A wise man once said, “Before you criticize anyone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’ll be a mile away, and you’ll have their shoes.”
Corny joking aside, I’ve been having a bit of a think about our Policy for comments on this blog—especially number 3: the comments should be ‘godly’. Of course, the word ‘godly’ can mean all sorts of things to different people. In this case, what really matters is what the word ‘godly’ means to our godly moderators who are vetting the comments! But I’d like to suggest what this idea of ‘godly comments’ might mean in practice.
When Jesus taught his disciples what it meant to be ‘godly’, his particular focus was encouraging them to be ‘like God’. Jesus says in the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt 5:43-45)
Being ‘like God’ is, according to Jesus, loving each person we encounter in God’s creation (even our enemies), and praying for them (even those who persecute us). What might this mean when it comes to blog comments?
I have to admit, I haven’t had the time or energy to read every comment on the Sola Panel—I’m finding it pretty heavy-going even trying to read every comment on my own posts! But I have built up a general picture of what a ‘loving’ comment looks like. It’s got nothing to do with whether the comment agrees with what I’ve said. Rather, I feel loved when people have taken the time to read sympathetically what I have said—that is, to truly ‘listen’ to me. A comment that actually engages (positively or negatively) with what I’ve said is loving. A comment that fails to understand what I’ve said, but instead just ends up talking about something else that exists in the mind of of the commenter, is unloving. I feel most unloved when somebody seems to be either passionately ‘agreeing’ with me or passionately ‘disagreeing’ with me, but actually all they’re doing is agreeing or disagreeing with something else—something that I haven’t actually said. Sometimes, of course, it’s my fault because I haven’t been clear enough. But this is not always the case.
So here are some suggestions for what constitutes a godly comment:
Firstly, a godly comment is one where the person making the comment treats the person they are responding to as a human being—a person of worth who is created and sustained by God, who desires to be heard and is in some measure coherent. A godly comment is preceded by a sincere attempt to read sympathetically, to assume the best, to try to ‘get into’ the thought-world of the other person and look at things from their point of view first. It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing; it’s about truly ‘listening’. In other words, it is loving.
Secondly, a godly comment is one which is clothed in prayer for the other person—especially if that person is somebody with whom you disagree. It’s harder to be unloving when you’re praying simultaneously for the person. You might pray all sorts of things: that they would be encouraged, that they would repent, even that they would be converted if you think that’s what they need! But pray.
If you agree with what I’ve said, don’t limit the application to Sola Panel comments. Apply it to anything you do on the internet—blogging, posting, commenting, etc. Be sons of God. Be godly.
And feel free, of course, to disagree with me, or to pick holes in my argument—provided you’ve heard what I’ve said. And please pray for me too.