I don’t know if you realize it, but the WWW in front of every web address stands for World Wide Web. Of course you do, but have you ever thought about the fact that it really is a web? Like the one woven by some unseen creature deviously setting a snare to catch an unsuspecting prey? I recently watched as a small lizard did his best to free himself from the threads created by a minuscule spider that was holding him hostage. Even though this creature was 1,000% larger than his captor, it seemed to be an impossible task (I did free him; I couldn’t continue to watch the struggle). This is particularly true in the world of social media.
Not sure about you, but there are some days I find myself entrapped by a simple sentence that creates an emotional response within me to which I feel an immediate need to react. I am completely entangled in this web, and when I even think about struggling to get out of it I’m quickly caught up in one more article or another person’s opinion. I find myself staring at a screen, wanting to punch the keys in a frustrated response! Or, I am completely appalled at the arguments going on within the community of faith to which I belong. You see, I have a geographically diverse group of friends, who share my faith, residing in every culture, denomination, and political and social spectrum. You can bring up any subject and I can easily point toward individuals who stand firmly in one camp then scroll to those who are diametrically opposed.
Not only are these people my friends on Facebook, but many are friends with whom I have shared segments of life. We have walked together through good and bad times, shared adventures, and often worked in collaboration as followers of Christ. But the reality is that we are more than a faith community; we are also family. “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family” (Ephesians 2:19, NLT).
We didn’t choose to be related to the other folks in God’s family, just like we didn’t choose many of our own biological relatives. We were spiritually born into it. Like any other family, we are a diverse lot. There are the prim and proper ones, the gregarious, the dysfunctional, the wild siblings, sweet aunts, crazy uncles, disruptive children, and tenderhearted grandmas.
But the reality is that we are more than a faith community; we are also family.
Within our faith family we have those relatives who think they have it all figured out and spout their opinion loudly at any family function. There are those who feel simply lost in the mess, not willing to venture into an argument and simply trying to keep peace in the ranks. Then there are members who heard someone say something they simply must repeat, whether they have any true understanding of the subject or not. There’s also the family members who may be tenuous in their opinions but want to argue just because it suits them. When any of this bantering and bickering goes on in a family, it can get pretty ugly. But the head of this particular family tells us, in no uncertain terms, that this not the way his children should act.
“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people” (2 Timothy 2:23-24).
Even when the “discussion” has merit (and many do), I wonder if one-liners (or 8 sentences) in social media really give us the opportunity to be kind, teach, or show patience. It also very rarely offers the chance to hear another’s perspective well, if at all. There is this strange reality in families we often overlook—when in a debate we must be honest enough to admit the other side almost always has merit! That merit requires acknowledgement as well understanding.
I have also come to believe that in the majority of disagreements within the faith family, there are not just two sides to an argument. Each side has it’s own perspective, life history, and information base from which they draw their views. But in truth, there are three sides. There is mine, there is the party I am arguing with, and there is God’s. This may come as a revelation, but only one of those sides is entirely right. It is not mine nor is it theirs. It belongs to the singularly perfect individual within the discussion, God.
Instead of spending so much energy on the ongoing arguments we engage in, I think we should step back. Especially if we hope to adequately represent the only perfect opinion in every debatable subject. It’s my hope and God’s desire that together, as this unique family, we can do so because we love one another based upon the love offered to us. That we can find it within ourselves to offer grace to one another. We are tasked to draw from the same well of unlimited grace that is offered to us daily. No matter what we say Jesus would never unfriend us even if our conduct deserved it, the grace he offers would not be withheld. But he might want to place our rantings into private mode.
The most profound demonstration of active grace is the tempering of our words. When and if we respond, may we do so in a manner that reflects the faith we proclaim. Let us take the words that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29 to heart: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
The most profound demonstration of active grace is the tempering of our words.
At the end of the day, do I really need to allow myself to be ensnared in this web of discourse between my faith family members? It is so tempting sometimes, surely they need a good dose of “what are you thinking?” But they don’t. Not in this format. Not when I don’t have the opportunity to really understand their heart and life experiences that have led to their opinions which are different than mine. I really don’t need to pound that keyboard in frustration. Instead, I need to remember these words, “Respect everyone, and love the family of believers” (1 Peter 2:17).
It’s our responsibility to love one another and to create unity in this wonderfully diverse bunch because we really have more important things to spend our energy on. Like those who have yet to join this delightfully challenging family whose true common denominator is the acceptance of grace from a loving God.
Who would want to join a family that spends every major event, family gathering, or mere dialogue online bickering anyway? I surely wouldn’t. But when we take it upon ourselves to stop this public arguing, it gives us the opportunity to look and act like we are supposed to look and act. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, NKJV).
If we are going to be ensnared by any web, may it be one that draws us back to one another, a family of faith who daily displays the love of the One who loved us first. No matter how much we may disagree.
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