This will be a series of posts on a book I am not recommending you to read, but will provide the link so you can read the first couple of chapters for yourself, if you would like, or purchase if, in spite of my review, you are thinking there might be something in it for you.
Considering the accolades of such high-profile authors as all Alan Hirsch and Frank Viola (who I hold in high regard), you would think I would love this book.
But I do not.
I appreciate what those accolades are saying, there are far too many times when Christians complain, respond ungraciously, and stir up big conflict out of what seem to be small issues. We do need to have a new way of dealing with what irritate us, what aggravates us, particularly about each other. But I do not think Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better (2015, 2023), by Brant Hansen, provides a tenable solution.
I hit a snag literally on page 3. The apostle Paul is quoted from one of his letters, Ephesians 4:26, using the NCV (New Century Version) translation,
“When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day.”Ephesians 4:26 (NCV)
… and then the MSG (The Message) paraphrase.
“Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge.”Ephesians 4:26 (MSG)
Rather than return to the actual Greek from which both these versions spring, the author of the MSG is criticized—who is, by the way, none other than the noted Greek and Hebrew scholar Dr. Eugene Peterson. This critique is based presumably upon the NCV translation.
Frustrated, I went to the Greek text.
After doing my own exegesis, I think the critique gives not even a surface reading to this text, or to what Paul was saying.
In point of fact, the first word in this verse is a verb, and it is conjugated in the imperative mood. The “imperative mood” in Greek is used to give commands, prohibitions, and to make requests. In this case, because this imperative conjugation is in the positive form (there is no “no” or “not” attached to it) it is either saying “Be angry!” or “Please be angry!”
The Message does well with its translation.
Now, if this verb had been conjugated in the subjunctive mood – which means to express purpose, possibility, deliberation, and hortatory statements – then the New Century Version might have a chance of having translated this verse well. As it stands, however, the NCV is simply incorrect.
So not only is an eminent Greek scholar criticized in what seems to be a rather scoffing manner, but also a false premise is created based upon an incorrect translation of the Greek text.
There also appears to be no inquiry as to why Dr. Eugene Peterson chose to translate this verse in this way. So, I did a very short search and discovered his reasoning for the whole The Message project.
“Suffering and injustice and ugliness are not purged from the world in which God works and loves and saves.
“Nothing is glossed over. God works patiently and deeply , but often in hidden ways, in the mess of our humanity and history .
“Ours is not a neat and tidy world in which we are assured that we can get everything under our control.
“This takes considerable getting used to –there is mystery everywhere. The Bible does not give us a predictable cause-effect world in which we can plan our careers and secure our futures.
“It is not a dream world in which everything words out according to our adolescent expectations—there is pain and poverty and abuse at which we cry out in indignation, “You can’t let this happen!”
“For most of us it takes years and years and years to exchange our dream world for this real world of grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy—the God-saved world.
“Yet another surprise is that the Bible does not flatter us.
“It is not trying to sell us anything that promises to make life easier. It doesn’t offer secrets to what we often think of as prosperity or pleasure or high adventure.
“The reality that comes into focus as we read the Bible has to do with what God is doing in a saving love that includes us and everything we do.
“This is quite different from what our sin-stunted and culture-cluttered minds imagined. But our Bible reading does not give us access to a mail-order catalog of idols from which we can pick and choose to satisfy our fantasies.
“The Bible begins with God speaking creation and us into being.
“It continues with God entering into personalized and complex relationships with us, helping and blessing us, teaching and training us, correcting and disciplining us, loving and saving us.
“This is not an escape from reality but a plunge into more reality—a sacrificial but altogether better life all the way.”Eugene Peterson, The Message, introduction
When you read the above quote all the way through, you will see that Peterson’s world view wisely understands there are no easy answers for the emotions of offense, anger (righteous or otherwise), hurt, and all the rest.
This early experience did not bode well for the rest of the book, for me.
Then I got to page 5, where the claim is made that God is “allowed to judge,” but we are not. I wondered if perhaps Matthew 7: 1-5 had been in mind:
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
“For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.“Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
Please take note of Jesus’s final imperative. We may be entirely accurate in seeing a speck in our neighbor’s eye, and if it is there, we are rightly called to remove it. However, we need to do our own work first, so that we may remove the speck with delicacy rather than further harm our neighbor.
Then I got to page 7, concerning the discussion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stance on loving our enemies, and not harboring anger. I decided to Google Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to see if his stance on anger was easily accessible. Turns out it is. In David Adam’s book, Psychology for Peace Activists, he quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as saying,
“The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force.” David Adam, Psychology for Peace Activists, Chapter 4 (emphasis mine)
Like the apostle Paul, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was saying,
“Please be angry! And yet do not be sinning … All bitterness and indignation and anger and outcry and vilification be taken away from you all, including all malice.”Ephesians 4:26, 31 (my translation)
That is the full message.
Be angry! Please! But do not sin, and do not hang onto the anger.
Instead, as Paul outlined in that chapter, seek to preserve the unity of the Body of Christ.
Paul was so wise, and so was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There are things worth getting angry about. And even if what you and I get angry about seems trivial and insignificant to others, hear me out, now, your feelings of anger, and mine, are real. We get to feel our feelings.
It is what we do with that anger that carries eternal weight.
This first chapter concludes a page later with explaining that “anger will happen … But we can’t keep it.” We may be moved to feelings of anger (it goes on to say) when we recognize injustice, but whatever we do cannot be fueled by that anger, but instead is to be fueled by love and mercy.
I would so rather have read that anger is a right response to wrongs and being wronged.
It means we recognize that people matter, that people are worthy, that people bear the image of God, the you and I bear the image of God, so we are also worthy, and that injustices, wrongs, wronging, dishonor God as well as the people involved. When we feel that anger, it can be a sign of good life within us.
Then, I would have wished to have read – as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said – that the energy of anger can be a catalyst for transformation. If I care enough to get angry, then I care enough to do something, to bring God’s goodness into those places where injustice has held sway. I can care about all the people involved, those who have been wronged, and those who do the wrong. Each person is important to God, and each needs something from God that perhaps I can give.
But What About “Petty” Offenses?
My first question would be: What is a petty offense? That is something only the person who has been offended can define. So, so often what lies underneath a seemingly small issue is a whole host of other hurts, fears, slights, and offenses. The seemingly small surface issue is merely a token.
And again, so often the other party, the “offender,” is quick to make light of the offense.
- “Oh, grow up.”
- “Get a sense of humor.”
- “You are way too sensitive.”
- “Just kidding, geez.”
- “I like to tease.”
- “Oh right! Make this about you, now.”
- “I can never say anything around you, without you jumping all over me.”
I could go on, of course.
Sometimes, when you and I have been buffeted about by life experiences, we carry hidden bruises. When those bruises are brushed across, it hurts! That is our work, then, to thank God for revealing to us a hidden a bruise, and asking for God’s healing along with our commitment to do the work that healing requires of us.
If you and I find ourselves easily offended, or offended often, or incapable of not being offended by certain people, or certain situations, or certain issues, then that is probably a sign we need some sessions with the Great Physician along with the help of a spiritual advisor and a wise therapist or counselor.