"A Bird of the Heavens Will Carry the Sound"

It seems each new week brings another national commotion over news of controversial social media posts that were made in the past—sometimes years ago—by someone who is now a public figure. A major league baseball player has come under fire for bigoted remarks he posted while in high school. A newly hired editor at a major newspaper has faced criticism for a history of ugly comments on Twitter. And on it goes. The statement may or may not have been deliberately offensive. The person may or may not have changed his thinking since then. Regardless of the details in each case, they all involve people who never expected their words to come back to haunt them.

Some lessons:

First, our speech has great power for good and for evil. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21a). Your words may bear consequences well beyond the present. Choose them carefully.

Second, the things we say—even when we think no one is paying attention—often have a way of getting out. Solomon warned against cursing the rich and powerful, even in private, “for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known” (Ecclesiastes 10:20). If we need to be guarded even in our private speech, then all the more in what we say on forums that are far less private. People who are otherwise sensible often seem to forget that what they put online can actually be read by others—and that it remains available essentially forever. Even a deleted post or tweet can survive in re-posts, archives, and screenshots, not to mention the memories of those who have already read it. In short, if you don’t want people to know you said it, then don’t say it.

Third, no matter who else does or doesn’t see your tweet, post, comment, email, or text message, God sees it. And it matters to Him. “I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).