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?