Thursday, June 11, 2020

Offensive Christianity

“It has been customary to employ the category ‘doubt’ where one ought to speak of ‘offense.’ The relationship … to Christ is not either to doubt or to believe, but either to be offended or to believe.”
— Søren Kierkegaard,
Training In Christianity

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: the opposite of faith is not doubt.

Doubt dwells with faith, just as stress dwells with growth. Growth of muscles happens by straining them. Growth of skills happens by them being tested. We become by overcoming. Faith needs stress, needs tests, needs stretching into new areas, needs maturing — and where this process is happening, doubt will be present as well. It is the thing faith needs to conquer.

The uncertainties of life are the gymnasium of the soul.

Surviving Doubt

Doubt is not fatal.

Remember Thomas? Or how about the man who cried out to Christ, “I believe; help my unbelief”? Or how about Peter, who had enough faith to walk on water, but not enough to keep him afloat? Was that fatal for him?

No, doubt is present with faith, and faith uses doubt to become stronger. This we know, both from scripture and, if all is well, from our own daily experience as Christians.

Offense of Christ

What then is the true opposite of faith?

It is offense. It is to hear the word of God, and to recoil in pride and anger. “This is too much! I am much better than you say. Who is this ‘Christ’ in whom you would have me believe so blindly? Are you mad? Do you not know who I am? What appalling nerve, that you tell me I need salvation! Who do you think you are?”

And again, “Who are you to tell me what God requires of me? It’s my time, it’s my money. It’s my family, and this is my life. I will do as seems best to me. Who made you my judge? What makes you any better than me. I decide what my obligations are. Save your advice for someone who needs it; I will take no instruction from you.”

The Lord’s own townspeople were offended. He deliberately offended the Pharisees. The multitudes that had eaten the bread and fish provided by his own hand were offended at his teaching, and abandoned him. He was a sword that divided, a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”, as Peter puts it. According to Paul, he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise that offense would inevitably accompany Messiah.

Though we are told that we, as Christians, are to give no offense, yet he is the offense that cannot be taken away. You will either put your faith in him or you will be offended; but indifferent, that you will not be. God has decreed it otherwise. He is the matter on which every man must take a position.

The Offensiveness of Obedience

This is true in salvation; but it is true also in discipleship. Again and again, whenever we encounter some new claim of Christ on our lives, we can expect to feel the rising up of the fleshly nature, the irritability and the pride, and then the rush of self-justification as we try to put down the tide of conviction that is sweeping over us. In that moment, we know we must act or disobey; but we also know that if we wait just a little while, the pangs of offense will abate, and we will be able to tolerate our disobedience again.

That is why we do not act immediately. Instantaneous response would end the feeling of being offended, but would cost us a change of life. So we stall, instead. And this is really insidious; because what we are trying to do is to cultivate indifference in matters that God has decreed we shall not be indifferent — that is, our relationship to him through Christ.

God help us.

Me First

Me first.

Because I know this is how it works in my life. I feel the offense of the claim of God on my life, and I damp it down and wait. My dark heart will never suffice to put the offense entirely to sleep, but it can subdue its worst pangs and make it possible for me to carry on as I am.

The cure for this? Faith. Not passive faith, mere belief in the truth of propositions I have no intention of enacting, but active, instant obedience in faith. And why don’t I grow as much as a Christian as I should? Because I’m not instant and thorough in obedience. I drag my sorry feet through the Christian life, trying to avoid the offensive claim of Christ to every aspect of my being … stinting … holding back, being less than I ought to be, less than I am called to be, less than I was saved to be.

I need a prayer, each and every day. It needs to go something like this.

“Lord God, you have called me to the stumbling stone of Christ. And my own sinful feet will trip at him — at his person, and at his claims on my life — for that is my nature.

By your salvation, please help me to lift my feet higher, instantly, and to obey fully instead of stumbling. I resolve in my heart to respond, if you will grant me the grace to do it. My life is not my own, nor my possessions, nor my time, nor my family, nor the patterns of my life.

The real story of my life is not about me, but about your holy Son, and what glorifies him. By your saving power, make me able to obey, and to do so immediately, no matter what you ask of me; and let me not abide in offense.”


1 comment :

  1. Tend to disagree somewhat with your conclusions here. The right response here is to ask "what just happened to your freedom?" All you mentioned is worth something only within the context of being free, having the ability and freedom to choose. What you are describing here, in my opinion, is to ask God to curtail that freedom to make you the better Christian. I don't think he intends to do that for us. I mean of course that that freedom is tempered by your intellect and good intentions and your choice of your character, who you want to be in this life, and in your relationship to God. I disagree that God is offended by you exercising what he gave you as long as that is not abused. Nor that he is surprised by the difficulty people will have dealing with his reality, "being offended", given the realities and limitations of existence of this physical creation. After all, if you will, it is all built in and for reasons that we are not completely familiar with and are not privy to.