By Jason Harris
Virtual reality implies artificial, but the cyber-phenomenon that dominates today’s generation is anything but artificial. The rise of interactive web-based services such as MSN chat, forum communities, and blogs has led to a culture in which one’s identity is assumed at login and we can hang out with friends online just as easily as at the mall (granted the coffee’s better at the mall!).
A balanced approach to this phenomenon will not only emphasise the unprecedented dangers, but also the unprecedented opportunities of the internet culture we live in. Just like previous generations have attempted to utilise the invention of electricity, photography, telephony, and television for the glory of God while effectively dealing with their spiritually dangerous aspects, our generation must utilise the opportunities of our day with the same enthusiasm—and the same caution.
One of the less obvious dangers of the internet is interactive web dialogue. Historically, since the invention of the printing press, the great theological and sociological issues of the day were dealt with as one person of note would write a book or a paper, which would then be countered by an author of note on the other side of the ideological spectrum. Over time additional books would be issued from both sides of the spectrum so that eventually there would develop a valuable body of literature presenting all aspects of an issue. The advantage of this system is that it was generally mature leaders who wrote and they did it over long periods of time. They could also have their work checked by others from various fields of knowledge so that their ideas would be well critiqued and well thought through. Also, it was necessary to find a publisher that believed your arguments were credible enough to deserve publishing. The result was far from complete agreement on all the issues, but at least the ideas had been presented in a mature and careful way.
In the modern chat or forum setting, the authors are often young, the publication is a matter of clicking “submit post,” and the interaction is lightning fast. I’m not promoting a return to the “good old days,” but I do believe caution is vitally necessary when engaging in web discussions. Following are six reasons to be careful what you post:
1. Because your brothers and sisters in Christ may read it.
As believers, the command to build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11) does not stop at login. If you’re a Christian, so is your online identity. James 1:3 says “the tongue is a fire.” If you’ve ever surveyed the devastation following a deadly bushfire, then you understand the point that is being made. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself from becoming the tool of the flesh to tear down others.
2. Because a lost person may read it.
It’s a scary thought that someone who will spend eternity in hell may get their impression of Christ and of Christianity from your post. Many people feel safe because they are posting in a Christian web community, but I have personally seen hundreds of people in my lifetime who professed to be saved long before they actually were. This truth ought to sober us. It ought to change the way we post.
3. Because your pastor may read it.
It’s easy to feel very comfortable and relaxed when posting online, but the fact is that posts don’t disappear—they stay for a long time. You would be wise to post only what you would not be ashamed for your pastor or your parents to read. If you would be ashamed for them to read it, then you need to discern why and deal with the heart issue involved.
4. Because your children may read it.
Let’s face it, the internet stores un-imaginable quantities of data. The day may come when one of your children finds your identity on some site and looks up what you had to say when you were their age. Will they respect you more after getting to know the young you or will you tear down everything that you’re trying to do in discipling them?
5. Because you may read it.
Have you ever gone back and read a post from a few months ago and thought “what was I thinking!?!” If you have, just think of what you’ll say when you read your posts twenty years from now. Sure, there will be evidence of growth over those years, but will there be tears because of how you treated someone who is now in eternity? Will there be tears because the person to whom your careless post was directed is now living in hard-hearted rebellion against God? Don’t sow the seeds that will harvest waves of regret someday.
6. Because God is reading it.
The fear of God has been described as a combination of the security of knowing God’s love and the vulnerability of knowing God’s power. David’s Psalm 139 could be paraphrased for the internet:
“O LORD, thou hast searched my posts, and known my screen name. You know when I sit down at my computer, and when I get up from my computer. You know what I want to post even before I post it. You know when I go to bed and when I wake up, you know all of my internet habits. For there is not a word in my post, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. You sit in front of me and behind me while I’m posting. You even put your hand on my shoulder. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”
May we truly post in the fear of God for the glory of God.