We live in perilous times. I grew up between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s, times when we were taught to value the benefit and necessity of a strong national defense. The fight for freedom everywhere was a fight for our free way of life, and a strong national defense was a large part of that fight for freedom.
The fight for that defense drew us into a united cause, and even after political climate change and increasing diversity of opinion about war, in the days following 9/11, our nation rallied — united immediately regarding the defense of her freedoms.
Today, the climate has experienced a shift. The fight for freedom is now being fed by a “national offense.” In fact, being offended is one of the most politically correct things you can do. It is trumpeted as “the American spirit.” I have the right to my opinion, and I have the right to be offended. That sentiment grew to the point where now everything has the power to create offense.
We have forgotten the simple understanding that “united we stand, divided we fall.” That is a biblical stance, by the way. God’s word is clear about us “dwelling together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1) In fact, throughout all of Scripture, for families such as Abraham and Lot to tribes and nations, unity is paramount in the success God has for us. Paul warned the churches about “divisions among you.” When you are divided, you are weak. When you choose a posture of offense, you become divided. Satan knows this and will do all he can to foster offense among people and even nations.
In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower successfully encouraged Congress to add to our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance the phrase, “One nation, under God.” It was a declaration of unity under God against the rise of godless socialism and communism. It set us apart because, contrary to today’s view of what God offers, it declares that we really understand that God made us equally and designed us to be free to live our lives and worship him. Sure, history records many who failed in God’s version of freedom, but even that is part of the awesomeness of God’s grace. We have the power to grow from our mistakes. We also have the responsibility to learn from them.
History has taught us that in a climate of offense, you lose. Fighters will antagonize their opponents to anger them. Football and baseball players will do the same thing. They will intentionally incite offense to unbalance their opponent and find victory. Which brings to mind this question: “Why would Satan see a need to foster offense in our nation … in our communities … in our churches …and in our families?”
Jesus spoke about offense. John the Baptist was a forerunner of Jesus and knew him from birth. Yet, waiting to be killed for his faith, he sent word to Jesus, asking, “Are you the One, or should we look for another?”
It would be easy to find offense in Jesus’ response. He did not stop what he was doing to visit his cousin on death row and ease his mind. He sent a messenger to tell John, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” Then he said, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of me” (Matthew 11).
Jesus was demonstrating the importance of not allowing offense to dissuade you from being who you are supposed to be or fulfilling your purpose. He offered that there was not one with greater faith than John the Baptist, but that we have the capacity for even greater faith. Offense challenges faith — in God, in ourselves and in each other.
When you are offended, you change. You become negative. You cannot easily see the positive. You lose faith. When that happens, you don’t just lose traction. You gain traction in a wrong direction until you steer completely out of the road or just go down another road all together.
Worse, while people say that their offenses are about wrong actions, they cannot truly make clear divides between wrong actions and the people who acted wrongly. That breeds unforgiveness and wrong judgment.
We are free and in that freedom, we have the right to be offended. But we don’t have the necessity. We also have the right to refrain from such offense. We have a greater freedom to owe no man anything but to love. We need to shift the climate. We need to rise to God’s freedom. We need to break free from national offense.
Byler is the lead pastor of Connection Church in Hinesville.