Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6)
Though St Paul saw the tongue as being a dangerously incendiary device, he did not foresee modern technology turning the fingers into even worse causes of combustion. It reminds us as to why we cannot just read the scripture literally, for there are many ways today for humans to start destructive conflagrations with their words that literally don’t involve the tongue. St Paul’s warning about the tongue equally applies to any of the many ways humans can cause ruin through their words. Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams comments:
It is not that talking is evil or that it necessarily cheapens the truth. After all, if God himself communicates and does so in human terms, in the life and speech of Jesus, in the witness of Scripture, there must be talking that is wonderful, revelatory, transfiguring, that takes us into the heart of things.
When we have found the word or phrase that anchors us in prayer, the mantra that stills and focuses us, we are discovering something of the grace and power of real language which attunes us to God’s communication in a relation that is somehow both speaking and silence. It is simply that for most of the time we do not take language seriously enough. We haven’t understood Jesus’ warning that we shall be called to account for every word we waste (Matthew 12: 36) – which presumably means every word that does not in some way contribute to the building up of myself and my neighbor as persons maturing in the life of grace. (SILENCE AND HONEY CAKES, p 76)
That is what Christians need to consider when they engage in any kind of communication whether verbal or through social media: what builds up community and the Church? We will give account to God for every word we utter, type, text, tweet. We may think we are clever in sending out incendiary messages, but they also stoke the hell fires we may find ourselves in after Judgment Day. As we read in the desert fathers, Abba Megethius said:
‘Originally, when we met together we spoke of edifying things, encouraging one another and we were “like the angels”; we ascended up to the heavens. But now when we come together, we only drag one another down by gossiping, and so we go down to hell.’ (THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, p 150)