When the Bible is Offensive

  • When the Bible is Offensive
When the Bible is Offensive

The Bible is offensive! Come again, you say. If you, like I was, were a frequent Sunday school attendee in your formative years this statement may be shocking.

The Jesus I met there was a slightly effeminate blonde flannelgraph figure who spent His spare time hosting hilltop luncheons, burping babies, calming storms, and handing out healing and happiness like lollipops all the while emitting a strange radioactive glow.

But all this changed when I read through the Bible for myself.

While Scripture does paint a picture of Jesus as meek and mild, we also get a glimpse of an edgy, gritty, and yes, offensive Jesus. A Jesus who resembles a cage fighter more than an Oompa Loompa. This Jesus called religious people dogs, snakes, and hypocrites. He cursed fig trees, and instructed people to pluck out their eyes and cut off their hands if they couldn't control them. He told crowds of people to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and seemed fairly set on the idea that those who reject Him will suffer eternal conscious torment in hell.

Offended yet? Wait. I'm not finished.

The oppression of women is depicted from Genesis to Revelation. In Leviticus, God's people slice up animals by the cattle car then sacrifice them. Genocide shows up in Joshua, followed by corporal punishment, rules upon rules, and graphic violence. It culminates in Revelation when all hell breaks loose—literally—and God rains down plagues and disasters and starts tossing unrepentant sinners into the lake of fire.

Are we on the same page now? Good! Which leads me to the question we're all asking: What do I do when the Bible offends me?

Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

  1. Consider the possibility that the Bible isn't saying what you think it is.

    Take a deep breath. That troubling passage might not be as bothersome if you do a little research. For example, slavery in the biblical context was indentured servanthood—nothing like the racially oppressive slavery that existed in early America. If we feel offended because the Bible doesn't seem to condemn slavery, we must understand, as the biblical writers did, that the practice of slavery in the ancient Near East wasn't so broken that it couldn't be transformed by the power of the Gospel.

  2. Remember, you are a product of your culture.

    If God stands over and above culture, then His words will contradict every culture at some point. In the West we tend to view the Bible's sexual ethic as narrow and restrictive but we're big fans of its emphasis on grace and love. But visit Saudi Arabia—where ankles are intolerably promiscuous and the idea of a gracious and loving God is absurd—and the model is flipped. When the Bible offends you, stop and ask, “Where are my heart and mind better informed by my culture than by this book?”

  3. Take a close look at your heart.

    I'm a sinner. The Bible tells me “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV). So often the offended party within us is really the sin so deeply enmeshed in our hearts. If God lives in us, we are no longer in slavery to sin, but sin still informs our thoughts and desires. So examine yourself and ask God to reveal the areas where your heart resists His word.

  4. Don't ignore the fact that you are offended. 

    That's right. Allow the Bible to offend you. If Scripture throws you an uppercut, take it square on the jaw. Let the offence sink in. Then ask yourself: “Why am I offended?” God can use this process to transform you.

    Emile Cailliet was an agnostic and intellectual, who came to a crisis of belief during World War I. A Bible found its way into Cailliet's hands and when he began to read it he was so shocked at the way Scripture spoke into his broken condition he began to call the Bible, “the book that understands me.”

    Are we, like Cailliet, allowing God's word to understand and critique us, or have we, in our quest to understand the Bible, appointed ourselves judge over it?

  5. Remember the greatest offence of all: the cross.

    That emblem of suffering and shame, the most repulsive, toxic, and offensive event in history resulted in the greatest of all possible goods. When the Bible offends you remember the offence, which transforms you. Cling to the knowledge that God would rather offend you than leave you in slavery to your sin and shame.

    When the Bible offends you, remember the cross.