A friend of mine is a pastor and teaches theology in a Christian college. A couple of days ago, he caused quite a stir on his Facebook page by asking this question: “If recreational marijuana was legal (similar to alcohol) throughout the US, would it be okay for Christians to use?” His page lit up with replies, and there was quite a bit of name-calling included. Two days later, people are still responding, and some of his friends have been warned to stop commenting or risk being blocked.
This morning I took a little time to scan through the comments, and it brought another question to mind: “Why did Mike feel compelled to ask that question on Facebook? I do plan on asking him that question, but my question began to get me thinking about why we might ask provocative questions of anyone, much less a group in a public forum where people seem to feel compelled to respond with strong answers and often be, what my wife used to say, ugly.
I began to think about provoking others, and two familiar Bible verses came to mind. Paul wrote to fathers living in Ephesus, saying, “do not provoke your children to anger.” He also wrote to the Corinthians that love “is not provoked.”
While in English, both these verses read with the word “provoke,” in the common Greek of Paul’s time, he used two different words: parorgizō to the Ephesians (which means “to rouse to wrath, to provoke, exasperate, anger”), and paroxynō to the Corinthians (which means “to make sharp, sharpen” either by stimulating or urging, or by exasperating, despising, or scorning.
It’s not clear to me why a father would purposely aggravate his children until they respond in anger, although I probably did that on more than one occasion with my own children. However, I would assume that a pastor asking a question on social media is not trying to provoke anger, and his question provides no trace of despising or scorning his friends who would be reading the question.
That leads me to a conclusion that the problem may not be in the asking of the question but in the response of others. Could it be that the person reading the question reads (or interprets) the question in a way that it was not meant in the asking? Could the reader, by default, assume that the question comes from a desire to exasperate, despise or scorn the reader, rather than to stimulate or urge the reader?
Are we taking the time to understand not only the question but the reasoning or emotions behind the question? Alternatively, we may ourselves also be guilty of exasperating, despising or scorning the person asking the question, either because we do not take the time to understand where the question comes from, or we do not care to give a reasonable response, or, worst of all, we simply do not care (I would consider anyone who would infer that a pastor is demon possessed because he implied that marijuana should be legalized to be guilty of not understanding and not caring).
For the sake of argument, one could find some fault on the person asking the question. However, I would ask why someone asking a question is faulty. Instead, I am reminded of my friend Jim Webster, who recently passed away from pancreatic cancer, who told me on more than one occasion, “You do not have the right to be offended, nor do you have the right to offend.” That means that I should not be asking a question of someone with the intention of offending them.
Another friend of mine, Don Lanier, advised me several times, “Always assume that a person has your best interests at heart, until he proves otherwise.” So, I should assume that Mike is asking a question with my best interests at heart, and I should not take offense at his question, nor attempt to offend him in my response.
So, the issue for me today, and I would ask you to consider as well, is how am I doing at responding to questions from others? Am I taking the time to understand what is behind the question? Am I attempting to answer the question that was asked in a stimulating way, or is my response provoking someone to anger?
The answers to these questions are what brings life to others, and ourselves.