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.