I want to share with you a place where I find myself corrected by the word of God in my read through the Proverbs. This one is interesting, because it is nuanced. It all involves how we speak and write.
One of the things that I try to do in my communication is to write and speak with gentleness and kindness. I find myself uncomfortable with some of the things I read on blogs or social media threads that appear to me to be harsh or aggressive. And, for the most part, my view there is not changed. But something I read in Proverbs has caused me to stop and be sure that my own way of thinking is informed by the word of God.
Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.
The point of this parallelism in Proverbs is to compare the scoffer and the prudent. Wise men learn from reproof. Men of understanding will get it when you make a clear, respectful, fair, gentle argument. But the scoffer, that person requires something else.
What is a scoffer? The scoffer is the person who mocks the things of God. This person is not at all interested in really understanding the claims of the word of God. Nor is this person interested in fair and civil discussion. This is the Internet troll. This is the ill-intentioned person who only looks for ways to make fun of truth and who utterly refuses to be civil toward a righteous argument. It is the person that Psalm 1 declares that the blessed man will not sit with.
While the thrust of the proverb here is to say that you want to be a man of understanding, learning from simple reproof, the opposite is also true. The scoffer may learn from being struck. No, I’m not at all promoting violence here. But what I am recognizing is that, in some cases, the gentle and reasoned response that I most prefer may not make a dent. Instead, there is a place for a sharper, verbally rougher argument.
No, I still do not want to ever become an Internet troll. Nor do I think that we gain much ground in most cases by writing or speaking harshly. But there is a place when we realize that we are dealing, not with an honest interlocuter, but with a scoffer. In that instance, to make an impact, with humility toward the Lord, we need to write or speak with an edge.
The reason that I think this is nuanced is that, for the most part, I believe that people who write with an edge do so far too often. Many enjoy how pointed their own wit is. Many like to crush opponents. Many come off as purely mean-spirited. Many are not able to speak the truth in love. We do not want to be like that. But we must not be so weak that we cannot breathe fire when the situation demands it. For the good of the scoffer, for the good of others watching the conversation, and for the glory of God, we sometimes must hit hard with truth.