The most anxious moment for a blogger is the second just before one hits the button labeled “Publish.”
It is a point of no return.
And it can raise nervous questions:
Will someone try to get me fired for saying this?
Will it be misunderstood?
Could I have phrased this better?
Come to think of it: Is the very exercise of “blogging” only slightly less narcissistic than a suggestive teenage selfie, emblazoned with an out-of-context Bible verse?
(Shut up inner voice! I rebuke you in the name of #Jeremiah_29.11!)
ON PRIVACY SETTINGS
Of course, such questions are not entirely unique to bloggers.
We all wrestle with our “privacy settings.”
And we all hit “Publish” in one way or another.
Hast thou a mouth that thou canst speak?
Hast thou a camera on thy smartphone?
Despite the mild anxiety, the wrestling match can be helpful. Because strange as it may sound in our age of TMI, some “revelations” ought to go unpublished.
Here’s what I mean:
THE SEVEN THUNDERS
In the trippy tell-all book of Revelation, John of Patmos says this about the so-called Seven Thunders:
4 And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down” (Revelation 10.4).
The command seems somewhat odd, since John is elsewhere ordered to “Write” what he has seen, regardless of its strange or controversial content. Yet in this one instance, just as he is about to click the button labeled “Publish,” the voice of God chimes in–“Don’t do it!!!”
“Do not write this thing that is simultaneously TRUE and NOT FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION.”
Did John bristle at the prohibition?
After all, he is not even told the reason for the divine censorship. He simply gets a very pressing prompt: “Do not write it down.”
Whatever could this have to do with us?
WHY THUNDERS SPEAK TODAY
As most people acknowledge, we badly need a better ethic when it comes to use of social media these days—whether in The White House or the hands of certain mal-adjusted Junior-Highers (*tries hard to ignore the irony in that sentence).
None of us do this perfectly, including me.
Yet as I’ve thought about the button labeled “Publish” in my own life, there are some obvious reasons why certain “Thunders” might deserve to go unpublished.
Here are just a few:
- When the point is expressed in a way that is un-necessarily hurtful or sensational.
In Romans 14, Paul delivers an interesting command with regard to a first-century squabble over food and drink. While agreeing with those (“the strong”) who saw nothing wrong with eating meat and drinking wine in moderation, he also gave this warning to those who were theologically correct:
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but … 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
In essence, it’s possible to be “Right” in your view, and yet “Wrong” as you press them to the point of harm.
And while this is not a blanket condemnation of all sharp rhetoric (see Jesus, Paul, and pretty much any other biblical prophet), it is a caution against words that are intended merely to get a rise out of others.
- When the motive for the telling has been twisted.
Another danger of the Internet is our ability to track how much attention we receive for any given action.
It is the pathology of analytics, and it breeds “tricks for clicks.”
There is thus a constant pressure to say things that will maximize “exposure.” And in some cases, exposure is precisely the right word: as in a cause of death for mountain climbers, and a misdemeanor involving the “indecent.”
In truth, our motives are almost always mixed.
And our aims are often hidden from us.
Is there not a certain irony in this very blog post!? (Inner voice, I warned you!)
As a one of my old professors used to say: “We are a bundle of contradictions”—wanting simultaneously to be seen and to stay hidden. Thus we lock ourselves in the Panopticons of Instagram and Facebook, while grasping feverishly for fig leaves.
Come to think of it: How do I turn off notifications for the Seven Thunders…?
- When the “Publishing” may do more harm than good.
I joked in a prior post that the Hebrew word blogger translates roughly to “Not helping.”
And like all humor, it’s only funny if there is truth to it.
On that point, I often wonder if some Christian attempts (including my own…) to “speak prophetically” do not actually make the situation worse (See here for more along those lines).
In such moments, we end up as the theological equivalent of those trying to ban books. The result is always a bestseller, even when the book is lame.
On the other hand, this so-called “Hippocratic worry” can lead to dangers of its own. It may mean cowardly silence in the face of injustice or a dangerous equation of positions that are actually quite different (See here on how this happened with white pastors in the Civil Rights era).
The fear of offending may also lead to a weak-kneed, boring style of writing that lacks punch, humor, and engagement with issues that actually matter.
“I never discuss anything but politics and religion,” remarked Chesterton, “There is nothing else to discuss.”
While that’s not quite true, it is certainly true enough to discourage the politico-religious equivalent of spaying or neutering our public discourse.
Sometimes we should speak up (as the saying goes) even if our voice shakes.
Despite such qualifiers, the reminder of Revelation 10 is both simple and profound: Some points are not (yet) meant for public consumption, despite their honesty or truth-value.
And so we end as we began: in that moment just before the “Publish.”
Listening for revelation, and for the quiet voice that might say “Do not write it.”