I would like to pose a question for the readers of my blog: is it better to know what someone really thinks or for them to be falsely polite out of fear of causing offense or suffering repercussions for evil words? In the world we live in today, every man woman and child with access to a computer or smart phone can write about their thoughts and insights for a world and society that is largely receptive to those thoughts. Not entirely, but largely. Nonetheless, just as it is encouraged to share one’s thoughts, there are others who crave the anonymity of the web to write hateful, slanderous, and nasty words about others. Some use the web to be more open and honest, to share their insights and seek to build a community of like-minded people, and others use their insights to insult and ridicule and tear others down.
It is therefore fair to say that the internet, just like every other invention of mankind, is not itself good or evil but simply allows for a wider and broader spread of what is already in the abundance of hearts of others–we may like it or not, but it is what it is. We can either take advantage of the greater transparency of our world by shrinking the distance between our public persona and our private life, and live more virtuously (or at least continently), or we can seek to find those spots within the web where we can seek to hide our identities while engaging in our sinful and wicked natures. Either way, we remain responsible, and the chance for that public facade to break down and reveal the ugliness within is always there for us to slip up in our cover-up acts.
Matthew 12:33-37 is a very revealing picture of the relationship between our words, our hearts, and our accountability: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good mean out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Since the last two verses of this passage are usually quoted out of context, let us look at the whole passage to see what it means. For one, the passage clearly demonstrates that there will ultimately be a public manifestation (“fruit”) of the internal state of character. Try as we might, we will eventually show our true selves through our words and actions, and for that we will be accountable for good and for evil. Since to hide our character behind a false mask is to bear false witness, even the “good” words that evil men speak are evil and rotten fruits, whitewashed sepulchers, and traps for the unwary. To be transparent and transparently good (or to be “babes in malice” or innocent “like children”) is our goal and aim–for if we are good inside and reveal ourselves honestly, good words will come out.
The heart is the treasure-horde of of words. Most people, myself included, tend to mull things over them and ponder them for a long time before speaking about them. Most of the time much reading and research, much agonizing and thinking, much meditation and reflection precedes the sort of public speech even for those who are quite to type. There is a lot of internal preparation before one speaks–especially if one likes to know what they are talking about, or at least appear that way. By the time most people speak they are filled to overflowing with thoughts and sentiments–these may be either good or bad. Either way, though, the heart is the source of the attitude and spirit that the words express. If the fruits are lemons, you’ve been tending a lemon tree, if luscious grapes, then you have been tending a grapevine. Either way, you will be known by your fruits, as they reveal the type of person you are.
Sometimes people know enough about what type of fruit they are (and wish to hide it) that they seek to pour out their poison under a false identity so as to disguise their words. Though these people may be prickly about their own sense of honor, and work diligently to put on their best face for others, inside they are wicked and full of sedition and hatred for others, particularly those who live more open and honest lives than they. However hard they try, though, their internal state will eventually make itself plain, and their works at masquerading their evil will go for naught. We can take comfort in the ultimate judgment of the wicked, even as we diligently work not to be among them.
It is context of this relationship between heart and fruit that the statement about words comes. After all, it is not only condemnation but also justification that comes from words–we cannot slant it as only being a negative judgment. Indeed, the good words that come from us will justify us because they are words that edify and instruct others, helping them to become more wise and knowledgeable. For helping others, we will receive a reward for our good work. However, if our words are slanderous or malicious, we will receive condemnation for those words–whether we speak them under our name or try to hide our identity under a false name (as has always been the case for those who wish to ruin the reputation of others through libels).
Either for blessing or judgment, though, blogging and internet communication in general provide a tremendous opportunity to show others, near and far, what is inside our hearts and minds. To the extent that what is inside of us is noble and good, we will receive praise for it from men and honor and blessing from God. To the extent it is bad, we will receive judgment for it both now and (if necessary) hereafter. Either way, the internet and the spread of the public identity of ordinary people is neither good nor evil, but merely another front where in our character must develop and mature. Let us do so openly and honestly, with the sincerity of truth, so that we may bring forth abundant good fruit.