This is a series of posts on a book I am not recommending you 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.
Chapter 2 opens with some good counsel.
Choosing not to take offense is not about simply ignoring wrongs. If someone, say, cuts in front of you in line, you can address the situation. You don’t have to simply accept it. But you can act without contempt, anger, and bitterness.Brant Hansen, Unoffendable, p. 9
I stand behind that advice, I support it a hundred percent.
As I continued to read, however, it seemed as though a conflation was being made of the feeling that arises when something frightening or angering happens – such as being suddenly cut off in traffic – and the action prompted by that feeling. I wanted to say to this chapter, “People are allowed to feel their feelings. A sudden jolt of adrenalin while driving a car is often felt as anger. You cannot prevent the jolt, it is a biological response to sudden danger. Thankfully, we have a cerebral cortex that can accurately interpret the jolt and act accordingly.”
I agree we need to be careful about condemning, jumping to conclusions, assuming the motivations of others and so on.
We can, for example, truly have no idea why that person chose to drive in that endangering-to-us-manner. Perhaps the best way we can respond to such an experience is simply to talk ourselves down.
- Acknowledge the feeling: That scared me! Then I felt angry!
- Acknowledge the situation: That was dangerous, something bad could have happened to me and others. Thankfully, it did not.
- Remember my agency: I can drive defensively (as perhaps I have already been doing), keeping plenty of margin around my car, observing the traffic and keeping with that flow without breaking the law, using my turn signals, etc.
- Thank God: There was no accident.
The conflation appears to continue throughout this chapter, now with sin and the motivations behind what is perceived to be the sinful action. There is a quote by the apostle Paul again, this time from 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, where Paul cautions people not to judge him, because even he is not sure of his own motives. Only the Lord is the One Who will judge him, because only God truly knows peoples’ motivations, so let us leave off judgment.
Fair enough. But only sort of.
Action Versus Motivation
In that passage, Paul speaks of not being aware he has done anything wrong. He actually does not discuss his motives in that passage at all. Interestingly, Paul does give a long discourse on his motives in Romans 7, where he exclaims his true self has good motives whereas his old self must not. This battle within him causes him to do things he does not want to do and not do things he does want to do.
It is an entirely different take than not knowing one’s own motives. It is about actions. Not motivations or feelings.
In fact, Paul seemed confident his motives were good, and he was following through the best he could, understanding that if and when he erred, God alone would be the judge.
In relationships, particularly, understanding the motives and reasoning for the other’s actions becomes a key component of living in truth and transparency. When someone does something – as this chapter begins with – that offends, hurts, or angers, then I say it is not only fair, it is necessary for the relationship to talk it all out. We all know we all have blind spots and sometimes faulty perspectives. Processing that together using good “I statements” and honest questions is the mature way to go.
In fact, this chapter ends with what, to me, is a hair-raising statement.
We simply can’t trust ourselves and our judgment of others. We don’t know what they’re really thinking or their background or what really motivated whatever they did and since we don’t know, let’s choose ahead of time: we’re just not going to get offended by people.Brant Hansen, Unoffendable, p. 16
Certainly there will be times when we are not able to ascertain the other’s motivation. However, God does not leave us to our own devices. We can trust the Holy Spirit Who resides within our minds, hearts, and spirits. This is the whole meaning of incarnating Christ, for we literally have the Spirit of Christ taking up residence in our bodies!
Do Not Be Gas-Lit
One of the ways gas-lighters groom their victims is by causing them to distrust their own judgement, their own sense of reality. Let us not go there, please. Let us instead trust our initial misgiving and then investigate—let us do the work of asking God about why we might be feeling what we are feeling (perhaps we will need the wise counsel of others to help us). Then, let us go to the one who has unsettled us and ask good, discerning questions while trusting the Spirit to guide us in understanding the answers.
Rather than mistrust our sense of what is going on, Paul talked about restoring those you and I think may have been caught up in sin. Be a spiritual person (Galatians 5) and deal gently with the sin (Galatians 6). In fact, Paul talked at length about how our minds are being transformed by the presence of God’s Spirit within us, and urged believers to present ourselves to God for this very transformation. It is such a good chapter of Paul’s letter, I am going to put it here for our encouragement.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship.
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you”
Have a Right Assessment of Yourself
- “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think
- “but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
Have a Right Assessment of Other Christians
“For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
Appreciate What Other Christians Bring to the Table
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in sincerity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
Here is What Transformation Looks Like
Romans 12 (NRSV, italics, boldface, inserted Greek words, and titles are mine)
- “Let love be genuine;” [feeling as well as action]
- “hate what is evil;” [feeling as well as action]
- “hold fast to what is good;” [action]
- “love” (philadelphia) “one another with mutual affection” (philostorgos);” [feeling]
- “outdo one another in showing honor.” [action]
- “Do not lag in zeal;” [feeling]
- “be ardent in spirit;” [feeling]
- “serve the Lord.” [action]
- “Rejoice in hope;” [feeling as well as action]
- “be patient in affliction;” [feeling as well as action]
- “persevere in prayer.” [action]
- “Contribute to the needs of the saints;” [action]
- “pursue hospitality to strangers.” [action]
- “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” [feeling as well as action]
- “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” [feeling as well as action]
- “Live in harmony with one another;” [action]
- “do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly;” [feeling as well as action]
- “do not claim to be wiser than you are.” [feeling as well as action]
- “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” [action]
- “but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” [thinking and feeling]
- “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” [action]
- “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.’” [action]
- “Instead, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’” [action]
- “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” [feeling as well as action]
So no, we cannot simply decide we will not feel our feelings.
That is a maladaptive coping mechanism.
Instead, we acknowledge our feelings, we process our feelings, we talk through what offended us with the other party (if we can), and we trust the guidance of God’s Spirit within us to help us.
I found myself feeling restless and unhappy at this point, thinking about how easily this chapter could be weaponized in a dysfunctional relationship.
It is my sincerest hope that this book intends none of the things I have been concerned about. That rather, this book is mostly to be about the frightening cancel culture that seems to be spreading, the trolling that happens pretty much routinely these days, the assigning of motives to people when often neither person has even met in real life, let alone gotten to know each other.
I am hoping what this book has in mind is to question whether what touches off that seeming Mount Vesuvius of explosive anger, or vitriol, or what-have-you, warrants the extremity of the response.
If that is the case, I wish this book had addressed these matters far more specifically rather than make general statements that have the potential for causing real harm. And I wish this book had given more careful attention to exegeting the biblical passages it contains. And I wish closer attention had been paid to the psychological issues that are raised in passing.