How to Not Go Crazy When Offended

Offence can drive us crazy. Offence can make us crazy. We can sink to our lowest thoughts and actions when offended. Nothing draws foolishness out of us like offence. John Bevere calls offence “the bait of Satan”. Indeed he wrote a whole book on how offence can lead the offended into terrible trouble. No one took the bait more quickly, no one stands as a better example of foolishness in taking offence, than Haman from the Book of Esther. Let us learn from Haman how not to handle offence.

Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai; 10 nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, 11 and Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. 12 Haman added, “Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. 13 Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” 14 Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it; then go with the king to the banquet in good spirits.” This advice pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made. Esther 5:9-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

First, do not make it about you, do not take it personally. What do I mean by that? Haman takes the offence of Mordecai’s failure to rise in his presence very personally. It is as if he is thinking “how dare this man do this to ME, this is so disrespectful to ME, does he not realize who I am, how could anyone do this to ME?”. What he could have thought instead was “This Mordecai is a disrespectful person”. You can feel the difference! When we take things personally, we make the problem centre on us. We can, instead, leave the problem where it belongs, at the feet of the offender. Consider that an offence may be more about the offender than about you. “This person has a problem with gossip, I hope she can get some help with that” is a much different response than “She said bad things about me, time for payback”. Refusing to take the offence personally might even cause us to have empathy. What happened in the offender’s life to make them act like this?

Second, watch to see if there is something to be learned. Offence is an opportunity for growth. Do not assume that the offence has nothing to do with you. “What is it about me that was a trigger for this offence?” Had Haman stopped to reflect for a moment, he might have considered his over-the-top narcism. He might have considered his over-the-top pride. Biblical scholars are of two opinions as to whether Mordecai was doing the right thing by his refusal to ever bow or stand in the presence of Haman. However, we can be sure that Mordecai had a valid point, that Haman was not all that. When someone causes you offence, it may be an opportunity to grow and learn. They might be shining a light on a blind spot in your life. They may be pointing you to something about yourself than no one dare tell you about. Offence, if it is rooted in a person’s honest negative reaction to something about you, may be of greater benefit than a thousand compliments.

Third, do no overreact in your response to the offence. Haman responds with a plan to impale Mordecai on a pole fifty cubits high. Seriously? Esther’s response to the offence of a threatened genocide is wise. She asks for a just response. In fact she says she would not have said anything if it were a lesser offence (see 7:4).

Fourth, do not rush to respond to the offence. Haman’s wife suggests a solution and Haman in effect says “okay, let’s go!”. Esther, on the other hand, is wise in her patience in dealing with a much bigger problem. She fasts for 3 days before even speaking to the king about the offence, and even then delays another day.

Fifth, consider if the offence is something that can stop you from living well. Is it really all that important? Mordecai neither stands nor trembles in Haman’s presence. Oh well, life goes on! In contrast the Jews are to be wiped out thanks to the Haman’s plotting. This is a life and death issue. This is an offence worth dealing with. When offended, can your life go on just fine if you let it go?

To help us in our discernment, we can ask if God has our back on this one. God does not have Haman’s back. He does have Esther’s. Is your offence truly an experience of injustice and is your response righteous?

Sixth, do not underestimate the power of conversation. At no time do we see any initiative on Haman’s part to talk it through with Mordecai. This again, stands in contrast with Esther who won’t even speak about the offence against her people until she has had dinner with the King and Haman twice. She is building relationship, leading up to talking about the offence. Jesus teaches us about the importance of conversation when offended:

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)

This means that we do not deal with offence by tweeting! Recently I heard podcaster Carey Nieuwhof lament that in our Facebook world people engage in broadcasting rather than conversation. Offence is handled better through a conversation rather than a broadcast.

Esther stands as the wise person in the Book of Esther, Haman stands as the foolish one. Esther points us to the wisdom of God. Though our sins are an offence to Him, He offers forgiveness and reconciliation. God Himself offers the best example of what to do when offended; pick up a cross.

When offence makes you crazy, look to wisdom, look to God’s Word, look to God.

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For Such an Evil Time as This

How do we respond when evil threatens to undo us? We see how one young lady responds to the declaration of genocide against her people in the Book of Esther, chapter 3.. Esther initially responds to the bad news from Mordecai with fear, and who would blame her? Though going to her husband, the king, might seem like a no-brainer, a certain wrinkle would make anyone think again:

Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” Esther 4:10,11

Mordecai provides some further encouragement:

When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Esther 4:12-14

Esther’s next response is instructive for  when we face evil, whether great or small:

Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. Esther 4:15-17

Two things stand out.

First, Courage! Esther commits to making a courageous connection with the one person who can make a difference. “I will go to the king”. Though it might cost Esther her life, she is resolved: “I will go to the king”. Esther knew who could make a difference. “I will go to the king”.

When evil is facing you down do you have the courage to connect with someone who can help, a difference maker? Facing depression? With whom might you need some courage to connect with? Facing addiction, mental illness, financial stress, spiritual darkness, bullying, harassment, abuse, or what have you, who might be your difference maker? Do you have the courage to move, to get up and go to them? Let us pray for courage. Let us follow Esther’s example.

Second, Desperation. Though God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the fasting Esther called for and committed to was a sign of desperation for God. There is a desperation about the situation, which becomes a desperation to connect with God. Fasting is sometimes turned into a very pious thing, “look at what I am willing to go without”. Here in Esther, it is not a sign of piety, but of desperation.  It is the acting out of the petition, “God help us!”. Fasting is a very human thing, something you do naturally in the face of grave evil. Who could eat at such an evil time as this anyway? Are we desperate for a connection with God, the Great Difference Maker? Do we have a desperation for His presence in our lives?

Are we more like a cat or a dog? We adopted a cat once. We filled out all the paperwork and made the commitment to care for this cat and give it a good home. We got the cat home, assuring her that our home was now her home, that we would love her and take good care of her. She looked at us, as cats do, with that expression that says “I suppose I can let you live here with me if you must.” We can be like that with God. He adopts us into His family, giving us the assurance of His love. We respond with “well I suppose you can be in my life if you must”. Dogs on the other hand have a desperation about them. With school having recently resumed our two dogs took up their positions, with no cue from me, at the front door about half an hour before the boys were expected to be home. When the boys came into view, the dogs got to their feet, tails wagging furiously. As they came closer and closer the dogs got crazier and crazier. They were desperate. Dogs have a desperation for their people. Are we like that with God? He is far more to us that we could ever be to any dog.

Do we know we are welcome before the king? Esther had no confidence in approaching the king even though she was his wife. We, however, can have great confidence in approaching the King of kings:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22

He is not just King of kings, but our Heavenly Father, and, as a recent songs remind us, a “good, good Father”. We know this because of Jesus.

Esther demonstrated courage in connecting with a difference maker and desperation in connecting with The Difference Maker, God. That made all the difference in the world. When we face such an evil time as this, whatever that evil is, it is time for courage in our connection with difference makers, it is time for desperation in our connection with God, the Great Difference Maker.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

When God is Hidden. (A Lesson from Esther).

We have those days where God seems hidden. We don’t see Him, we can’t perceive His presence. Bad stuff happens and He does not seem to care. Either God is not there, or there is not God. He is hidden, like in the book of Esther.

Esther is the only book of the Bible where God is not directly mentioned in some way. We are not told anything about God in Esther, but we are told about life. Hatred, jealousy, violence, heavy-handed patriarchalism, genocide, all the things we see in our world today, they are there in the Book of Esther.

Esther herself is in a bad situation. While yes, she has the opportunity to be the queen in place of the deposed Queen Vashti, King Ahasuerus, better known as King Xerxes, is not exactly a Prince Charming. Had Esther not been chosen as queen, then she would have been a concubine. Since the King could have a different girl in his bed every night, apart from certain perks she was not much more than a concubine anyway. The Book of Esther is no romance novel. Rather it is a story of  the same kinds of difficulties we face in our lives;  bad advice, bad decisions, bad situations. And where is God when this bad stuff happens?

The bad stuff in the book of Esther is not limited to Esther. Keep reading into chapter three and learn about the plot to destroy all of Esther’s people, the Jews. So where is God in all this?

God is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, but He is there. Esther is placed in a unique situation as queen. Her courage will change the course of history. But her courage  did not land her the job of queen in the first place. Someone was directing things behind the scenes.

Mordecai, with his overhearing of a plot against the king is placed in a unique situation to win the king’s favour. Did he just happen to be in the right place at the right time, or again is Someone working behind the scenes to ensure a good outcome? So many different things come together that give rise to a good outcome.

This is how God often works. While God is never mentioned in Esther, He is, in fact, the hero of the story. Despite bad stuff happening, it all turns out well in the end thanks to God’s orchestrations behind the scenes.

These orchestrations of God are a sign of grace. Mordecai and Esther are not perfect Jews. Both have names reflecting pagan deities. You have likely heard the expression “Dare to be a Daniel”. We preachers love that story as we encourage people to have the courage to stand up and stick out for their faith. Esther does not dare to be a Daniel until it is nearly too late, preferring, on the advice of Mordecai, to keep her faith a secret, even from her husband! Where Daniel kept to a kosher diet, we see no such efforts from Esther. The Book of Esther is not a story of God rewarding a good Jew for her piety. It is a story of God keeping His covenant promises despite the imperfections of His people. The Jews will not be wiped out by genocide, for from them will come the promised rescue, the promised Messiah.

The story of Esther is part of a larger story, of God’s grace for all humanity through Jesus. While Esther saved the day through her courage, God was working behind the scenes to set the stage for the salvation offered to you and me. God was there all along!

You may have one of those days where God seems hidden. Bad stuff happens, you can neither see God, nor perceive His presence. It would seem He has gone missing. God seems to be missing in The Book of Esther, but He is there, keeping His promises. When God seems to be missing from your life, He is there, keeping His promises. We may not always be able to perceive what God is up to, but God is up to loving you!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. Romans 8:28-30 (NLT)