Friends, the internet is a jerk.
I mean, maybe it’s the people, but online is such an easy place to be rude—I’ve done it myself! It’s an easy place not to do research, to demand people take you seriously regardless of what you’re saying. It can be a deeply connecting place as well, a place to be educated, to be inspired, but for God’s sake, don’t read the comments. Like, ever. I made the mistake this past week of reading a few comments on news stories about Ferguson, Missouri. They were…disgusting.
And I don’t know of you’re aware of the stolen, nude photos of actress Jennifer Lawrence? Basically, Jennifer Lawrence had some nude photos of herself for her own purposes. Someone hacked into her accounts and stole them. Some guys on the website 4chan shared them but then a group of folks on another website Reddit spread the photos around far and wide. Jennifer Lawrence was embarrassed, people who saw it were embarrassed, and eventually the folks on Reddit were embarrassed. They had a change of heart—they took the photos down and then did a fundraiser for a cancer charity that Jennifer Lawerence had been associated with. When they sent the thousands of dollars they’d raised to the charity, their note said they were trying to make up for their lapses in judgment and included jokes about what had happened. The charity…said, “no.” Basically, “no, we’re not taking your money, you can’t pay for forgiveness.” Not to be deterred, the Reddit guys sent the money to a water charity with a similar note and with an addendum about how surely this charity would take the donation, they’d be fools not to. And the water charity…said, “no.” No, you don’t get to do something jerk-y and then do one nice thing and expect the scales to be balanced.
It’s not just the internet, though. The Bible is a jerk. Did you notice in that Ezekiel reading, “But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.” Basically, tell people how they’re sinning because otherwise you’ll burn with them. Somehow, we are saved because we have pointed out others’ sins. I’ve met well-meaning Christians who take this as license to insist on their understanding of good and evil and to try to convert me to that. Our scriptures have can be a deeply connecting place as well, a place to be educated, to be inspired, but for God’s sake, don’t read the comments. Or, well, take the centuries of commentary and contemporary, me-first theology together and with a healthy grain of salt.
The thing is, we are about law AND gospel. Yes, the Law says to be righteous and righteously judge your neighbor for their misdeeds. It also says NOT to judge your neighbor—that’s not just Jesus’ line.
No, the Law can be good because I certainly drive better when there’s a cop nearby, don’t you? It’s so easy to justify my own selfishness if I just let a law slide here and there. But the gospel is about something else. Gospel is literally “good news”—it’s a challenge or a comfort that enters into your place of bad news, of really shitty news and transforms it into something beautiful. This is not to say that believing in Jesus makes everything go right for us from finding a parking place to cancer remission. Good news is about hope.
And Ezekiel’s version of good news involves repentance. For him, repentance is about hope. Because we recognize the terrible things we do and say, because we commit to not doing them—even though we’ll fail many times—we have hope that things can be different, will be different. Instead of a cycle of violence that we see enacted in the world all the time, when we admit our failings, we participate in a cycle of forgiveness.
It’s true that the internet is a jerk—it’s a true fact, look it up. But it’s also true that the internet is a beacon of hope. I just recently discovered the vlogbrothers—I’m late to the party, I know—and their videos are the most perfect example of hope I can think of right now. In case you’re also running late for the party, here’s the executive summary: they’re brothers, one a novelist, one a scientist, who do short weekly videos to each other about all kinds of things and have developed a huge following and collaborative community around them. I don’t think they mention it much these days, but back in the day, John mentioned offhandedly that he’s a religious man and at several points Hank has mentioned that he is not. But the words of wonder at the universe and love of collaboration and delight in decreasing world suck—these all speak to me in my language of the creative presence of God constantly grinning like an idiot and saying, “Yes! And…?” Their videos suggest to me the theology of God the primal mover: God acts first, then we respond. John and Hank made videos and then tons of people responded, like a huge sigh of relief—we can make a difference! And for Christians, God loves us first, and when we see that, when we feel it beyond words on a page, suddenly the air is cleaner in our lungs and our eyesight clearer—we can make a difference.
So here are two undying truths from across generations of Christians and, indeed, across generations and faiths of human beings:
Don’t be a jerk.
God loves you even though you are a jerk.
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Here's a link to a great vlogbrothers video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc_XWlqURTg