I have made a terrible mistake. And hopefully, by hearing my story, you can avoid the same pitfall.
It’s true that 1 Peter 3:15 tells Christians to have an answer to anyone who asks about our faith, but when Jesus was questioned before the synagogue, he didn’t say a word. And Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”
So sometimes, it’s good for a Christian to just shut up. To walk away from certain challenges or questions.
See, I forgot that…
The Beginning of Sorrows.
Some months back, I wrote a review for Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, easily one of the greatest Christian books I’ve ever read. I gave it a 5-star review.
A week or so ago, a fellow whom I’ll call Jack only gave it a 3-star review with a full diatribe of all the things Keller got wrong (why he didn’t give it less than 3 stars is beyond me). Jack then left a comment on my 5-star review, essentially telling me that Keller got it wrong and because I loved it, I was wrong, too.
Actually, he wasn’t vicious with his words, so I sent a reply. He replied back. I answered again. We kept up a conversation in the comments section until I gave him my email and invited him to discuss the matter one-on-one, and the conversation continued to spin its wheels and spiral into nothingness.
It has been agony. This conversation has consumed my life. Not because Jack replies so often, but because I’m obsessed. I anticipate his answers and plan replies, or I think about his actual emails and spend all day pondering responses. I check my email first thing in the morning and last thing before bed.
And it’s still getting nowhere.
Have you ever done that? Tried to explain your faith, reasoning, or Jesus to someone and after hours or days of conversation, neither of you is making headway? It’s irritating and consumes your day. “How can I get this guy to listen?!”
The sad part? I could have avoided these headaches if I’d paid attention.
The Pharisaical Troll
Think on this: Jack saw a rave review of a book he didn’t like as much, and decided to confront the person who wrote it. He was willing to confront a stranger on the internet who disagreed with his opinion.
Oh, that’s a bad start.
However, this CAN be done well. A person can approach a stranger on the internet about a difference of opinion with humility, curiosity, and respect.
No curiosity. While he had a question in his reply, his tone makes it clear he doesn’t want an answer. He already has an answer, thank you very much. The question wasn’t an attempt at learning so much as an attempted mic-drop.
No humility. Not once does Jack say, “This is how I see it,” or “I think,” or “I could be wrong” or even cite any sources higher than himself. He just steps up and says, “You have it wrong, but I have it right, now let me tell you how.” He wanted to glorify himself.
No respect. Jack makes no attempt to see my side of the argument or ask for clarity. It’s just “You’re wrong, and that’s it.”
And that was only the first comment.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a troll. A person who doesn’t want a discussion, they just want to voice their opinions and shut down everybody else’s.
So Why Did I Fall For It?
I suppose I thought that I had to respond to his challenge. He ended it with a question, so it needed answering, right? But why?
Because I’m just like Jack.
I had to defend my opinion, to wage war against a detractor. It consumed my mind, remember? That’s proof that I was more interested in winning an argument than proper Christian discourse. I believe I handled it with better openness and respect, but the fact that I felt compelled to reply shows a lack of wisdom in that situation.
Had I stopped and examined Jack’s comment more carefully, I would have realized this wasn’t worth the effort. I could have rolled it off my back like so many angry Legend of Korra fanboys.
They know who they are.
When to Respond, When to Shut Up
How do you know which challengers to answer and which ones to ignore? The way I see it, there are three reasons to answer a question or a challenge to your faith.
- They really want to know. They could be a genuine seeker, or just curious.
- Education. Maybe they need to know something, or at least others around you who are listening in on the conversation.
- God gives you words. In Luke 12:12, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit gives words in times of confrontation. If God gives you words, speak them, no matter what.
But if God gives you nothing to say, no one can benefit from the discussion, and the person in question has an attitude that says they don’t even really care for your answer, then don’t waste your breath. Either ignore them altogether or politely decline the argument.
Jesus knew the Pharisees didn’t care about the answers he gave at his trial. They hated him, grabbed him in secret, and held the trial in the dead of night. Why bother defending yourself against that kind of crowd?
Plus, Jesus knew that Godliness isn’t just proving you’re smarter. Jesus was confident in his position with the Father, knew his plans were greater, and didn’t fear the enemy’s jabs.
I wish I’d ignored Jack and saved myself the headache. However, it did reveal my own pride, and now I can lay that before the Lord and repent of it.
Silver linings, folks. When you make a mistake–or when some goofy blogger does–learn from it and don’t make it again.