Someone is Wrong on the Internet

It takes two to tango, and that doesn’t even include the band. Our choices, our behaviors, are rarely as discreet as we think they are. Not only do our decisions bleed into our other decisions, they touch on other people’s lives, more often than not. No man is an island; neither is any man a peninsula.

First, consider gossip. If gossip is spoken in the woods and no one hears, does it still make a mess? Guarding our tongues is important. But we need to guard our ears as well. Without an audience, gossip dies on the vine. It isn’t gossip when I know something you don’t. It isn’t gossip when you find out what I knew first. It’s only gossip when I get to be the one telling you. Ego and pride drive the tongue and open the ear.

The same is true of controversy. In the prototypical schoolyard fight, there is typically the victim, the bully, and the cowards. While we rightly cheer for the victim and hiss at the bully, the cowards, too, deserve our opprobrium. They haven’t even the willingness to risk what the bully has, and worse still, they provide the audience he craves.

The Internet has not helped. Cyber-bullies hide behind proxy servers and false names. Victims slowly learn that fighting back only encourages them. And there is no vice principal patrolling the hallways and breaking things up. Then there are the cowards. They create the page views, and some even input their own comments, usually anonymously, yelling, “Fight, fight,” while they sit three rows back. They create the audience that is the real raison d’être of the controversy to begin with.

Internet controversy gives us the liberty to play theological video games. That is, it is vicarious, faux drama, exciting enough to keep us tapping away at our keyboards but not so exciting that we lose sleep. We read an attack site (discernment blog, as they like to call themselves), and find that the kingdom is crumbling because Joel Osteen’s book is being carried in some LifeWay store somewhere, or because a guy in our camp invited a guy in their camp to speak at a conference. We head over to our favorite guru’s blog to get the straight skinny on just what the respectable ones are saying about this issue or that.

In all this reading, all this key-stroking, what we are really stroking is our egos. We think that by keeping up with the controversy we are really fighting the battle. And because of all the Internet play it is getting, we know it is the battle for the ages. We think we are fighting off Suleiman’s Muslim assault on Vienna, preserving Western Christianity, when all we are really doing is playing with toy soldiers. Like those who fought in the Saint Crispin’s Day battle, we can then go to our beds thinking ourselves fine fellows for having been in the fight. We, in short, aim far and miss far.

There are true, important, eternity-in-the-balance controversies going on all around us. There are fights we are called not merely to egg on from the sidelines but to join. The calculus for the importance of any particular battle, in terms of its lasting impact on the great war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the Serpent, is simple enough. First, we need to know how large is the teaching ministry of the principals involved in the battle. We need to know how many unique visits this guy’s website gets. We need to know how many people recognize his name. The higher those numbers, the less important the battle.

The real battles are these: Will I speak graciously to my children today? Will I have a grateful and cheerful heart about my neighbors, my fellow employees, those with whom I worship? Will I go to war against gossip, not by pointing out the gossip of others but by tending my own garden? Whether some evangelical superstar embraces some mystical prayer form is less important to the kingdom’s future than whether I will pray faithfully for that little girl with the brain tumor.

It is true that the world out there matters. There are controversies that count. Martin Luther changed the world, facing bullies like David before Goliath. But when his beloved wife, Katie, trusted in the finished work of Christ alone, that changed eternity.

Not many of us worry about what we will eat or what we will wear. Sadly, that’s not because we’re so spiritual; rather, it is because we are so prosperous. Having been freed from such worries, do we then focus on pursuing the kingdom of God and His righteousness, or do we instead worry about the future of this theological coalition or the direction of that shared blog? Pursue the kingdom by pursuing His righteousness. And then all these things will be added to you. Stop your fretting. The future does not depend on you. It depends on the One on whom you depend.

There is someone wrong on the Internet. It’s probably you. Log off, hug your kids, kiss your wife, and go get some of His rest. The world will not only be there when you get back, it will have been made better.

This post was first published in Tabletalk magazine, May 2012.