Saturday, December 21, 2013
Offended by What?
My Facebook feed is full of people who are offended by something. Maybe it’s something political. Maybe it’s personal. Maybe it’s religious. But I would guess one of four posts in my feed are about someone who has gotten offended by something. Right now, there are a lot of people who are offended by people are offended by their Christian beliefs. And they’re asking the question: why is everyone offended by us? What is it about our faith that they find so offensive. I hope to answer that question in this post.
I would argue Christianity is offensive on three levels; two of them are not unique to Christianity as it relates to the other major world religions, at least the major monotheistic ones. But the last one is quite unique, and what I believe separates Christianity from the others. It’s also one of the reasons that I believe Christianity seems to get an extra helping of scorn from some people in the world. Not the only reason, but one of the reasons. Finally, it’s the reason we ought to trumpet above everything else. It is the thing that makes Christianity unique, and I think, ultimately satisfying.
The first reason Christianity is offensive is because of the moral demands it makes on the world. Christianity says certain things are wrong and certain things are right, and this does not sit well with people who would prefer to set their own morality, be their own moral compass. Most people like to believe they are pretty good blokes and know right from wrong. But Christianity says there are many things that seem right to a man, but lead to death. Now, this is not different from almost every other religion. Islam, Judaism and Mormonism, among others, all say that certain things are wrong and certain things are right. And cultural winds shouldn’t really change what are timeless moral truths. Even when the cultural mores of the day say there is nothing wrong with something, Christianity says something else. So it was Christians, among others, who said that slavery was wrong, even when other said it was right (man were Christians who claimed to use the Bible to defend their beliefs, but these beliefs could not ultimately hold up). The power of the slave trade could not ultimately hold up against the truths of the Bible. So religions that make moral demands on people will always be unpopular among the larger society, for just that reason.
The second way that Christianity is offensive is because of the truth claims that it makes. Christianity claims to be telling the truth about the way the world is. It is not alone in this. Islam, Judaism and Mormonism all do this. And those truths can’t all be correct. They could all be wrong, but they can’t all be right. And those who say that each person can pursue their own particular truth don’t really get what truth is. There are certain truths that can be true for one person but not for another. It is true that I like Snicker’s bar. This is not true for my son. But religious truth claims are not that way. Religious truth claims say that this is the way the world operates. And if every religious truth claim is true, then none of them are true, or they can’t be all true when they conflict with one another. Islam says Jesus was a mere prophet. Christianity says Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But of these cannot be true.
Again, both of those ways that Christianity is offensive are not unique. Every religion that says it is true and the others are not can be offensive to those who do not believe. Every religion that makes moral demands on a person can be offensive to those who do not want to submit to those moral demands. But I think there is a third way Christianity is offensive that is unique to the faith, and is really the essence of what it is all about. It combines the truth claims of Jesus with the moral demands of Jesus, and explains how he deals with them both. And it is a stumbling block, an offense to many, many people.
The main offense of Christianity is this; it tells people that there is nothing they can do to make themselves right with God, but it tells them they must be right with God. Christianity says that every single person is radically sinful, and has grossly disobeyed the moral demands of God. It makes this is a main, foundation truth claim. And then it says that man’s only hope is to cease his efforts to be good enough for God, and trust that God has already accomplished what needs to be accomplished for them, through the coming of Jesus. Christianity says that God decided to come to the earth as a person, and live a perfect life as a human, but then take a punishment he didn’t deserve in substitution for all the sins of the world. Then it says he rose from the dead, claiming victory over the forces of evil in the world, and breaking the bonds of death that held the universes in its grip. And it says that man’s only chance is to stop trying to earn his way to God, and to accept what Jesus has done for him.
This does not sit well with our natural minds. We believe that if we just try hard enough, if we just act good enough, if we just sacrifice and serve and love, then God will accept us. Christianity says the opposite. It says the only way we can find the ability to be good enough, sacrifice enough, serve or love enough, is to stop trying and accept what Jesus has already done for us. This the paradoxical offensiveness of Christianity. God demands that we obey him perfectly. God says that we can’t obey him perfectly. So God himself grants us perfect obedience through the work of his Son.
This is gloriously good news. It is freeing news. It calls us to cease from our efforts. It begs us to stop trying to be good enough for God. It grants us the grace we so desperately need, but are too proud to ask for. But it’s only given to those who are willing to admit their inabilities. And this is why it is offensive. No one wants to hear that they are not good enough. But God says we can only be good enough through accepting the work of Jesus. This will always be offensive to the world, but to those who accept it, it is life!