The past few weeks have been tense. My perception (mostly based on social media outlets) is that a lot of people are unhappy. The reasons vary, but people are upset with the state of the world, they’re upset with one another, and they’re upset that they’re upset with one another. I don’t love conflict — plus, I really don’t have total confidence in my random wonderings — so I’ve stayed out of it, mostly, pondering whether there’s any solution to the disagreements and arguments that seem to be tearing us apart.
How can we show love to those with whom we disagree? How can we say things that must be said in a helpful way? How can we know when it’s better not to speak at all? And how on earth can we be representatives of Christ in all of this? These are questions that have been filling my mind as I watch the ugliness unfold.
I’ve recently been reading the book of Proverbs. Written mostly by King Solomon, considered by many to be the wisest man who ever lived, it’s one of the wisdom books. It seems a fitting read during a cultural moment in which wisdom was never more needed. As a result, I’ve been thinking about the difference between reacting and responding. It’s easy to react to the hatred and division and injustice around us; it’s harder to respond.
A reaction is usually quick, tense and aggressive, and given with little thought. Many times when I read a post or article online, I want to comment immediately. A large percentage of these types of comments would fall into the category of a reaction. Something poked me, and I feel obliged to poke back. I’ve also noticed that ultimately a reaction usually doesn’t do much good. In fact, it can escalate anger and disagreement while accomplishing or resolving little.
A response, on the other hand, is thought out, calm and non-threatening. When I let something percolate in my brain for at least a few minutes, and genuinely think I can offer something helpful to the discussion, my contribution is more likely to be a response.
Rules to Respond By
The Proverbs advocate responding over reacting. In fact, the ability to do this is the mark of a wise person. Take a look at these examples:
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)
“A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” (Proverbs 11:17)
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.” (Proverbs 20:3)
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t noticed a lot of “pleasure in understanding,” “keeping aloof from strife,” and “overlooking offense” in recent weeks. In fact, I’ve seen people — including Christians — eager to express their opinions and tear down those who disagree. As one friend pointed out, observing social media recently has been a bit like “watching a train wreck in slow motion.”
And yet, as Christians we are called to speak. We are called to give a defense for the hope that is within us. We are called to speak the truth in love. We are called to confess Jesus as Lord. And, we are called to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. As followers of Christ, our words and actions and responses matter, and they can do great things for the kingdom of God.
That said, let’s make sure we’re speaking up about the right things. Let’s consider our motives in making our opinions known. And when we speak, let’s take a cue from Proverbs and respond with self-control, understanding, kindness and love. Reacting may feel good in the moment, but long term change requires thoughtful, wise responses.
Copyright 2017 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.