Thursday, August 19, 2010

The sin of being offended

Is it ever right for a Christian to be offended? I believe not – and I’d like to explain why.

I believe that the degree of our ‘offense taking’ is the degree to which we remain to be converted to the gospel.

A key word in the Gospels is skandalon, a word that is translated differently in different places, sometimes straightforwardly as scandal, sometimes as offence, sometimes as 'stumbling-block'. Here are some examples:

Mt 11.6 - "blessed is the one who takes no offence at me" - ie is not scandalised by Jesus
1 Corinthians 1.23 - the stumbling block - crucial Christian concept (compare Ps 118.22 (quoted in Mk 12.10/Lk 20) Isaiah 8.12-15, 1 Peter 2 4-10)
Mt 5.29 - if your right eye causes you to sin, literally 'if your eye causes you to be scandalised' pluck it out
Mt 9.42 - whoever causes one of these little ones to be scandalised....
Jn 16.1 - "these things I have told you so that you will not be scandalised" (go astray)
Jn 6.53-61 - teaching about communion - "Does this offend you?" - communion shares in the scandal of the cross

The problem with skandalon – the taking of offence – is that it is an expression of worldly values. Scandal is contagious and reproduces itself across a society, forming a major way in which a society polices its own customs. It is 'the way of the world', and remember: the Satan, the ‘lord of this world’ is that force which seeks to reproduce scandal, the taking of offence – for it is in the shared nature of the offence taking that social solidarity is affirmed and reinforced.

Christianity, however, begins with the scandal of the cross. That is, in the story of Jesus we have the unmasking of this process – a scapegoat who isn’t simply a victim, but one who understands this process and who forgives those who take part in it. In other words, a victim who does not take offence. This “non-taking of offence” is central to Jesus’ entire ministry – indeed, he is regularly criticised for eating with sinners and tax collectors, and memorably criticises the religious authorities saying that the prostitutes will get to heaven before them! Through not taking offence, through not seeing religious pieties as things to be defended, Jesus changes the social dynamics and enables a non-violent reconciliation with the excluded to take place. That is the essence of the Kingdom – an unmasking of this process of scandal, scapegoating and violence, in order that a new common life, not built upon these elements, can come into being.

We are called to follow Christ's example. Thus, for a Christian, it is a sin to be offended. To take offence is to play the devil’s games, to enter into antagonism between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘unrighteous’, the ‘sinner’ and the ‘saved’. In letting go of any sense of offence, one is released from the mythological pressures embedded in all stories of ‘them and us’, and is set free to become the sort of person that God originally intended – living in peace and loving the neighbour.

This I find profoundly helpful, in terms of guiding my engagement and interest in the world. We are not to seek to preserve some sort of moral purity – that runs counter to Jesus’ own well documented practice. Nor are we to protest at being offended. After all, if God does not take offence at the murder of his Son, how can we take offence at anything milder?


  1. Broadly I would agree with you. I find the readiness of some to take offence at so many things (often gleaned from the pages of the Mail) quite disturbing. I wonder though - would you not say that Jesus took offence at the moneychangers in the Temple?

  2. revsimmy - no, I don't think that was a case of 'offence' in the sense I am after. Jesus wasn't acting out of a sense of his social respectability being violated, he was acting against an injustice (= righteous anger), so it was the opposite of being ego-driven, which I what I take 'being offended' to essentially be. Make sense?

  3. OK. I see your point. In that case I'm with you 100% - at least until I'm next offended ;)

  4. I was going to ask the same question and since you've already answered it, I think I'm basically with you (except I'd say John 6 is primarily about Jesus' death and only secondarily about communion).

  5. It may or may not matter to you as I don't know you but I am a sincere believer living in Phoenix, Arizona. There has been a real cultural climate change and especially among beleivers. Tensions seem to be running high here.
    I've had a difficult couple of weeks in trying to reason with believers on various issues and were it not for my sincere belief in Christ I would have seriously considered dismissing the title which has caused me so much trouble.
    When first I came across your blog it was in seeking to understand the nature of offense and its part in the Christian life.Offense and being offended seems in a good many instances the underlying issue and motive for what I find to be unbiblical and ungraceful responses to an unbeleiving world, especially when we are called to go and make disciples of them.
    I found quite a few web sites that talked about offense but not with the insight and perspective you lend here. I have consequently become quite fond of your writings and visit your blog from time to time.
    All this to offer encouragment in continuing to fight the good fight.
    I appreciate your work here and thank you for sharing.
    Shalom Shalom
    Dave Baker :: ::


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