Spend 14 seconds tapping through your Insta-stories and you’ll most likely experience a fair amount of emotional whiplash: Your coworker’s political hot-take followed by a photo of your best friend’s new puppy followed by two (heated) posts about abortion.
Maybe it’s always been this way and maybe I’m just now old enough to notice, but I have felt a change in tone online. A couple years ago, I saw mostly pictures of dogs and babies and engagements and vacations and sunsets. Others used the platform as a means of educating or sharing helpful information. Today, both of those functions remain, but all too often I walk away from my feed with a bad taste in my mouth because of something else entirely.
It has become socially acceptable to use social media as a platform to attack those you disagree with from behind a screen. We don’t just attack ideas; we attack the people who hold to those ideas. (And all too often, they are the very people sharing a meal with us every Thanksgiving and Christmas.)
Social media has become a festival of mockery. And I don’t think the effects of this “festival” reach only the online world. What we digest online affects how we exist offline.
That said, there are (and always will be) cultural trends that do not align with the Christian worldview. So, to be a Christian in this world, you need to consider what it looks like to have daggers thrown in your direction—not just at your beliefs and values but at YOU.
When you are told that you hate women because you believe in the sanctity of life in the womb…
When you are called homophobic because you believe in God’s design for a man and woman to join together in marriage…
When you are called intolerant because you preach that belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to receive the gift of eternal life…
How will you respond?
My response to online (or offline) mockery varies. But I generally feel one of three things:
- I feel self-conscious. Out of guilt, I consider how their words might be true of me after all.
- I feel angry. I feel tempted to throw back a heated response and disprove their statements about myself and/or my beliefs.
- I feel defeated. I wonder whether there is any point in standing on truth when (it feels as though) the entire world hates me for it.
Whether I feel one of the three options mentioned above or a strange mix of them all, the result is often the same:
Interestingly, there is an unexpected place in Scripture in which the Israelites find themselves in a very similar situation. Let’s recap Nehemiah 4.
The Israelites—led by Nehemiah—are rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. This project is a big deal because the Israelites have been in exile due to their disobedience. And now, they’re coming home. They have returned to God, and God in His grace is restoring their honor. They are home where they can live and worship freely in communion with Him.
They are making good progress with the wall, but it isn’t long before opposition comes. Two leaders of the surrounding areas, Sanballat and Tobiah, are less than excited about the Israelite’s progress, so they employ a simple tactic to halt the work:
Pay attention to their jeering in Nehemiah 4:1-3 (emphasis added below):
“Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?’ Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!'”
As you read on in the chapter, you find that the initial verbal attacks fail to be effective. So, Sanballat and Tobiah shift their approach. They plan a physical attack to cause confusion and to kill the Israelites, with the end result in mind of stopping the Israelites from making progress in the Lord’s work (Nehemiah 4:11).
Both times, however, when faced with mockery and then the added threat to their lives, Nehemiah’s response remains the same.
- First, he prays.
- Then, he takes practical action to address the threats facing him.
Let’s step back for a second and remember the modern-day scenario we talked about previously. When we stand uncompromisingly on God’s truth in a world turned against Him, we will be called names and there is always the chance that we will experience much worse than that. We need to be ready, knowing how we will respond when that time comes.
While there is so much that we could draw out from Nehemiah’s response, I want to make one observation that I think is important for understanding how his response applies to us today.
Notice that Nehemiah doesn’t just pray; he doesn’t just take action. He does both. Together. Because he realizes that he has to do the thing that God is calling him to do, but he’s also not doing it alone.
As their leader, Nehemiah ensured that the Israelites were not distracted from the work God had for them, but he also ensured they would be ready for attack should it come. They set a guard. Each of them worked with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other (what a powerful picture!). They were ready to fight. But to calm their fears, Nehemiah reminded them of an important truth:
“Our God will fight for us.” (Nehemiah 4:20b)
When read in context, do you recognize what that phrase means?
When you are engaged in the Lord’s work, the Lord fights on your behalf.
Nehemiah recognized that his participation in God’s work was important, but completion of the wall—and the larger goal of bringing people ‘home’ to the Lord—was not dependent on his (or the people’s) performance. If God in His sovereignty wanted them to finish that wall, Nehemiah could trust that He would make a way for them to do so—no matter the opposition they faced.
Just like Sanballat and Tobiah went to great lengths to stop the Israelites from making progress in their work, there are people who hate your involvement in the Lord’s work today. They hate that you care about His design for humanity and the world. They hate that you refuse to bend to culture or water down the gospel. And sometimes, they will go to great lengths to keep you silent and to pull you from your work.
You need the perspective of Nehemiah if you want to press on when daggers of mockery are thrown your way.
I needed this perspective only a few months ago. When information leaked about the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, social media blew up. Like most everyone, I experienced a strong wave of emotion in response to the posts I saw. I will say—I wish I could sit across a table and have this conversation with you in person because I want you to hear my tone of voice. I want you to hear my compassion for those who find themselves in gut-wrenching situations with an unexpected pregnancy. When I talk about the value of life in the womb, I’m not pretending that this conversation is not hard and painful in so many ways.
That said, the emotions were real: Anger, sadness, confusion. Rinse and repeat.
I texted a friend—I needed to talk to somebody who understood where I was coming from. We wanted to say something on social media, but that felt less than productive. We knew that doing so would polarize us from those on the other side of the issue. We wanted to leave space for friendships with people we disagreed with, space for in-person conversations which tend to be 1 million times more meaningful than those online. We wanted our offline words and actions to show our high value of life, not simply our online posts.
As we considered what it looked like to engage in this cultural moment, my friend wisely stated:
Our calling is not to win an argument, though it is important to speak up with truth. And we probably won’t ever ‘win’ this argument. At least not as a whole in the political sphere. But that’s not the point anyway. Truth will be ridiculed increasingly. Our call is to trust God as we live out the truth and be wise and self-controlled enough to know how to engage.
My friend and I felt angry and sad and hopeless as the world argued vehemently online, recklessly throwing daggers of mockery in an attempt to silence anyone with whom they disagreed. We didn’t want to respond rashly, but we wanted to do something. Yet nothing felt like enough. However, my friend’s words reminded me of an important truth:
Christian work is unique in that our success is not measured by an outcome, but rather by our obedience. When we refuse to bend to culture and we uphold God’s truth with grace out of obedience to the Lord and nothing good comes of it (at least not the thing that we thought should come from it), our obedience is enough.
Victory is secured.
Our words and actions have influence and it is a privilege to use our words and actions for God’s glory—a privilege that we must not take lightly. But ultimately, you and I do not—cannot—alter the outcome of eternity. And that is the best news. Victory is secured.
When God asks me to speak up for the rights of the unborn, I pray that I will have the courage to do so. When God asks me to use my time to volunteer at a pregnancy center or my resources to support the young, single mom at church, I pray that I will. It may not feel like these things make much of a dent in our social sphere. But we must remember: Our call is not to secure an outcome, but to be faithful in our obedience.
When we are mocked for doing or believing what we believe to be true and good in the eyes of God, we might initially freeze—out of self-consciousness or anger or defeat. But we must remember that mockery need not stop us in our tracks because when we are engaged in the Lord’s work, He fights on our behalf (Nehemiah 4:20b). We know this to be true because we know how history will play out. Christ will return, sin and death will be defeated, God’s people will dwell with Him for eternity.
Do you feel the freedom in this truth?
You don’t have to win arguments for God.
You don’t have to change hearts for God.
You don’t have to secure victory for God.
Your call is simple: Stand firm in God’s ways and be faithful in the work laid out before you knowing that victory is already won—you must simply live in light of that truth.