In a discussion with some friends about social media, one of them recently wrote, “It’s so difficult to wade through social media attacks and gang wars. That’s why I can’t bear to be on social media.”
I totally understand. Nothing makes me more cynical than listening to cynical people, and even though my cynicism is directed at them, it is still unhealthy.
I don’t read much social media, as I tend to be very selective, but as soon as I see people ganging up, whether or not I am sympathetic to some of their concerns, I stop reading. My feeling is that their comments are not about reality, but about them. Their cynicism, their weariness with life, and their judgmental spirit is poison, and I don’t think it’s helpful to drink poison, even if you think you’re immune to it.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Warm-hearted saints keep each other warm, but cold is also contagious.” How true that is, especially on social media.
I am generally pleased with my Facebook page, and the kinds of responses we get. (The fact that our EPM staff give an explanation or a link in the comments from time to time helps foster a more positive spirit.) Sure, there are always the people who didn’t actually read the article or maybe glanced at it and assume we’re saying something that we’re really not.
For example, someone posted in response to my blog article that they were surprised (and obviously disappointed) that I clearly didn’t know the whole story about some of the people in the Jesus Revolution film. Of course, that meant they hadn’t read the article. Sure enough, another commenter said something like “you obviously haven’t read the article, since Randy addresses that.” But then the person who made the criticism came back and admitted they hadn’t read the article and said that they now would. And I thought, sometimes critical readers actually are open to correction. It is always a beautiful thing to see people offer correction that turns around somebody’s thinking.
That encouraged me, but it also struck me once again how utterly ridiculous it is (and how embarrassed anyone should be!) to draw conclusions and make comments without even reading an article. I wonder sometimes if they assume that I don’t know about the bad stuff that also happened related to a given subject. It’s as if everything is black and white, and anything that happens must be all good or all bad. The blindness that goes with that approach to life is itself poison. To use a recent example, the Asbury revival must be all of God or all of the devil, and the moment I see anything that I think is of the devil (or God, for that matter), therefore it must all be.
This is why I find Romans 14–15 so comforting and encouraging. We can have different convictions, even in relatively significant areas, and still be united in Christ. But so much social media turns people into petty little arrogant presumptuous critics. It reminds me of what J.I. Packer said in Knowing God about the difference between travelers and “balconeers.” There are those people actually traveling the road of the Christian life, and there are those who don’t really walk the road; rather, they just sit up in the balcony and look down on those walking the road, and think their view allows them to understand what it means to walk the road.
I’m reminded of a story about a man who years ago was ready to make some terrible decisions. Several friends confronted and warned him. By God’s grace, he got counseling, and today he is closer to Jesus than ever. This had appeared to be an impossible situation, too late to turn around. Yet by God’s grace, it happened. God used voices of truth and grace in this person’s life, and he has now influenced many others for God’s kingdom.
This story helps me to have hope for struggling people tempted to reconstruct their faith, and hope for the body of Christ to be what Jesus intends it to be—full of genuine grace and truth. When I spend time with my small group and with Christ-centered friends, I come home refreshed instead of depleted. So if I find social media that refreshes me, as I sometimes do, I go for it. If it just drains and discourages or irritates me, I need to stay away.
A dear friend shared this memory:
Romans 15 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. Back in the ’90’s I was having a discouraging time and I called a dear friend to pray for me. She read Romans 15 to me on the phone, and the Holy Spirit just bathed me in the comfort of those words. I’ll never forget where I was sitting and what I was wearing and what I was thinking that night. Jesus took me from darkness into perfect light through His Word.
What a great memory to have. And what a great illustration, with all the people who hate the church, and always criticize it. We’ve all been touched by church people who were instruments of Jesus in our life. Let’s thank God for them! And humbly seek to be Christ-centered instruments of grace, truth, and encouragement in others’ lives, both online and in person.
Photo by Magnus Mueller
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.