Offence and being offended (part 5) When offence masks other emotional responses

Here’s the next challenge to consider when thinking about the “being offended”(or subjective response) side of  offence.  

First of all, a quick refresher.

I have argued that we need to think of “offence” as objective. We can objectively describe something as offensive. However, offence does come with a significant subjective component because it is about our response to situations too. This means that:

  1. There is an objective cause of offence
  2. I respond so the response is on one level subjective
  3. At the same time, we can talk about the appropriate or correct response.
  4. I can be self controlled so that I can choose how I respond.

Definitions of offence tend to incorporate a range of emotions including anger, resentment, hurt etc. This helps us to think about how we look at other emotions.  For example, think about how happiness and sadness work. We think of these emotions as subjective when we think about the response but they are objective things that produce subjective responses.

This means that I can say that

  1. News may be happy news (e.g. a birth or a wedding) or sad news (a death or illness)
  2. That I may have the intent to cause another person happiness or sadness.
  3. That they may respond to the news with happiness or sadness and that their response may be expected and appropriate or unexpected on not appropriate which itself causes shock and dissonance.
  4. Emotions – recognising the true emotion

Now because offence encompasses other emotions, this can lead to problems. You see, the danger is that my expresses emotion may actually be masking my true emotion. What do I mean by this? Well, if I preach about specific sin, I am likely to see people taking offence. However, offence at being labelled a sinner is in fact masking what is really going on and what I am wrestling with.

Let me give another example. Supposing I talk to someone about their lack of punctuality (for simplicity here we will assume that I am in a culture where being on time is expected) the person responds by taking offence – “what right do  you have to say this?” They demand.

Now the thing is that offence here may well be masking one or all of the following

–          Guilt:  I have done it again, I have let people down. I have fallen short of society’s expectations and my own standards.

–          Shame: Others know, I am embarrassed and exposed. This is reflected in the accusation that the preacher was intentionally getting at them (as opposed to God spoke to them).

–          Helplessness/ fear: I have failed again and I will keep on failing, I cannot do anything about it and so I am going to experience rejection.

So the question of offence links very strongly to what we have talked about previously regarding the Guilt Driven Church. What is desperately needed in order to remove the offence is grace