costs us something.
Giving the gift of grace invites us to think outside of and beyond our agenda, our opinion and ourselves. And this is where the real difficulty comes in.
Expanding Our Worlds
Many of us have the luxury of not having to look beyond the small world we create for ourselves. We attend churches, listen to talk radio and watch news programs that only serve to affirm our previously held beliefs. We have fallen asleep in the insulated comfort of accepted, collective thinking. We live among those who think like us, look like us, talk like us, and we assure ourselves we are right and others are wrong.
It may do us well to break out of these enclaves we create for ourselves. Consider Jesus. He always hung out with those who made the religious—those who insisted on being right and defending their religion—uncomfortable. Whether it was prostitutes, tax collectors or “sinners” Jesus was often in their midst.
Not us. We stay away from them too often. And whenever something or someone from the “outside” comes into our space, we attack in the name of defending our faith, our ideas and our way of life—by any means necessary. These attacks are commonplace on the Internet and email. We launch explosive words caring little about the spiritual shrapnel that harms others.
We forget that every venomous word we speak or write to others is an assault on the heart of a man or a woman made in the image and likeness of the Almighty.
Some, no doubt, believe they need to stand up for truth. A few believe standing up for truth demands they attack those who seek to distort the truth. But this is not the case. If the truth is spoken without grace it is not true at all. It turns out we can be right about a lot of things, but if we do not have love we are dead wrong.
Learning to Listen
For those of us who are passionate about God’s truth, it may do us well to ask: “Are we more concerned about the truth being known or about us being right?” I say this because if we are committed to what’s true, there is a good chance our attitude and approach will change. We will experience the move from being mean to being kind.
If our deepest desire is to know the truth, then we will be open to listening—not just speaking—because there is a good chance someone else may share a thought, insight or wisdom we have yet to learn. And when our desire for the truth surpasses our desire to be right, then we will be open and always seek first to listen and learn.
This does not mean we cannot share our thoughts and opinions. But if truth is the highest goal, we will speak for the benefit of others, and not just for the benefit of ourselves. Sure there are times when we feel like we are being crucified for what we believe. But what would happen if, even in the moments when it feels like we are being attacked, we spoke words of grace, hope and forgiveness?
That’s where real courage lies. It does not lie in the confines of our offices and living rooms sitting behind a keyboard and typing anonymous messages. Real courage is full of grace. It is gentle and kind and constructive and honors others. Perhaps this kind of courage should be the very thing that emboldens us to speak, far more than a computer keyboard ever could.