In 2010, Egyptian activists took to Facebook to challenge the police brutality of their state. The online movement quickly grew into a real-life rallying point for Egyptians frustrated with corruption and economic decline. We know it as the Arab Spring.
To say that the internet has changed the world is almost an understatement. It has affected nearly every facet of life in the western world—from how we consume art and entertainment, to how we communicate, educate, and conduct business, to the very basics of maintaining interpersonal relationships with family and friends.
Perhaps this more globalized world can feel frustrating or even overwhelming. When Christians face persecution in Nigeria, we hear about it immediately. In the same day, we might also hear about acts of terrorism in Europe, protests that become riots across the country, and school shootings in our own backyard. So many days, our Facebook feeds are filled with friends’ testimonies about miscarriage, divorce, sickness, and untimely death, while Instagram is flush with pictures of someone else’s new car or house. Twitter runs quickly with sharp words and hateful comments, and our news outlet of choice seems rampant with misinformation, bias, and vitriol.
The informational input our minds receive every day is extraordinary—far different from the days of king David where they would wait atop the watch towers for a runner to come from battle to give them news (2 Sam. 18:24–25).
This begs a question: How do Christians engage in this brave new world in a manner that’s worthy of the calling we’ve received?
As a journalist, I spent a lot of time on Snopes.com and similar sites, hoping to get to the source of news, viral videos, and even advertisements to discern between reality and scams. It’s easier and quicker to press “share” rather than take the time to double-check facts or verify rumors online. But we’re called to be people who seek truth.
The Lord tells Jeremiah in the days of judgment: “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city” (Jer. 5:1). Proverbs is replete with the praise of truthful lips: “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful” (Prov. 14:25).
As Christians, we ought to commit ourselves to seeking and sharing the truth, not just what confirms our biases or presuppositions. Indeed, a commitment to seeking and sharing only what’s true contributes to our witness before a watching world—even online.
Speak with Salt
Social media can be an angry place. It’s easy to be rude to someone when you can’t see their face and when you don’t know where they come from or what their struggles are. How brusquely we brush people aside, trampling their good names and discarding their thoughts or opinions for the sake of gratifying our own snarky tempers!
And yet, as Christians, our speech is supposed to be edifying: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6). “As God’s chosen people,” we are to “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). That kind of practice leaves very little room for sarcasm.
If we’re God’s children—the recipients of an eternal and saving patience—shouldn’t we be marked by the same quality of gentle speech and a slow tongue?
Pray without Ceasing
The magnitude of suffering this world endures can be overwhelming, but should we be surprised by the wars and rumors of wars? We who believe in the curse of sin and trust in the hope of salvation, redemption, and a new heavens and earth—shouldn’t we be the first to understand the pangs of misery that flood our newsfeeds?
Though heavy, this burden shouldn’t overwhelm us, for we do not mourn anything in this world as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Paul exhorted the Christians of Thessalonica on how to live in these last days: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16–18).
We rest in a great hope, and that should stir us both to prayer and to praise.
When you can curate your own audiences on social media, and decide which news outlets to listen to and which to turn off, it can be easy to trick ourselves into thinking we know everything. The arrogance social media fosters within us often goes unmentioned. And yet we are not called to pride but humility, not to sit in judgment over others but to seek justice and mercy. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
How do we do this? Centuries before cybercommunication complicated our lives, James gave us instructions for this: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
We ought to be the first to lend an ear and “slow to speak”—and then only with gentleness and respect, as unto other image bearers of our gracious God.
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
How these challenges have come into our lives may be new, but the problems themselves are not (Eccl. 1:9). We don’t live in unprecedented times, but those that are foreordained by God, hand-crafted in his perfect providence.
How then do we live? The writer of Hebrews shows us the way:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12:1–3)
Don’t be distracted by the seeming successes and joys of others online or brought low by the constant news of heartache around the world. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and his great work of salvation. Cast off all the sins, doubts, and fears that hinder our running with perseverance in this race of faith. In great joy, Christ has already run this race for you and taken his seat of glory at the right hand of God—that’s the finish line! Don’t grow weary. Don’t lose heart. Long before social media, we were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
Praise be to God that these truths don’t change, even in the age of the internet.