Snakes and doves
It was pointed out that one of the most popular forums for expressing opinions can be surprisingly harmful – the internet chatroom. Although chatrooms have largely been replaced by blogs, Facebook groups and interactive news sites, the principle remains – they let us say what we think bluntly, anonymously, and without the need for much factual basis! Under these conditions useful debates can quickly turn to insults. People are misunderstood and exchanges are sometimes vicious.
Shrewd like snakes
Of course, not all discussions are like this, but in debating topics such as faith in Christ, the Bible and the relationship between science and religion, we can easily cause real hurt and so do more harm than good. Here we must be ‘shrewd as snakes’.
We should recognise that emotion-filled arguments don’t always produce sensible (let alone biblical) outcomes. We should be wise in how we speak with those that disagree with us.
Although it is important to present a well-informed defence of what we believe, it may be better sometimes to avoid verbal confrontation with those we cannot talk to face-to-face. And what we do say must be said gently and respectfully, not aggressively (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Innocent like doves
Secondly, we must also be ‘as innocent as doves’. Online social networks like Facebook and MySpace can open up our lives for all to see. The benefits are enormous, keeping us in contact with friends worldwide.
But again there are dangers of being misunderstood or misrepresented. A Christian student friend returned from holiday to find that he had been tagged in an internet photo album among ‘Drunk course mates’ – not a label he either wanted or deserved. We have to be careful that we don’t leave ourselves open to false accusations that taint our witness.
Being ‘innocent’ may require restraint. A popular discussion for Christian students (with too much time on their hands!) concerns downloading television programmes. A friend can legally record my favourite show on a VCR and give it to me; what difference is it if I download the same thing illegally from the internet?
Another Christian gave some wise advice – ‘I don’t need to, so I won’t’. She didn’t know the legal ins and outs, but to avoid her friends assuming she downloaded content illegally, she held back. Perhaps we ought to consider more carefully how others interpret what we do and do not do.
Let Peter have the last word. ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ (1 Peter 2:12).