Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you — for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others. Ecclesiastes 7, verses 21 and 22.
These verses come after the one where God talked about how we are all sinners, that as humans nobody is immune even as we are remade in spirit by Him. That’s no coincidence. This is a good reminder of why that’s true and it’s a reminder that I especially needed to hear today; I hope you do too. Here are a few examples from the last 24 hours of my life.
Yesterday morning I got in an online discussion with a couple of friends about whether or not we are sinners. Their point was that because we are reborn as saints by Christ’s sacrifice, we are no longer sinners. We actually agreed on many points but disagreed on the basic idea that we, as people, are still sinners even after we’re redeemed. As mentioned, our spiritual nature is transformed, but in our human nature of the flesh we are still very much sinners and tempted; this was our point of disagreement. I kept trying to make a point, and the point I tried to make I made badly. Something (maybe the internet) came between our mutual understanding. That’s a problem I see with talking online, especially via social media. It’s too easy to parse things or misread someone’s words even as they’re plainly written. We miss the inflection, non verbals, and other important parts of communication. In this case, we missed a common but crucial mutual peace even as we really weren’t very far apart. At the end of the debate, I don’t think we agreed on the basic premise. I didn’t curse them and they didn’t curse me…but I don’t think it would have taken much for either of us. Before much longer, pride would have come into play, and that’s thin ice. Again, another danger of communicating online. Got internet? Probably got sin. Maybe it’s best to walk away from the conversation if it isn’t going to build someone up.
A few hours later, I watched as two other friends had a different Facebook debate about a different subject. I stayed out of it, mainly because I couldn’t access Facebook from where I was. If I’d been able to, I probably would have jumped in. My friends were mostly civil, but there were a few jabs thrown in here and there for good measure. Later, when I got back to my hotel room, I joined in the fracas. Again, we were mostly civil, but I found myself quite exasperated in debating a good friend whose views are on the aisle opposite to mine. There wasn’t any cursing or name calling; I don’t allow it on my online page when we’re debating. But it was nip & tuck there for awhile for both of us. Got debate? Probably got sin. Again, maybe it’s best to walk away from the conversation if it isn’t going to build someone up.
And then there is the election. I’m a political junkie, but even I find it frustrating. Both sides of the argument are loud, think we are principled, and are quite insistent. I watch several channels of news programs, read different newspapers, and listen to talk radio quite often. How many times have I cursed the people on the other side for espousing what I think are mind-numbingly stupid ideas? More than I can count. Does it make a difference? Has anyone been convinced? Me, I’m firmly convinced of who I’m going to vote for, but more than that I’m convinced that it’s frustrating. Got politics? GOT SIN! Definitely best to walk away from the conversation if it isn’t going to build someone up.
Isn’t that the point the verse is making? I can’t blame it all on Satan. A friend of mine pointed out last weekend that we can’t blame all our sins on the devil. Some of them are due to our just plain bad choices and defiant human nature. Because our human nature is sin, we should watch our words, and even watch what we listen to. We make bad choices and we stir up a lot of talk. Some of that talk isn’t helpful, and some of it is downright harmful. So is some of what we hear. If we aren’t careful, we may hear things that we really don’t want to hear, things that tear down. We should be careful about the things we listen to because some of them might lead us down paths we’d do better to avoid.
See, too, that the verse isn’t telling us to turn a blind eye. God’s word never tells us to be willfully blind; this is the same Bible that tells us to be innocent but shrewd. Because the previous verse correctly identified us as sinners, this one reminds us to moderate our listening and thus our response so that we avoid further sin. All those times I thought badly of someone, even my loved ones, make me susceptible to further sin. We are free to choose to not be defined by that, instead being defined by God’s redemption. Yet for that change to be complete and bear good fruit may mean avoiding some of the conversations, some of the listening, some of the viewing, some of the reading, that occupied our lives before. That isn’t harmfully ignoring something you know is bad: it’s choosing to not be a part of it.
Today I’ll try harder to do better. Today I’ll focus on where God has me and what He’s doing in my life. The finer points of Scripture I’ll leave for another day, and the finer points of political discourse I’ll leave to general irrelevancy. I’m flying home anyway, and I’d rather spend time with my family. Those are people I’d like to listen to. I can speak with my vote, with my friends, and with my faith, but it need not be every word or every moment. Today, as God gives me strength, I’ll do better.