The Devil is a slanderer; that is what the name means and that is what he does well. Have you ever been at the receiving end of a slanderous accusation, or a malicious rumor? Many of us have at one time or another. It is not possible to control what others may say about you. It is possible to control what you do about it.
You may be innocent, but unstable, angry people may attack you or your character anyway. The internet has made this very easy. Social media, in particular, provides a pipeline for slander. In the privacy of their own home, and with the ease of a few keystrokes, anybody can say anything about anybody anytime. Facts are unnecessary and truth is rarely sought. People enjoy seeing conflict; it doesn’t matter if there is a basis in truth. As Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?” In our day truth is the casualty of our culture of self-interest. Too many think of truth as whatever the majority says it is, or what the loudest and most convincing voices say it is. By this definition truth is the story people believe.
However, that is not truth. Something is true when it corresponds to reality, and absolute truth is what corresponds to ultimate unchanging reality. Jesus Christ called himself the embodiment of truth. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). We may come to know the Truth when we follow Jesus Christ and live by his teaching and commandments. “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). When you understand that truth is not just an opinion, but, rather, what is taught and embodied in Jesus, then you are on the way to living a healthy, reasonable, stable life.
Truth comes from God, who made the world and holds it together. God is behind existence, or reality. What is true is based upon objective reality, not subjective perception of it. In order to understand—or even properly perceive—reality, you have to believe that there is a right way and a wrong way of looking at things. When I choose only to see what pleases me, benefits me, or agrees with my preconceived understanding of things, I will inevitably be blinded by my overwhelming self-interest. If someone hurts me, for example, whether they intended to or not, I may not be able to look at them reasonably or objectively any longer. Anger, fear, resentment, hostility and the like, are all emotions that produce a fight or flight response. The one who hurt me has become the enemy, and I cannot see or say anything good about them.
An example of this may be observed when a couple divorces. Former lovers, partners and parents become mortal enemies. Children hear (or overhear) each parent accuse the other of various crimes and character flaws. Kids are caught in the middle and forced to choose sides. They become casualties of war, victims of friendly fire. Wisdom would lead parents to respect one another as a model for their children, even when they feel compelled to divorce.
The Devil is a slanderer. He uses slander to divide and conquer. He seeks to steal, kill and destroy all that God loves (John 10:10), and that means you and me and our relationships. You may be angry because of some offense or past hurt, but the Bible says clearly, “Human anger does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). You may want to get back at someone for something that they’ve done to you (or what you think they’ve done). However, the Bible teaches that we must leave payback to God. He is the one in charge of judgment; not you, not me. Jesus could have called down legions of angels to destroy those who were crucifying him, but instead he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The Apostle Paul quoted from the Proverbs and from the Law when he said, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19-20). Jesus clearly commanded, “Do not judge or you will be judged. With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). It is the devil who urges you to seek payback. This is a distorted form of justice.
Above all, Jesus ties our forgiveness from God to our willingness to forgive others. If you refuse to forgive, you will not be forgiven for your sins either. At first, this seems difficult to reconcile with grace, but it is what Jesus clearly taught. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14–15, NIV) If I am not willing to forgive, then I am also unwilling to repent of my sins and be forgiven as the result of faith in Jesus.
You may not be the one who has been wronged, and you may have no consciousness of having wronged another, but that will not save you from being accused eventually. What will your response be? Even if you’ve never been unjustly accused of something, you may be fascinated by reading or watching people argue and fight. What should your response be? The answer to both of these scenarios is the same when you are a follower of Jesus.
Our fist reaction must be love, and our first action must be prayer. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Pray for wisdom in dealing with the person(s) or situation(s) you face (James 1:5). “Be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) when dealing with people who are obviously allowing the devil to use them as tools of hostility and destruction. Fight them in prayer, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and upon their consciences. “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). If your reputation is being harmed, read the Psalms and pray for vindication from the Lord. If you must act to protect yourself or your family, do so with restraint and in love, which means seeking only to stop the slanderer’s actions, and lead them to realize their wrong attitudes. Again, be wise. Forgive, but be wise about restoring trust.
I’ve waited to the end of this essay to give a real world example because I wanted to lay out the problem and the principles first. I’m also not interested in inciting the very thing I’ve warned against here. So read the example with that in mind.
Recently one of my social media connections left highly slanderous posts about a person in our church. The accusations they made were emotional, untrue, and libelous. I don’t know if I was able to delete these posts quickly enough to keep them from doing harm to the reputation of our church and the person they accused. I have banned them from all social media over which I have control. However, the slanderer went to a site I don’t control and left a horrible, libelous review of our church, filled with accusations and lies. This person has never attended our church. If the review was read only those who know this person and their history, the damage would be minimal, but anyone may read a review and few people doubt what they read.
I wrote this person a reasonable and honest email, asking them to remove the review. After some consideration they did. I cannot guarantee that their feelings have changed. In fact, a recent email indicates that they are still hostile. So, I continue to pray. I will be seeking wise counsel, and, if necessary, we will take appropriate action to protect the reputation of our church and its members.
What should you do? If we all stopped reading and sharing gossip, rumor, accusation and slander, it would serve to change our communities and our culture. When you encounter something like I’ve described, immediately begin to pray. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom, and open your heart to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, then you will know if you are to confront someone about slandering or gossiping. Show love and compassion toward all, and refuse to be the judge in any situation. May truth, justice and love prevail among Christ’s followers at all times. Amen.