I got concern-trolled on my Jesus juke blog post yesterday by an anonymous commenter who called him/herself a “concerned parishioner.” I think the intent was to make me think it was someone from my church, but people from my church know that I solicit and actually treasure their constructive criticism. I can sometimes be a pretty sarcastic, cynical person, but this person’s sarcasm was dripping like a Niagara Falls of vinegar. And what made me sad was to think of how ineffective this “concerned” parishioner’s communication was and how foolish I must have looked when I have been crazed in a similar way at what I perceived to be the astounding arrogance of other people (whose hearts I did not know).
Prophecy is a very treacherous calling. I believe I have a genuine call. Whether or not I am faithful to my call is a different question. There is a ton of flesh mixed in with the spirit. it’s very hard to discern between my own delight in self-justification on the one hand and the wrath of God that really does enter me when I see things that are ugly and unjust that blaspheme the name of God. Just because I have some of the former doesn’t mean that I am excused from the call to name the latter.
1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” That is the key distinction between trolling and prophecy. Trolls love to talk about other peoples’ evil hypocrisies (especially when they say, “You know, I really don’t enjoy doing this” and try to give themselves an air of sober gravity). Prophets are able to rejoice when the truth is revealed without being intoxicated by hate, even towards those who have hidden the truth. The difference becomes clear when a target of criticism expresses some modicum of humility; the prophet moves into conciliatory mode while the troll gets even madder because what the troll wants is not an apology, but a purely evil object of hate to spit daggers at as long as there’s any kind of engagement.
I think when there are ugly things that have to be named prophetically, the best way to name them is to talk about sinful human behavior in the abstract without naming names. It’s best of all to name it in such a way that you really can say “we” and confess your own sin at the same time, rather than saying “they” or “you” (although there’s nothing worse than the disingenuous rhetorical “we”).
The time when naming names seems permissible is if a public figure is spreading things that are harmful to the body of Christ and that needs to be challenged (but what a treacherous thing it is for your own moral fortitude to give yourself the duty of being the personal critic of public figures!). If you must, then try your best to avoid is rantiness and sarcasm. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for satire. But part of your duty if you feel called to critique something is to do so in such a way that it can actually be received and taken seriously rather than doing it for your own personal vainglory.
Now the mistake I make time and time again, most recently three days ago, is to think that I can cut somebody down to size in an online conversation. I saw another guy displaying what I perceived to be an arrogant and patronizing tone full of Jesus jukes, and it lit a fire under me, so I ripped into him. When I went back and looked at what he had written the next day, I realized that I had read a whole lot into his tone unfairly. So I had to apologize, and it felt like a cheap apology because I fly off the handle like that too quickly all the time and I don’t seem to be getting much better about it.
In any case, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget that trying to browbeat somebody else into recognizing their error or sin almost never works. Especially people you don’t know. Why in the world do we think that a complete stranger ranting and raving on the internet would be regarded with any more seriousness than a belligerent drunk on the street corner? It only “works” on people who are more sanctified than you are and aren’t really convicted by what you’re saying so much as concerned about how wounded you sound and want to show you radical hospitality and love by engaging your words seriously.
Honestly, I listen for God in everyone who has something to say to me, because even strangers have the potential to be angels of truth. But when I hear an utter absence of love in what the other person is saying, I know that it’s just Satan talking, because Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). The more bitter my critics are, the more my concern shifts to offering pastoral care to them. Or at least that’s what I aspire to do when my temper doesn’t get hold of me first.
So if you’ve got some critical feedback for me, please share it. But don’t be a coward and hide your identity. And try to communicate in such a way that I don’t easily dismiss it; you have some responsibility there. Maybe God really has put it on your heart to point out something to me. If the reason I don’t hear what God gave you to tell me is because your words were so wrapped in sarcasm that I couldn’t take you seriously, then you have betrayed God and you best believe He will address it with you.