6691230A long time ago I learnt from C. S. Lewis never to judge a man as he is without knowing how far he has come. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. (Victoria Cross). When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.”

Note that Lewis is not saying that morality is relative. Courage and kindness is good. Cowardice and cruelty is bad. However Lewis is saying that our moral choices are rooted in the raw material of our lives.

He goes on to add:

“We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.”

We need to hear Lewis afresh on this point in the Internet age. So much discourse takes place these days through blogs and emails. I am beginning to realize afresh how inadequate these are for informed, nuanced discussions of issues of import.

We read an email or a blog entry and it contains statements we strongly disagree with. But the usual lengths of emails and blog entries are such that they cannot be exhaustive statements by the writer on that subject. In addition text communication denies us access to body language and tone of voice, which are the main channels of human communication.

Emails and blog entries are at best freeze frames of one person’s thoughts. They help us know a little of what is being said but not why. They may help us know a little of where a person is but not where they have come from or where they are going. They do not tell us whether a person wrote the piece with tears or with glee.

I was always a bit perturbed as to why my Southern Baptist friends were so hard on alcohol (what’s wrong with a glass of a good Merlot with my steak) and seemingly fairly quiet on smoking tobacco. If anything I think smoking is much more dangerous to the body and medical science is now touting the health benefits of a glass or two a day. And while the bible speaks loud and clear about the dangers of drunkenness it does not ban drinking as such.

I later found out that alcohol has destroyed so many lives in the States. This was the context of their horror of drinking. And many Southern Baptists come from States where tobacco farming is a major industry.

I am not here entering into the debate as to whether Christians can drink and I am sure no one today would defend smoking as a pastime. I am merely using this as an example of how we need to understand a person’s context as much as his convictions.

Often our encounters with blog entries and emails of people we have never met lead us to think of people as people without contexts or histories. We may end up responding to a picture we have of this person, which is at best a caricature and often an unflattering one.

I note again that God’s final revelation to us was not a text but a person.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son?” [Hebrews 1: 1-2a ESV]

And while Paul uses letters extensively, he knows that the most important things can only be done personally.

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” [Romans 1:11-12]

The structure of modern life, especially modern life in the cities is that the nature of urban commute is such that we think twice before we set out to see someone face-to-face. And a world connected by the Internet means we are often interacting with people we may never get to meet because they live on the other side of the globe. It is quite natural that emails and blogs have become our main means of communication.

Perhaps we should unplug awhile and think through the potential consequences of using text based Internet tools as our primary channels of communication. At worst we must be aware of the potential distortions of the medium. At best we may want to reserve our most important discussions for face-to-face encounters.

There are many issues facing the church today. We need the collective wisdom of the whole Body Of Christ to respond to these issues. We really need to be working together as a family so that different people can bring different insights to the table.

All the more we should be careful as to how we communicate. Let us be aware of methods that are open to misunderstandings and generalizations. If an issue is important enough let us make the time and effort to sit down together to pray and discern God’s mind.

It is the biblical thing to do.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan