I have a problem with offense, and I bet you have one too.
I’m not saying this as an indictment: just more of a fact. We are creating and receiving endless amounts of unfiltered, de-personalized content at all hours of the day (and night), and some of it ranges from insensitive to hate speech.
We would be uncommon if we weren’t struggling with offense.
And yet, I think uncommon is just what God wants us to be. I’m not saying this to encourage you to be a doormat; I’m saying this because in a world where we are constantly baited towards anger and outrage, we are all at risk of leading stilted lives scripted by the things that offend us rather than victorious lives breathed by the One who made us.
Need an example of this?
I want you to consider the book of Esther in the Bible. Are you familiar with this story? If not, I will summarize very, very briefly. Esther is a book in the Bible about God’s providence. It never mentions God by name, but it shows how he worked on behalf of his people through a Jewish woman living a very uncommon life. Esther, an orphan, was raised by her cousin Mordecai under the reign of King Xerxes, a non-Jew. King Xerxes loved to show off, so he hosted a lavish, half-year “show off” affair. At the end of his celebration, he summoned his wife Vashti so he could exhibit her beauty as well. For whatever reason (perhaps she didn’t feel like being a trophy?!), Vashti refused to come. King Xerxes burned with anger, so he asked his advisors what he should do. His advisors convinced him that there would be discord throughout the kingdom because wives would follow Vashti’s lead and disobey their husbands, so they manipulated him into banishing Vashti from his presence forever. The advisors assured him that this would be a sign to wives everywhere that they must respect their husbands.
Later, when his anger cooled, King Xerxes missed Vashti, so his advisors decided to host a prolonged beauty-pageant-with-benefits-affair to help him find the most beautiful, pleasing girl in the land to be his next queen. Esther was picked to be a contender, found favor among the royal attendants, and was later selected by King Xerxes to be queen. King Xerxes was not aware of Esther’s Jewish heritage.
Meanwhile, Esther’s cousin-turned-adoptive-father Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate one day. He overheard two guards plotting to assassinate the king, so he told Queen Esther the plan. Queen Esther alerted King Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The guards were killed, and the king was saved.
Later, King Xerxes decided to honor and elevate another advisor, Haman. Mordecai would not kneel down to Haman, and Haman was deeply offended. Haman learned Mordecai was a Jew, so he decided to get revenge on Mordecai by manipulating King Xerxes into ordering a mass slaughter of all Jews on a preordained date. Mordecai learned of the order, entered into mourning, and eventually sent word to Esther, telling her that she must save her people. Esther was scared, but she fasted, asked others to fast, and came up with a plan to expose Haman and save her people. Thanks to Esther’s bravery and a series of providential events, King Xerxes remembered Mordecai saved his life, Esther found favor with King Xerxes and exposed Haman, Esther’s people were saved, and Haman was killed on the very gallows he constructed to execute Mordecai.
Okay, got all of that?
If not, I’d encourage you to go read the whole story. It’s short, it’s easy to find in the Old Testament, and it’s the ultimate girl-power story. In it, women are objectified, banished from the king’s presence, “put in their place” by some very insecure royal advisors, thrown into the royal harem in droves, and in general are treated like servant eye-candy as opposed to purposeful humanity. But then, the plot thickens with an even bigger problem than the objectification and servitude of women: an entire people – men, women, and children – are slated for annihilation, and who saves the day?
I suppose that is one of the things I love the best about this story: it begins with a conversation about putting a feisty woman in her place, and ends with a woman (ironically, in the very same place) reversing a massacre and saving the day.
This is the work of a God who hates injustice.
This is the design of a master weaver.
So, let’s wrap this back around to the start of this post. What does all of this have to do with offense?
At its core, offense has to do with pride. Generally, when we feel offended, it is because we feel some aspect of our dignity or personhood is threatened. But, almost always, it is a red flag that we have placed the basis of our dignity or personhood on the wrong shoulders (our own, or on the opinions of those around us). Because we perceive our dignity is at stake, we feel tremendous pressure to defend ourselves. It is exhausting.
Haman is a good example of this.
Haman was so highly esteemed that everyone in the kingdom bowed to him except Mordecai. Why did it matter so much to Haman that Mordecai didn’t bow to him? We don’t know, but what we do know is this: Haman essentially dedicated the rest of his life to nurturing that offense rather than doing something productive and worthwhile. And what was the end result?
As in, his own.
I could pick on Haman as if he were an outlier, but of course – we can all relate to his actions on some level. Our pride gets pricked because someone treats us as less than we perceive ourselves to be, and we can’t stand it. We stew and gossip and post and fret, all because we are offended. It’s a horrible feeling. It makes us sad and angry and hostile, and it almost always ends in death-bearing sin.
Ugh. It’s awful.
Compare this to Esther, who- by virtue of her Jewish womanhood – was existing in much more offensive and truly perilous circumstances than Haman. I’m not exactly sure how she maintained her composure so consistently that she won favor with all whom she interacted, but I do know that when she felt the most threatened, she did not look to her own strength. In fact, she was so insecure in her abilities that she feared she would perish. Instead, she asked all the Jews in Susa to fast from food and water for three days and nights, as she and her attendants would do, before she went before King Xerxes.
What’s all that about?
We don’t exactly get Esther’s point of view, but fasting from bodily necessities as Esther did is often a way of remembering the Lord’s power to sustain and provide (see Matthew 4:4). In other words, it appears that Esther was humbly beseeching the Lord’s help as the source of her strength. This is a posture opposite of pride, which is premised upon the abilities of self. And, perhaps because her eyes were off of herself, she was able to navigate the highly offensive world in which she existed to secure the safety of her people.
As I type this, I don’t mean to imply that it is wrong to stand up to injustice (sexism included). I believe that God speaks to all of our hearts uniquely and has a special role for each of us. But – there is a tremendous difference between standing up to injustice and defending our own ego. The difference is subtle, but substantial. If we are constantly defending our own ego, our arms are too full of ourselves to be of any use when the real opportunities come up.
When Mordecai was encouraging Esther to step up and save her people, do you know how he did it? He reminded her of who she was. She wasn’t orphan Esther, she wasn’t one-of-many-beauty-contestants Esther, she wasn’t wife-who-had-not-been-summoned-by-the-king-in-a-month-Esther: she was Queen Esther.
“Who knows,” he asked her, “but that you have come into your royal position for a time such as this?” (Esther 4:14 (NIV)).
If you are struggling with offense or someone else’s perception of you or one of your attributes, let me be to you as Mordecai was to Esther: you are not your past, you are not your struggles, you are not your victimizations, you are not your circumstances, you are not unheard, unloved, or unseen. You are (or can be!) the daughter or son of the mightiest King! Relish that identity! Claim that identity! Rest in that identity, and let the threats to your ego fall to the wayside so you can charge into your God-sized purpose in all of your royal splendor.
Perhaps you have come into your royal position for exactly a time as this.