Provocation and Offense
I’ve been thinking about the way in which we teach one another and a couple of concepts came to mind that I wanted to share with you. The concepts are necessary provocation and unnecessary offense.
Many of us have been provoked to reconsider our beliefs at one time or another. Some of my friends provoke me into re-thinking my beliefs almost daily. Since none of us has come up with a perfect understanding of how the universe works or what God’s plans are for planet earth—we’re all in a continual search for answers. Searching for answers requires a mind that is convinced it doesn’t know everything. And a mind that doesn’t know everything—and is aware of its ignorance—is a mind that can be instructed.
We arrive at a place of ignorance through experiences that defy our current belief system. The mind may re-consider what it believes when an idea can’t be placed comfortably inside a “box” of understanding. A hardened mind rejects the idea when it has no place to store it. A teachable mind holds onto the idea, evaluates it and may consider creating a new box for it.
New ideas tend to provoke us to begin the process of evaluation. While we might say that someone “provoked us,” in reality—being provoked is a choice that we make. Being provoked takes us outside our intellectual comfort zone. We might be tempted to shy away from these discussions, but provocation is a necessary part of the growing process. It shouldn’t be avoided just because it may be uncomfortable.
Just as provocation is a choice—so is offense.
When faced with some idea or action, we can choose to let it offend us; provoke us, or we can ignore it. We might say that someone “offended us,” but in reality— it’s a choice we make. Saying they offended us is a way to avoid taking responsibility for our own feelings.
When we know someone well, we may deliberately try to offend them. I’ve been guilty of this. I have friends on Facebook who are under the influence of religious spirits. (I’m a recovering religious spirit victim and I want to see these folks set free). Sometimes, I’ll get so frustrated with them that I’ll post something with no intent other than to offend them in the hope that they’ll leave.
Wanting to offend people is more often borne out of frustration over what they believe than out of a pure love for them. Love wants instructs others. Instruction can come through provocation, but love never has the intent of offending others. Love is kind, merciful and patient.
It’s been noted that Jesus offended the religious leaders of His day and if it was good enough for Him, it ought to be good enough for us.
While it’s true that the Scribes and Pharisees took offense at His teachings and miracles, I don’t think Jesus intended to offend them. I believe His intent was to reveal the kingdom of God to those who wanted to see experience it. Even though He knew the private thoughts of people, He simply did what He needed to do to reveal the kingdom, knowing that offense might result, but not making it His primary motive. The fact that people were offended was an unintended consequence.
Now that you’ve heard my confession, (and to those of you who know me —this won’t come as a surprise) I feel like I need to change my attitude toward certain people. I don’t think I can continue to intentionally offend others. When I must interact with people who hold different views, my goal can only be to provoke them into thinking and not to offend them.