Dealing with Offense

A woman on a recent Air India flight reported that she had been insulted by the on-board entertainment unit attached to the seat back in front of her. She was having trouble navigating the numerous buttons and switches which operated the system and was unable to access the movie she intended to watch. The offense occurred when the unit responded by flashing a message that she interpreted as being personal in nature: “Lie low… sit down you idiot!” Although the cabin crew quickly apologized, and an Air India representative explained that the message was actually an English subtitle of a Hindi movie that froze on the screen when the server went offline, apologies and explanations were not satisfactory. Only time will tell what will be required to provide “justice” for this perceived “offense.”

Such events are common in today’s society. Reason is abandoned as scores of complete strangers hurry to the defense of the offended party. Critical details are dismissed in favor of blind acceptance of reported events – even though those reports are blatantly biased in nature. No one ever seems to ask about the context of the event, and demands for “justice” abound. What, if anything, does the Bible say about this issue?

There are actually two concerns that need to be addressed. The first has to do with identifying injustice. Everyone suffers injustice in some form. Often it is so slight in nature that it does not warrant a response, either in thought or action. Other offenses are significant. How can one tell the difference?

Many times offenses are assumed when no offense is intended. We are offended, not so much because of what was done, but because we imagine that we know the offender’s motive. The passenger on the Air India flight was offended primarily because she supposed that the message on the screen was intended for her personally – an assumption of motive. Motive is crucial – without it, it is often impossible to identify injustice.

The second issue addresses how we respond to injustice. The prevailing attitude is to demand satisfaction, no matter who or what is injured in the process. After all, every individual is entitled to justice. While that approach is both common and, in many cases, warranted, it is exceedingly idealistic. Since we do not live in a perfect society, absolute justice is unattainable. We are going to have to “tolerate” some injustice. Doing so with a right attitude is the greater challenge, by far.

Two things will help:

  • We should avoid making impulsive accusations based on perceived injustice. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” (James 1:19)
  • We should extend grace and offer tolerance, when it is reasonable to do so. “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” (1 Peter 2:19-20) There are actually times that we, as believers, ought to let the offense go by, for the sake of preserving relationships and maintaining testimonies.

Although assuming motives and responding impulsively are normal elements of dealing with injustice in our society, believers ought to avoid them. Otherwise we become as unreasonable and extreme in our approach as the passenger in the story above – a representation that is most unbecoming to our testimonies as followers of the Savior.

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