Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Unoffendable Heart

I explained in the previous article how self-honesty and humility are keys to building our mental and emotional health.  I discussed unrecognized offense as a barrier to experiencing the true benefits of forgiveness.  Since forgiveness is at the core of the Christian faith, I will explore this further specifically for the Christ-followers.  
I hear Christians use the expression “unoffendable heart,” but often what is being communicated is not healthy and not Christ-centered. I think the unoffendable heart is a myth.  I can say “yes” to refusing to allow offense to take root and wreck relationships.  I can say “yes” to not allowing offense to steal inner peace.  But denying the existence of offense can destroy inner peace and authenticity in relationships.
First, let’s explore the definition of offense.  The word offense has multiple meanings in the English language making it sometimes difficult to communicate about the topic.  The Webster’s 1828 dictionary list six definitions using the following words and phrases; displeasure, anger, scandal, cause of stumbling, transgression of law, crime, sin, act of wickedness or omission of duty, injury, attack, assault, or impediment.  The same word “offense” can be used to describe both the offending behavior, and the inner response on the part of the person offended.  The offense may be real or just perceived by an offended person.  It may be genuine or imagined.  It may be intentional or unintentional on the part of the offender.  The word, by itself, does not make these distinctions.  
Because of the broken world we live in, offense is part of life.  Sometimes we are on the offended side of the coin, but sometimes we are an offender.  We crave justice when we are the one offended, and we crave mercy when we are the offender.  Taking offense in our heart  is sometimes unavoidable.  Accidents happen.   Losses occur. Changes, criticisms, conflicts etc. are part of common human experience.  Feelings are hurt.  The greater the loss caused by offense, generally the deeper it effects our heart condition.  To deny or minimize the emotional impact of loss created by offense can be very destructive to our physical and mental condition.   While we cannot control many of the things (and certainly not the people) around us,  we CAN control our responses to them.  Though our heart can not always be shielded from offense, we can choose to respond in an unoffendable manner. Inner heart condition must be distinguished from outward actions and reactions, however, the inner life determines these actions.      
Jesus himself teaches about a requirement for heart transformation as part of discipleship.  He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him or her.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23).  In the book of Matthew Jesus also taught that actions (offenses) like murder and adultery have bitter root offenses at their origin. The outward action is not the only offense, but also the inner life that created these actions.    “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone,  you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,  you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,  you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-23; NLT).  Thinking of a person with condemnation is both an offense, and the origin of offensive actions. As a person who has been offended, you become an offender yourself when you cross the line from judging their actions as wrong, to critically judging them for who they are as a person (calling them an idiot as Jesus is quoted above).   
Condemning judgments are also addressed in other parts of the Bible.  A strong warning says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).  
Inner bitterness and resentment are created by critical judgments which end in  “defiling” a person’s actions and relationships.  The anger we feel when we are offended contains the roots for bitterness and resentment to form.    It says in Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).  It is not a sin to feel anger, but it is wrong to allow anger to create an inner condition of things like bitterness, resentment, and condemnation.   
So, as I see it, to claim an “unoffendable” heart is to ignore feelings God gives us as warnings of danger.  The enemy of our soul uses bitter roots to steal our peace and joy as well as causing the defilement mentioned above.  The truth is, without Jesus, our heart is “offensive” to God.  Being born into a broken world means we are born with a broken heart.  Our broken condition is not correctable without Christ Jesus.  We can try in our own strength to forgive an offense, or avoid being an offender on the other side of the coin, but those efforts are limited by our frail human condition.  It is the offended heart that points us to Jesus.  As a disciple of Jesus, the solution to offense is forgiveness (see John 20:21-23).   
Forgiveness is a Gift given by God.  The work of forgiveness has been accomplished by God’s Son Jesus.  We esteem Jesus (and the work he did in dying on the cross), by allowing Him to be the guilty one for our offenses (see Isaiah 53:3).  If we claim not to be offendable, we bypass what Jesus did, and take on the work that was done for us, through Jesus.  Decisions made solely based on our own human strength and will power amount to self-righteousness.  Our righteousness comes through faith is Christ alone (see Philippians 3:7-11).  Our faith is demonstrated by surrendering our offended heart to Jesus.  If we claim an unoffendable status of heart, we nullify any need for faith in Jesus.  
Too often the "unoffendable heart" becomes an excuse for not being willing to confront a critiical judgments.  Our default human nature prefers to deny offenses and pretend they don't exist.  So the “unoffendable heart” becomes a code word for saying, "I'm not going to let myself consider the possibility that I might be bitter, holding a grudge, casting blame, or feeling hurt in my heart.   That is not a good place to be!   
I hear people say, “I don’t get offended easily.”  That is a another myth.  All people become offended easily.  When a person believes they do not offend easily, they must spend a huge amount of energy to tightly control (sometimes unknowingly) situations and people around them.  I know because I used to be one of those people who thought I did not offend easily.  I learned that the ability to control eventually runs out.  Reality also tells us that very little (outside of our inner life) is in our control.  
Our broken, offendable heart offends easily and often.  Offenses are like weeds in a garden.  New weeds keep coming back even after the weeds are pulled from the garden.  Old weeds will return as well if they are not pulled by the roots. If left go, weeds will overtake the good plants growing in the garden.  Keeping the garden soil of our heart free of offense (weeds) requires surrendering our heart to God.   Pulling the weeds allows us to produce the good fruit of accomplishing our divinely created purpose for being.  
If there is an unoffendable heart in our universe, it is the heart of God.  The ancient King David wrote,
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.
Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.”  (Psalm 86:5-11)
God’s forgiveness takes care of ALL offenses (those of our own and others).  God’s solution (Son Jesus dying as a substitute) satisfies both mercy and justice at the same time.   We can come to God (offenses and all) and receive His Gift of forgiveness.  We then have the status of son or daughter (Ephesians 1:3-5), and can be taught to rely on His Father faithfulness.  We can join David in asking for an “undivided heart” (fully devoted) that comes through the transformational process of turning more and more of our offended heart over to Jesus.  What offenses might be in your heart to turn over today?   Let me encourage you to take the next step toward God today.  God’s heart is for you to know Him, and for Him to be known by you.  

Note:   A book I authored Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses truth for dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom through forgiveness (from a Christian perspective).  See more about the book by going to this site: .

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry