Don’t we all wish we could erase our pasts, with all the failures, sins, mistakes, and hurtful words we can’t take back? Imagine how much more desperate we all must feel for this ability to erase our pasts on the internet and social media age in which we live. Trust me, I cringe when I think about the nonsense I spouted on my first personal blog I began at 15!
Today, far more than our past just being known by close friends and family, our “digital footprint” can be accessed by people across the world – and it lasts forever! Every poor choice, hateful comment, unbiblical post, snarky tweet, or embarrassing video or photograph is there for the world to see and comment on – perhaps with lasting consequences and repercussions long into the future!
What happens when the embarrassing digital footprint belongs to someone else? Well, as believers, we are called to show love, compassion, and forgiveness to the other person in our lives. We’re called to do this regardless of their past failings and sins, regardless of whether or not they are a fellow believer, and despite whether or not their shortcomings took place on the internet.
Let’s talk today about how we can recognize a person for who they are now, while forgetting the person they once were, as we look at 5 principles of online forgiveness:
Remember you don’t know the whole story.
In an age of social media, beloved bloggers, and well-known podcasters, it can feel as if we really know the person on the other side of the screen. However, the reality is that oftentimes we actually don’t know them as well as we think we do. We access only the highlight reel they choose to give us and we only see a fraction of what comprises their whole lives.
It’s helpful to remember this when it comes to extending online forgiveness. It’s easier to forgive when we realize that we don’t know the whole story – or even whether the part of the story we were given is fully accurate or not, such as when dealing with a news report about a celebrity, for example! Not assuming we know all there is to know will help keep us humble and in a better posture to be ready, willing, and able to forgive.
Remember God can and does change people.
As much as our digital footprint may be lasting, if not nearly permanent, the condition of our hearts is not. When viewing others and their past shortcomings, we must remember that God is always in the business of changing hearts and making all things new. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you, knowing that the same God Who changed you can change them, as well.
Remember that you are technically no better than they are.
Whatever terrible thing someone online may have done, keep in mind that you and I are technically no better than they are. At our core, we are all just as in need of God and His forgiveness as the next person. Carry with you one of my dad’s favorite sayings, and it will equip you well to forgive others readily – “But for the grace of God go I”. In other words, it is only God’s amazing grace at work in your heart and life that is keeping you from going down the same dark path as others you see on the internet.
Remember the “Golden Rule”.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12a, which have now become known as the Golden Rule, are a great reminder for us: “Whatever you want others to do to you, do also to them”. Extend to others the same grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness you desire to receive yourself when struggling with a past of public wrongdoing on the internet. God’s grace reaches into everywhere and so should ours!
Remember how God views us.
God no longer views us in light of our sins and failures. He views us in light of His Son’s perfect righteousness which has been forevermore applied to our account. May we view our fellow believers through this same lens, regardless of their past mistakes, online or otherwise. If God doesn’t hold their sin over them, we certainly have no right to!
Navigating the online world can be challenging, but when we remember that we have been equipped with the example and teachings of Christ, we will be able to do so in a God-honoring way!