How We Use the Tools of Social Media
Most people don’t tend to go to social media to love their neighbors as themselves or to give grace to a person who desperately needs grace. Most people don’t go to Twitter to comfort, encourage, and instill hope. Most of us don’t go to our favorite sites to look for the latest acts of gentleness and kindness. The trending topics on social media don’t tend to be about human dignity, love, mercy, justice, or forgiveness. Hours on social media won’t tend to lift you up or cause you to be better prepared to treat your neighbor with dignity and love. Social media won’t tend to ignite and motivate your respect and appreciation of others. Sadly, social media tends to distort relationships and plunder our humanity. It is a place where Francis Schaeffer’s words, “man’s inhumanity to man,” seem to daily come true.1 And I have to say that this is not just true of the surrounding culture but it is true of the Christian community as well. It’s so easy for charges, accusations, judgments, threats, slanders, dismissals, and mockery to fly off our fingers and onto our screens, with little thought to whom we are reacting and the damage our words may do. For us who believe in a literal creation, dignity is not just a creational declaration but it is also a moral relational mandate.
We, of all communities, have the insight and mandate to use these powerful tools in a very different manner. I have determined to remember that everyone who reads my social media posts is a person made in the image of God. I have committed myself to use these powerful tools as tools of love and truth, and of rescuing, restoring, and healing grace. When I sit at my screen, I try to envision real people sitting in front of me so I will remember to post in a way that is filled with dignity and love. I have determined to stay out of the Twitter muck, to not rise quickly to my own defense, to stay true to my gospel calling, to resist reducing people to positions, ideas, or tribes, and with every touch of a key to love my neighbor as myself. I have determined to read and reflect way more than I respond and to never quickly react. I have restricted myself to posting the gospel of God’s grace to protect myself from the temptation to use these powerful tools in ways they should not be used. Some of you are models of the good that can be done through these powerful media tools, and I am convinced that all of us can do better. When it comes to social media, we should be that city on a hill, a light for all to see, showing the glorious good that can be done through this amazing media. But a whole lot of confessing and repenting is necessary to get us there.
Before we look at what it means to always treat everyone with dignity, I want to make a clarification. I am not calling here for a Hallmark card approach to social media, where we put on a happy face and deny the daily struggles of life in a fallen world. I surely am not saying that we should project faux joy to protect Jesus’s reputation. Life in a fallen world is difficult. Many of us are suffering, and we need to be honest about the trials of life. There are destructive lies to be exposed. The church fails, and where it does, it needs to be examined and lessons drawn from its failures. There are crucially important debates that we need to have. There is a place for righteous anger with evil. There is darkness that needs to be exposed and people who need to be confronted. The Bible never asks us to put on a happy face, spewing quasi-spiritual cliches while denying reality. Biblical faith never requires that we minimize, ignore, or deny the things we face in this fallen world. This is not about denial but about the way we talk to one another about the things that are necessary to discuss. Because of who human beings are by God’s design and their lofty place in God’s economy, we should always treat everyone with dignity no matter who they are, no matter what they’re doing, no matter what they represent, no matter how wrong and reprehensible it is to us. There simply is no exception clause to God’s holy and all-encompassing command “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
How We Treat Others with Dignity
So what does it mean to treat people with dignity? It means:
I will treat every person with respect, no matter what. This is respect that does not have to be earned. It is the honor that is yours because you bear the image of God. I must be careful not to give myself permission to be disrespectful and cruel because you are the enemy of what I think is good, true, and beautiful. I respect you not because of what I think of you, but because of whom God has created and declared you to be.
I will intentionally do harm to no one. Scripture clearly forbids that we would act in any way to harm our neighbor. The Bible prohibits murder, forbids any act of vengeance, calls us to be angry without sinning, and commands us not to gossip. Scripture is clear that all of our responses to one another are to be shaped and directed by love, even if that person is your enemy.
He is crowned with glory and honor. As the conquering Savior King, all things have been placed under his feet.
I will take seriously the experiences of others. It is so easy to dehumanize the person I do not know but whose opinion I dislike. It is easy to forget that there is a real person behind the post that has just riled me up. It is important to remember that behind the post, opinion, click, like, or rant is a real person with all the pressures and stressors of life in a fallen world. I might not know what leads people to the places where they are, but I do know that life in this broken world is hard and requires patience, sympathy, and understanding.
I will respond to differences with appreciation and grace. Scripture calls us to unity not to uniformity. God has made us different from one another in many ways. He has written different stories for us, with different shaping influences. We don’t come to the same things in the same ways. We don’t express the same things in the same ways. We don’t see and experience the same things in the same ways. Even those of us who have submitted our hearts and lives to God’s truth don’t see that truth in the same way. There is such a thing as moral right and wrong, but not all our differences are a matter of moral right or wrong. So we approach one another with humility, kindness, graciousness, appreciation, patience, and grace.
I will look on others with sympathy, not apathy or antipathy. People who seem lost to us, who are morally wrong, who are convinced that what is false is true, or who live as functional enemies of God should not draw hatred out of us but sympathy. When someone who is lost comes to you and asks for directions, you don’t hate him, you don’t mock him; you sympathize with his plight and you gladly give him the directions he needs. If what I have I didn’t earn but rather got by grace, shouldn’t I want that same grace for the person who doesn’t have it?
I will require myself to remember that other people are image bearers. We cannot do this enough. In every encounter, personal or digital, keep saying to yourself, “This person is an image bearer, this person is an imager bearer, this person is an . . .”
I will think of no one as beyond redemption. We must view no one and respond to no one as if he or she is beyond the reach of God’s redeeming grace. No one is a lost cause. There is no sin so great, no darkness so deep, and no rebellion so strong that it lives beyond the rescuing, convicting, forgiving, transforming, and delivering power of God’s grace. We need to respond to everyone, remembering that no matter how deep the hole of darkness and sin is, God’s grace is deeper.
In closing, I am reminded that the ultimate fulfillment of the words of Psalm 8 is Jesus. He is crowned with glory and honor. As the conquering Savior King, all things have been placed under his feet. And because of that, he is our help and hope. It is not natural for us to love our enemies. It is not natural for us to speak with words of grace to those who oppose what we know to be true. It’s not natural for me to treat someone with respect whose lifestyle God says is immoral. Sinful anger is easier for me than righteous anger. So I am again confronted with the fact that I am a person in need of help, and I suspect that you are too. That help is ours for the asking because of who Jesus is and what he has done. Why don’t you reach out for that help right here, right now? Confess your failure, receive his forgiveness, and cry out for his empowering grace.
- Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, in The Francis Schaeffer Trilogy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 118.
This article is adapted from Reactivity: How the Gospel Transforms Our Actions and Reactions by Paul David Tripp.
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