this is really offensive
Are we ever offended by the Word of God? Whether it is talking about a six-day creation, or acknowledging that there’s only one way to God, or eternal damnation for people who reject Jesus, or wives submitting to their husbands, women submitting to men in church leadership, and on and on - how often do we pull back from the Word of God when it offends somebody? Or when it offends us?
A long time ago in a land far, far away God told the people in the kingdom of Judah of their impending fall to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. He spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:
“To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.” Jeremiah 6:10 NIV
For them it was an imminent, life-or-death warning. What of God's warnings are we missing here and now?
When it comes to how our culture perceives the Bible, we certainly face a similar challenge. The more I read in Scripture, the more I see that there is something in there to offend everyone! God’s way is so different, so against my sinful human nature that His way is going to poke our pride, make us face our fears, and deconstruct all of the monuments to ourselves and self-defenses that we have built up about what we think we know.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
Therein lies one of our biggest challenges. When we limit our thinking to what we can apprehend and understand of the Word, it so often becomes a pride issue. What do I mean? Whether we take a fundamentalist approach that focuses only on a certain English translation of Scripture and what it means in our contemporary culture – so we err by ignoring the context and meaning God communicated to a certain people thousands of years ago – or when we take a skeptical approach that disregards foundational, timeless truths and transcendental, spiritual realities and so err by discounting the fact that God’s Word has urgent and critical application to our present situation, in either case our stupid and stubborn pride makes us offended by the Word of God. We write the Bible off, saying ‘I understand it, and you’re an idiot,’ or ‘it doesn’t apply,’ or simply ‘it isn’t real.’
One thing we can know for certain is that God is bigger than that. He is bigger than our conception of Him and bigger than any human conception of Him, whether the human in question is Abraham or Moses, Elijah or Daniel, Peter or Paul or John. When each of those were amazed, confronted, reprimanded, overjoyed and overwhelmed, and perhaps even humiliated, when each encountered the living God in ways that shocked their senses and sensibilities, why would we expect anything less? Yet in our pride, isn’t this what we do: define and confine God to what we think we know about Him? And then try to force our conception on everyone else. Instead of witnessing to how the infinite Almighty who is “omni-everything” has revealed Himself to us in whatever way He’s been able to get through our thick skulls with all our limitations, often we bludgeon anyone who doesn’t think and sound like we do.
This requires great humility, wrestling not just with the words but embracing God of the Word, the God who is speaking. We have a tendency to make life about what we know and can do. As we learn to follow God, being a disciple and learner, it becomes about Him, what He can do, so He get’s the honor and glory.
When you hear something in God’s Word that offends, can I challenge you to dig in? Confront your own understanding knowing that it is by definition lacking, try to discern what knowledge and evidence on which that is based, and ask God to reveal something that perhaps you are missing. Then we can treat others with the grace God gives us as beloved children, who are both prideful and have such profoundly limited grasp. Know that, while we yet live and breathe, we have much to learn from Him and from each other, and that what God has been saying is a matter of life and death.