Protect Me from the Venom of Vipers…and Keep Me from Becoming a Viper Myself

Their tongues sting like a snake;
the venom of a viper drips from their lips.

At 3:42 p.m. on December 22, 2003, I put up my first blog post ever. It was a short review of the popular novel The Da Vinci Code, with the title “The Da Vinci Code Is Truly Fictional.” Since that time, eight and a half years ago, I have written over 2,500 blog posts, adding up to more than 1,500,000 words. I have blogged about all sorts of things, from my silly Vacation Bible School skits at Irvine Presbyterian Church to the biblical evidence for Jesus’ language in What Language Did Jesus Speak? Why Does It Matter? (Ironically, that last piece is my most widely viewed blog series, with well over 300,000 visitors, including about 5,000 new viewers each month.)

Blogging has given me an opportunity to share some of my thoughts with others. It has also challenged me to think carefully through issues that matter. For the most part, I am grateful for the world of communication that blogging has opened up to me.

With one giant exception. There is one thing I hate about blogging, one thing that has sometimes led me to consider quitting altogether. I’m talking about nasty comments. By nasty, I don’t mean negative. I want to inspire genuine dialogue, and this sort of thing necessarily includes criticism and divergent perspectives. In fact, I have learned a great deal from those who have commented on my blog or sent me their comments by email. In some cases, I have changed my thoughts. In many cases, I have reshaped them or found better ways to communicate them. Ninety-nine percent of those who leave comments on my blog contribute in a way that is respectful and enlightening, even if they disagree with me. But, in my estimate, about one percent of the commenters are just plain nasty. They say mean things about my writing and about me. They belittle and berate. They make my life as a blogger miserable.

I have some blogging friends who get around this problem by disallowing comments altogether. Others make a practice of never reading their comments. But I believe in the benefit of conversation and I am eager to learn, so I allow comments and try to read them and offer responses as I am able. Thus, I see the one percent of comments that are nasty, and, honestly, they can hurt my feelings and discourage me.

Thus, when I read the beginning of Psalm 140, I can relate well to David’s prayer: “O LORD, rescue me from evil people, protect me from those who are violent…Their tongues sting like a snake; the venom of a viper drips from their lips.” At times, I have prayed for this kind of protection.

Perhaps you have too, not as a blogger, but as a friend, coworker, neighbor, political activist, or church leader. Unfortunately, most of us know what it’s like to be bitten by the venom of nastiness, slander, and unfair criticism. So we pray, like David, for protection. We ask the Lord to help us persevere in our callings and not be chased away by the cruelness of a few people.

Yet, I also pray for protection from becoming one of these vipers. In a world that seems increasingly tolerant of venomous speech, it’s terribly easy for us to start spewing it. As a Christian, I am committed to not doing this. But I surely need God’s help to keep me from the temporary and self-defeating joy of attacking those who attack me.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When have you experienced the sort of thing described in Psalm 140:1-3? How do you respond when people are nasty to you with their speech? What helps you to give “a soft answer” that “turneth away wrath” rather than “grievous words” that “stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1; KJV)?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, like David, I ask you to protect me from those who are evil, in particular from those whose “tongues sting like a snake.” Guard my heart, Lord, so that I might never back away from doing and saying faithfully that to which you have called me.

At the same time, I pray that you protect me from venomous speech. Given the omnipresence of such nastiness in our day, it’s easy to be swept along in the cultural tide of offensiveness. Moreover, when someone has attacked me, I want to bite back. I want the satisfaction that comes from revenge. So, dear Lord, protect me from myself, from my sinful inclinations. Help me to be a person who speaks the truth in love, with gentleness and respect. May I be able to turn the other cheek, so as to glorify you. Amen.
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This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.

  • Graceful Lin

    those kind of people giving nasty criticism reminds me of “Dementor” figures in the film of Harry Potter. they are like having the capability to suck the life out of people…. yes we need God’s protection against them…

  • markdroberts

     Indeed. Thanks for your comment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1406434646 Robert Clemmons

    Nastiness is why I think I stopped writing to my blog, Internetspirations.  Now I only post infrequently.  This internet thing just isn’t something I do well.  Unlike you, I tend to respond in like manner, which I end up regretting later.  I admire your heart, Mark, and your wisdom. 

  • Bob Griffin

    I am hoping that the comments I wrote several posts back would not be considered venomous.  If they were venomous or destructive, I ask your forgiveness.

  • Tanya Williams

    Dear Mark,
    I really like your blog and enjoy reading it very much! I am not even a Christian. I feel I know you a little bit by reading your thoughts and ideas. I am sure you have strength and commitment to ignore 1%, while bringing joy and inspiration to so many people.
    Tanya

  • Jack Vosteen

    The reality of blogging is the list of things and subjects and topics that you ought not discuss.  Thanks to a gift of God I live in a wonderful high rise apartment building. I love it here, but there is no way to “blog” about how my life interacts with that of my neighbors or to discuss the infastructure of my surroundings. At worse the words would be instantly taken as hostile and ungrateful at best. Unfortunately most of our personal “truths’ must remain unpublished. The best stories are either untold or passed off as fiction.

    One interesting note: as a five year old city boy I knew every person within a quarter mile of my home and I could relate to you their life situations and stories. Today as an old man I am reduced to passing comments at the mail box or in the elevator with mostly a group of strangers who could easily be replaced by cut out cardboard figures. But we look forward to a new heaven and earth …