Never has it been easier for us to be assaulted and insulted by other people’s ideas than in the modern day, so how do we avoid being injured by others’ opinions?
Robert Downey Jr. is considered largely responsible for bringing the relatively unknown superhero Iron Man into explosive popularity and leaving movie producers scrambling to capitalize on this abrupt success and reproduce his character.
Perhaps the answer lies in one of the most iconic scenes of Tony Stark, the titular Iron Man, as he’s introduced to Bruce Banner. Stark strolls into a room where everyone is walking a little softly around the man who could, at any moment, be triggered into an unreasoning, destructive monster.
Stark is trying to convince Banner to visit him, and Banner politely defers. “Well, I promise a stress-free environment,” Stark quickly says. “No tension. No surprises.” He pokes Banner in the side with a screwdriver, and the physicist yelps. Stark leans over to examine Banner’s face intently. “Nothing?”
“Hey, are you nuts?” Captain America yells from across the room.
“You really have a lid on it,” Stark continues to Banner. “What’s your secret? Mellow jazz? Bongo drums? Huge bag of weed?”
By this point, Captain America has stalked over to their table. “Is everything a joke to you?”
“Funny things are,” Stark quips.
What made Tony Stark so popular? Was it that he was rich and intelligent? Was it the nearly nonstop jokes and wisecracks? Maybe, but what if it were another characteristic underlying all of these details? He’s remarkably unoffended by Banner’s checkered past or Captain America’s anxious frustration. He almost seems bulletproof.
The Trigger of a Trap
Sadly, in this current time, Tony Stark’s unflappable mindset and seemingly untouchable emotions are a rarity. Every corner of the internet seems pregnant with potential offense. Make one thoughtless or even just opinionated comment on social media or in an interview, and you may find yourself overwhelmed by a tidal wave of vitriol. On every side, those who claim the ‘moral right’ seem to be clutching their pearls and screaming shrilly at anyone and everyone who won’t completely agree with them.
There’s something deeper, though, that’s dangerous about the temptation to take offense. This isn’t simply hurt feelings or pain at being hit with someone else’s sinful attitude. This is a deep-seated rejection of another person or group of people. There are tinges of revulsion, contempt and vindictiveness. An affronted attitude has an insidious side that we’re ignoring when we say we’re just a bit ‘bent out of shape’ or excuse ourselves by blaming the other person.
Pastor Carter Conlon, World Challenge board member, preached, “The word ‘offended’ in this particular passage of scripture is a different kind of word. It’s translated ‘offended’ in the King James, but in the original translation, this is what it means. It means they’re enticed to follow a course of action which leads to ruin. Trapped. It finds its root in the word that represents the trigger device of a trap. In other words, they move toward something that is going to trap them. This is significant because Jesus himself said, ‘For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
“’And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.’ (Matthew 24:7-10, NKJV)….” He then said, “…Many in the last days will be offended, Jesus said, and by offended he means moved to another opinion. Led to a trap. Led to something that they don’t really realize — as the scripture says in Proverbs — is [out] for their life.”
Even as we hear this, we may be thinking, But isn’t it okay to be repulsed by others’ bad behavior or addictions or vile sins? If I’m offended by a lie or an amoral lifestyle, that’s good…isn’t it? Why does the Bible use such a negative word to describe being offended?
Taking Away God’s Seat
Choosing to allow ourselves to be offended is a double-edged sword, one that cuts both internally and externally. The outside issues with affronted people are perhaps the easiest to see, especially now that social media has given us a front row seat to so many people’s scorn. Beneath the disdain is a dangerously unrealistic assumption that, when given the lead, warps our ability to view others correctly.
“What right do we have to be offended at someone else’s opinion or beliefs in the first place?” asks Cory Copeland. “We certainly have the right to disagree with another’s stance, but to take a personal affront to the beliefs of another speaks to something else entirely. It’s as if we’ve adopted the type of selfish mindset that expects everyone to shape their every thought and response to what we’ve chosen to believe. ...If we’re honest, we sometimes take the stance that our taking offense is a spiritual posture—one of speaking truth, combating lies and championing What Is Right. This may be true or it may not be, but in the words of Paul, if we have not love, we are ‘nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 13:2).”
We first assume that our view is without any error and everyone else’s assessments must line up with ours or else be wrong. The second step is to then presume that an opinion that dares to not align with our own is a sign that the core nature of the other person is corrupted by that single perspective (as opposed to our own outlook which perfectly accurate…naturally). The instant that we take this stance in a relationship, we have performed the incredibly treacherous act of stepping into the shoes of God.
Abigail Dodds, author of (A)Typical Woman, wrote, “There is more than insecurity and fragility underneath our proclivity to take up an offense, although those problems are constantly feeding it. At root, our easily offended hearts are full of pride and idolatry. We have set ourselves as the standard of what is right and good and what must be honored — any perceived challenge to that assumption results in anger, resentment, and the taking up of an offense. But we’re not the standard; God is — which is wonderful news for sinners. Because he is the standard, because only he can see into hearts and discern the motives of each of us, we can be free to assume the best of others, trusting that he will judge perfectly in the end. We can have the good sense to be slow to anger. We can become gloriously unoffendable.”
We do not belong in the seat of honor in front of this courtroom. We belong down in the aisles with everyone else, standing before the greatest judge of all time.
Making Space to Love Well
The moment we step away from the judge’s seat and acknowledge that not only are our own ideas and feels often askew, but we also can’t see into others’ hearts and minds to evaluate their motivations.
Even if we could and their drives were found to be sinful, could we honestly say that our own are any better? Herein lies the great caution that Jesus gave his disciples about removing the plank from their eye before they went around trying to pick splinters out of anyone else’s eyes. We have no room to find anyone offensive because our hearts reek of selfishness and pride just as badly.
There is great freedom to be found in not being offendable, which Tony Stark only seemed to realize once he lost his ability to shrug off other people’s actions. When he discovers that Captain America is defending someone who is responsible for his parents’ deaths, he makes a value judgment about the Captain’s motives and character. What kind of person is he to defend a murderer?
Suddenly, he’s not willing to hear the rational of his closest friend or see the tormented soul in the man who caused his mother and father’s untimely ends. He is the judge, and his verdict is ‘guilty’ without mercy. This choice nearly destroys not only his relationship with Captain America but also the entire band of superheroes. Only at the end, when they have resolved their differences and forgiven one another are they able to defeat the series’ ultimate extraterrestrial bad guy. This story may be easy to dismiss because it’s a fictional one and we don’t face supervillains from space in our cubicles or grocery checkout lines, but it reveals an essential human proclivity toward offense and destroying ourselves and our relationships.
A humble, realistic view of our own ideas, motivations and spiritual state before God makes us quite nearly bulletproof to being ‘bent out of shape’ by other people’s words or actions. It frees us up to having courage and being kind to everyone around us.
Being unoffendable gives us space to love truly.