Speaking From Ignorance

The Internet has created a venue where anyone with the time and inclination can get his ideas and opinions into the wild for all the world to see. The proliferation of blogs, social networks, and even comments on news sites has provided the opportunity for every voice to be heard. Whereas in years past people wrote in their journals, complained to a friend, or otherwise found a small outlet for their frustrations, today’s postmodern world has determined that publishing these thoughts—however random, foolish, or ridiculous—is a good idea. Moreover, the ease with which people can offer compliments and encouragement for any illogical diatribe has turned the digital platform into a medium where people seek validation from anyone willing to offer it and where they dodge responsibility should anyone question them about their own words. This world without filters is a dangerous place for unguarded people to express themselves because it allows opinions to enter the “ether” often without sufficient thought and consideration of the potential consequences. As James reminds us, this is true with every word we utter (Jas. 3:1-8), but we can lose sight of the original context of James’ warning: the need for teachers to guard their speech because of the possible ramifications of saying the wrong thing or even saying the right thing the wrong way. 

While we typically turn to the book of Job to learn about suffering, the long discussion that fills the middle chapters is most characterized by the ignorance of Job’s friends. Of course, they did not think they were ignorant at all. They thought they were wise. Herein lies an essential lesson for all of us. After a week of silence and following Job’s declaration of his frustration and confusion, Eliphaz finally spoke, saying, “If one attempts a word with you, will you become weary? But who can withhold himself from speaking?” (Job 4:2). Eliphaz decided he could no longer keep quiet because he disagreed with something Job said. Clearly he had many good qualities; otherwise, he would not have been Job’s friend. There was only one simple problem: he was wrong. He assumed Job’s guilt and therefore determined that someone needed to speak out about it. Unfortunately, his pride kept him from listening to Job carefully and left him citing his erroneous opinion as if it were gospel. Thus, we find here a good man who feared God sincerely seeking to help a friend but failing miserably because he did not know as much as he thought he knew. 

It sounds familiar, does it not? The overreaction. The jumping to conclusions. The failure to consider any perspective other than his own. The self-righteous indignation built on ignorance. It is painfully typical. And that is likely one of the reasons the Holy Spirit provided it for our benefit. It is an awesome responsibility to teach the word of God in any form in any format. However, in an era free of a rigorous editorial process, when instant access to scholarly materials in digitized form often limits how long people actually think about what God says, and at a time where saying something controversial matters more than saying something with eternal value, Christians have the responsibility to take greater care than ever in how they present the truth of God’s Word. Far too many write cavalierly about divine matters. Too many criticize carelessly and thoughtlessly. Too many appear incapable of withholding themselves from speaking when they really ought to do so. Ultimately, God Himself corrected Eliphaz (Job 42:7-9). It would seem wise for us not to wait for that moment.

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