There is an old saying about engaging your brain before putting your mouth in gear. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to know or give credence to this bit of folk wisdom. Instead, many of us, including this writer at times, have the tendency to say the first thing that comes to mind.
Sometimes, that tendency makes one seem quick-witted. At other times, it has the opposite effect. This seems to be especially true in social media. There it seems unthinking responses often rule the day.
For the most part, unthinking comments via social media or across the dinner table are not a major concern. Yes, someone’s feelings can be hurt. Yes, someone can feel foolish for making such a comment. Yes, someone can find him or herself socially ostracized for a time. Still, it is normally not a big deal, with one or two exceptions. The exception of interest here is when someone claiming to be a Christian fails to heed the wisdom of thinking before speaking.
This point was driven home not long ago after the death of a police officer in Texas. The officer responded to a disturbance call, only to be murdered upon his arrival. The report of the murder generated a massive social media response. Messages expressing sympathy, support, and prayer were everywhere. Everyone it seemed was coming together to support the fallen officer’s family, friends, and department. Then someone shared “The Final Inspection” on the PD’s Facebook page.*
It seemed the poem was poignant, appropriate, and thoughtful. At least that seemed to be the consensus of those responding to it. There were a string of thoughtful, sympathetic comments, and then someone felt moved to post something less positive.
Given the atmosphere in the United States today it would not have been surprising for someone to use the post to bash the police or promote a cause of some sort. Also, given the nature of social media, a tacky comment from a self-appointed poetry critic or grammarian would not have been surprising. In this case, the comment came from a self-appointed Bible expert.
I say self-appointed because no one posted a comment asking if the poem was theologically correct. There is no indication this person was asked to comment on the poem or the post in general. The comment just popped up in the thread stating, “That sounds good, but look again, God’s Word just doesn’t read that way.”
Let that sink in for a minute. This poem was not posted as a theological or exegetical statement. It was clearly posted as an homage to the fallen officer, expressing the hope that his sacrifice had not been in vain. Yet, this individual felt it was necessary to claim the poem was misrepresenting God’s Word.
Truthfully, one can argue with some thoughts expressed in the poem. It may have taken some liberties with God’s Word. Still, it did not seem to call for castigation or a snotty comment. The person making the comment may disagree with me on that point, but in all likelihood, the comment was more of a knee-jerk reaction than a well thought out critique. Either that or this individual is exactly what the remark seems to indicate, a zealot or boor.
Is there a time and place for someone to respond directly, even bluntly to the misuse of God’s Word? Certainly! This was not the time and place. People in mourning, in crisis, or simply confused, do not need a legalistic, sanctimonious lesson in Bible knowledge. They need to hear a message of hope and support, or they simply need to know we are praying for them.
Criticizing the poem served no real purpose. Most people likely ignored the criticism or shook their head while thinking something less than complimentary about the author of the comment. One person did reply to the comment, politely noting it was unnecessary. Everyone else simply expressed their thoughts and prayers for the officer’s family, colleagues, and friends.
Admittedly it is hard to know exactly what triggered the naysayer’s reaction to the post. The poem did not claim the officer considered himself a Christian. On the other hand, it did not say he wasn’t a believer. It simply gave the author’s image of what it might be like when the officer faces God. Possibly, that was the trigger. One can have a fairly lively debate about who will face God, what will happen, and when it will happen.
It might be that the critic felt the poem claimed one can earn his or her way into Heaven with good works. If that is what the author of the poem meant, it is certainly not sound New Testament theology. On the other hand, there are those who believe good works will be rewarded in some fashion. Whatever one reads into the poem, it is, theologically speaking, more than a little ambiguous. Still, was that the place and time to criticize the theology of the writing?
Attacking the poem in this setting simply reinforced the negative stereotypes many people hold about believers. It made the person making the comment seem legalistic and insensitive. I would hope that was not their intent, but intent is of little consequence in the modern world of instant communication. Perception counts, and it is likely this comment was perceived negatively by many.
In conclusion, allow me to offer a couple of thoughts. Proverbs 29:20 says, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.” (NLT) The aphorism used to open this piece seems to echo this bit of scripture. Thinking is how one engages his or her brain before putting the mouth in gear.
My hope, no my prayer, is that anyone who considers him or herself a Christian will keep 29:20 and my little saying in mind. This would be even more true, for those of us who hold ourselves out openly as churchgoing or practicing followers of Christ. When we express our faith openly, we are making ourselves targets for every skeptic, unbeliever, and modern-day pharisee around. Let’s not give them any more ammunition than necessary.
So, the next time someone feels the urge to explain how something is biblically inaccurate, it might be wise if he or she counts to 10 or 100 while considering if it is the right place and time to discuss the matter. In the case of social media, it might be appropriate to wait until the next day, or even later to comment. The post and comments causing the offense will still be there, and after a good night’s sleep and a little prayer, it might be clear a direct response is unnecessary. If some response or comment does seem to be appropriate there are other options. This piece, for example, is one such option.
I decided, as I normally do, to share my thoughts here. Readers then have the option to accept my thoughts, discard my writing as drivel, share them with others, or reach for the aspirin bottle. Another and biblically correct approach would be to reach out to the person directly, opening a dialogue of some sort.
The bottom line, to AnOldSinner, is something else I heard quite often as a child. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That is not in the Bible, as far as I know, but there is a verse I feel touches on that thought.
James 1:26 says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” (NLT)
*An internet search found this poem in many places with the annotation “Author Unknown.” However, it seems to be an adaptation of a poem written by Sgt. Joshua Helterbran some years ago.
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