When it is your job to spend a lot of time on the internet, you inevitably step on a few landmines. Every now and then, I will be reading an article about some social or cultural issue and get to the bottom of the article, and there it is… the comment section.
I know better than to go down there, but the comment section of an article is like that creepy door to the basement in your grandparent’s old house. You know there is nothing good down there. In fact, you’re pretty sure there are monsters down there. And yet, curiosity gets the best of you, and you eventually stare down the stairs into the dark hole.
That dark hole is the comment section for most articles on the internet nowadays. All of humanity’s depravity is on display in internet comment sections. Inevitably, the very first post is someone who could not hate the premise of the article more and disagrees vehemently. The following 250 comments involve people lining up on teams and lobbing insults until someone finally pulls out the Nazi card.
This vitriol in social media is now so prevalent it has a name. We are in the midst of what people call the “outrage culture.” Heather Wilhelm, in an article for the Chicago Tribune writes, “For a frightening number of people, the art of being offended by everything — or, even better, loudly and publicly complaining about being offended by everything — is pursued with alarming dedication. For some, being offended is practically a credo and an all-encompassing way of life.”
There is a difference, however, between having firm convictions and participating in a culture of outrage. Jesus calls his true disciples to respond differently to a hateful world, commanding us to refuse retaliation and instead extend grace to our enemies. Only then can we look like our heavenly Father and speak the gospel with integrity.
A Kingdom Ethic
Jesus provides his church with a completely different ethic in Matthew 5-7. The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most famous portion of Scripture. Over the past 2000 years of church history, there has been more commentary written on these 3 chapters than any other passage in the Bible. And in the sermon, Jesus lays out a completely different manner of living for his disciples, one that is counter-cultural to the world’s logic. He addresses all kinds of real-life instances, but one of those examples speaks directly to this outrage culture that surrounds us.
In his sermon, Jesus instructs his disciples on how to deal with a world that is antagonistic, that is unwelcoming, that is mean-spirited, that wants to take advantage of them, that is… well, an outrage culture.
Jesus tells his followers to turn the other cheek. Matthew writes,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).
The Jewish law created equity with this “eye for an eye” ruling. In other words, it was a just system in which a severe crime received a severe punishment and a small crime could not receive an inflated punishment. However, the context of this passage makes it clear Jesus is correcting a misuse and abuse of this law as means for being returning insult for insult. The purpose of the law was never to give license to inflict as much pain on someone as you thought they had inflicted upon you. Instead, Jesus calls his followers to a completely different standard in their personal dealings with others. The Jewish law was concerned with people’s actions. Jesus’ commands surpass a person’s actions and go after a person’s attitude. Jesus goes after the heart.
Instead of using a misinterpretation of the law as an excuse for personal vengeance, Jesus commands those who are citizens of his kingdom to refuse retaliation when treated poorly. Jesus uses the example of a humiliating slap to the face, a lawsuit that seems to be intentionally dehumanizing, and a man forced to carry the burden of a soldier.
Christians Don’t Slap Back
In an outrage culture, silence often speaks louder than yelling back. When people try to dishonor, humiliate, or embarrass us, Christians don’t slap back. Instead, we realize that our honor does not come from ourselves, and our own honor is not something for which we seek vengeance. Instead, the honor we should be concerned about is that of Christ, and our actions are no longer just a testimony to us. They are a testimony to him.
Yelling back often places undeserved importance on the object of our outrage. Before long, our priorities are as out of whack as those of the broader culture. We begin to believe the narrative of continual offense and outrage and that those issues which are the object of the most heated debate are, in fact, the most important things in life. Then, we spend our time fighting for the wrong things.
I am not saying none of today’s outrage is warranted. A lot of it is. The world is sick with sin, and that creates all kinds of injustice. It always has, and it will until Christ’s glorious appearing. Christians should speak out against injustice, but there is a difference between speaking out against injustice and getting in a Twitter fight where two different camps of people belittle each other in order to try and prove their point. We only have one life to spend in proclamation of the gospel, and that’s hard to do when we are too busy fighting everyone that disagrees with us on Facebook.
Active Love not Avoidance
Refusing to retaliate is not an excuse to be passive or avoid people. Jesus’ words are not a call to disengage. They are a command to go the extra mile instead. It was common under Roman occupation during Jesus’ day for soldiers to demand that citizens carry their pack. This is what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers to go that extra mile.
For this idea to have its full effect, we must remember Roman soldiers were part of an occupying state. They were an oppressive political power, and one that many Jews were itching to overthrow. In fact, several attempts had already been made in Jesus’ day to start a rebellion against the Romans. Jesus tells his disciples to do something countercultural concerning the opposing political party. Not only were they to submit to the request to carry the pack, they were to exceed the expected distance. Do not just do what is expected of you to fulfill the obligation, Jesus tells them, instead do something that can only be explained by a genuine love for the person doing you wrong.
Instead of returning insult for insult, go out of your way to return kindness instead. Instead of getting drawn into the outrage, let us tell a better story.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But Jesus tells you, don’t resist an evildoer.