Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)
I need to start by saying I am sorry.
I am sorry that I have hurt you. I am sorry for careless words or actions which left you feeling hurt, overlooked, demeaned, ridiculed, devalued, disregarded, or even just misunderstood.
I’ve noticed in a few recent interactions—first and third person—how easily we offend and are offended.
That includes me, and you.
So I really am sorry.
A friend recently told me that one way he hopes to spend his initial time in heaven is to have long, meaningful conversations with anyone and everyone whom he has hurt in any way, and to work through that hurt together. He added that he hopes this can happen even here and now, although in that future place there is greater hope that our insecurities and wounds will be filled and healed by Jesus himself as we no longer see through the fog of this current world.
Today I somehow offended an acquaintance completely inadvertently, actually from agreeing with her own words. (How about that?)
Even when we aren’t intentionally being hurtful, we can injure another.
I can think of many whom I have called friends that I’ve lost touch with, and while I can’t think of any hurt I’ve incurred from them (that I’ve not forgiven) there seems to be unspoken and unresolved hurts that I have inflicted upon them. That grieves me.
Even more are the hurts that I know I have inflicted upon good friends, some of whom are still good friends, but there are wounds that can not be “fixed” or completely forgotten. (And perhaps that is a lesson I still must learn in offering forgiveness to myself, though that is not what I am reflecting upon today. Another day perhaps.)
Whether intentional or not, or whether it’s even realized or known, it seems that we are so prone to offense.
Within my own home, I am often the cause of injury. I would say almost every single occurrence is unintentional. You might think I intend to only paint myself in the best light here, but from my perspective, this is true. It is extremely rare that I say or do something to intentionally injure my wife or children. I actually can’t even think of a time where I did so intentionally. Now, that does not include times when I was careless with my words or actions, and that carelessness was what caused the offense, the wound. That, I seem to do with some regularity. And, when I do, I only want to address and reverse whatever offense I have perpetrated.
But sometimes we just can’t. We can’t take it back.
So why are we so prone to offend, and to be offended?
The first part seems obvious. We see everything from a very limited and self-centered vantage point. Not to mention we are living under the curse of sin:
14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.1
That does not excuse intentionally hurting someone else by word or action, but as Paul explains, many times it’s not even what we are intending that is what is happening. There’s a war inside of me, and I am the enemy.
But what about the second part? Why are we so prone to being offended by what someone says or does to us, or even the reverse of that, what someone doesn’t do or say?
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?[l] Is anything worth more than your soul?2
To the degree that we are able to release our hold on our own life—our reputation, our performance, our strengths or abilities—we will be less and less able to feel offense. This is because the nature of an offense is to diminish, and if we are already diminished (He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.3) then there is a diminished target for any offense.
It’s not common, maybe not possible, that we achieve full diminishment in this life. (The war, remember?) But as much as I am able to trust Jesus instead of me, I have a better chance of avoiding offense. At least, receiving offense.
The first side greatly depends upon his Spirit producing fruit in me.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.4
As long as we are trying to protect our kingdom, we will offend and be offended. There’s just no way around that.
The more we can live in the kingdom Jesus points us to, the better our chances of avoiding offense. Both ways.
Until then, I am sorry. Please forgive me my offenses. Let’s work through them together, and I’ll continue to look first to his kingdom and his righteousness (rather than my own) and you and I will be rewarded with the fruits he produces.
Only in Jesus.
- Romans 7:14-25, NLT, emphasis added ↩
- Matthew 16:24-26, NLT ↩
- John 3:30, see also More of You and of Me Less ↩
- Galatians 5:22-23 ↩
- One last footnote here. I decided against addressing the bevy of examples of what I would deem “fake” offense produced by social media and other media where we are not even allowed to have divergent thought these days. That is a whole thing unto itself, likely related to what I’ve laid out here—even on the internet, we can’t be offended if our life is in Jesus rather than in ourselves—but the insanity that is the current climate of forced uniformity of thought via those media is alarming to say the least. ↩