One of the most influential books I read as a young Christian trying to find the path that Jesus asked us to follow was “How to be a Christian without being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour. It was a fairly simple book that expounded Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Well, it was as simple as any exposition of that letter can be! Needless to say, the main point the author was trying to get across was that religion is not what following Jesus is about, and that, in essence, is one of the main themes Paul stresses in his epistles, which was exactly why the book had that title. So it has shaped me ever since, to be someone who wishes to express my love for Jesus and my desire to follow him without falling into the same trap that all other religion (including ‘Christian religion’) falls into. That is the trap of sameness, ritual and blind devotion to a code and to a way that others have followed without much thought.
One of the ways we see this expressed is when an offence is caused against a religion. The murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris is an extreme example; that magazine made the offence of religions across the world its mission, and they did create a long string of articles and cartoons that enraged religious adherents of many faiths. However, they did not deserve to die for such transgressions. When I do see and hear fellow believers become almost as ‘offended’ at such publications as those Muslim extremists, I fear that it might be possible they could descend into the same madness (some Christians have been so offended by abortions being performed that they have resorted to murder!). On a more standard level, though, short of taking someone’s life, I do wonder if we are only having the same attitude as those jihadists, and becoming ‘religious’ about it. Should we be any different in our demeanour? Can we?
When questions like this arise in my head, I turn to other things I know I can apply. Linguistically, an ‘offence’ (in English at least) can be taken, but never given! I cannot give you offence, but I can cause you offence. ‘Cause’ is one of those words that carries specific semantic properties – in layman’s terms, it means it is fairly easy to grasp what it means. Were you to hit someone with your car while driving and they died, you would have caused their death. You would not be performing the active verb ‘to kill’, unless you drove at them with the intention of killing them. So ’cause’ has a limited usage: it is indicative of an action that created a situation not intended or beyond the control of the performer. Note that you can use the active verb form: “You offended me!”, whether the person who offended you intended to or not; it can be used in both cases.
So if you have a case where someone says or does something with the intent to offend you, that is very deliberate. However, for someone to cause you offence, you have to take it. If I were to attempt to give you a gift, but you did not take it, then I did not give it, I only intended to. The transaction did not take place. Similarly, in order for an offence to occur, it has to be taken by the intended recipient. Otherwise, no offence passed from intender to intendee! Put it another way; if the offender has the intention, and wishes to offend you, they will be thwarted if you don’t take it. Yes? Their fiery dart will have missed its intended target. If, however, they had no intention of causing offence, and did so in ignorance or innocence, then why should you take the offence anyway? In both cases, choosing not to take offence is the best option! No?
So while this might all sound fine and dandy as my own philosophising, does it ‘square up with scripture’?
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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,’[Deut. 32:35] says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’[Prov. 25:21,22]
Rom. 12: 18-20
In other words, the person who intends to cause offence against us as believers must be offered ‘the other cheek’ i.e. we show that they did not smite us or knock us down, but we are willing to let them continue to try to insult us. The person who intends to offend God is in God’s hands, and it is not for us to jump to his defence. As I have quoted the lyrics of Bono before: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” We are to stand up for the little guy who needs defending, but not the creator of the universe! We not only insult him in his majesty, we also disobey his direct commands!
Also, imagine having burning coals heaped on your head! Would you not be dancing in pain, howling and swiping your head to get the coals off? Pretty funny for others to watch who had that sort of sense of humour, but almost certainly you’d be looking like a fool. So in order to disarm these intentional offenders, our reaction should be not to react! If we take no offence, they will be seen as base, boorish or just plain annoying. The unintentional offenders who might do so just for the sake of comedy would not fulfil this maxim if they had no intent i.e. they are not our enemy. We might just be able to laugh along with them, if they were really being funny.
for whoever is not against us is for us.
Yeah, maybe I’ve taken that verse well out of context, but let us not make more enemies for ourselves! Just because Jesus told us “Everyone will hate you because of me” (Mark 13:13 – which could also be said to be out of context since Jesus was talking about the persecution by the first-century Jews) does not mean we must go around giving people reason to hate us! Such attitude and/or behaviour flies in the face of all the commands to love and do good to others!
Grace be with you.