How is Christ “a Sign of Offence”?

© Picpedia

I’ve been reading “Training in Christianity” (title also translated as “Practice in Christianity”) by Søren Kierkegaard and have been intrigued by a phrase he continually refers to right throughout the book. He says that Christ is both an “object of faith” and “a sign of offense”. I just thought I’d write a short piece here to really unpack what I think that latter phrase means and why it’s important. So how is Christ a “sign of offense”? Who does He offend? How? And why?

How can Christ offend without contradicting His own Nature?

Often we slip into the trap of presuming that Christ cannot be offensive as He is omnibenelovent and loves everyone unconditionally. However, we must also remember that He is additionally perfectly just and righteous. Now, for us Earthly humans, created things with limited finite rational minds, there clearly seems to be an apparent antinomy between these two qualities. Either you love everyone without conditions all the time and forgive everyone of everything and thereby forgo the demands and desires of justice and righteousness, or you enforce the requirements of the Law and punish everyone severely who does not abide by it. However, Christ refreshingly smashes this false, human paradigm wide open. He was simultaneously both perfectly just and perfectly loving. Love and forgiveness were right at the heart and epicentre of his ethics, life and teaching and yet he never actually broke any laws or commandments contained within the Torah/Pentateuch (first five books of the Tanakh/Old Testament/Hebrew Bible/Scriptures of Israel). Yes, He did violate the false, strict, unforgiving and inauthentic traditions and conventions which had been dreamt up by the Pharisees and which had gradually grown up to choke and surround the pure and true commandments originally set by God.

Who does God offend?

He offends the proud, the hypocrits, the sanctimonious, the selfish, the unforgiving, the intransigent and the unloving. He offends our prideful notion that we can save ourselves or even that we don’t need saving in the first place. He offends our foolish notions that we don’t need God, don’t need forgiveness, don’t need to repent and don’t need God to rule our lives as we can lead them ourselves. He destroys our illusions that we are good enough and unselfish enough and that our own merits earn us God’s grace. This is shown very clearly in Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:

And Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in your salvation.
“There is none holy like the Lord;
    there is none besides you;
    there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
    he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honour.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord‘s,
    and on them he has set the world.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
    for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
    against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
    he will give strength to his king
    and exalt the power of his anointed.”

(1 Samuel 2:1-10)

and also in the Song of Mary/Magnificat:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring for ever.”

(Luke 1:46-55)

© Detail of Franz Anton Maulpertsch’s painting “Visitation”

Why does God offend?

God offends out of and precisely because of His goodness and unconditional love. He wants the best for us and He knows us and our fallen, broken nature much more than even we know it ourselves because He created all of us in the first place. We, as humans, feel like He is offending us because He shows us our deep, long-standing and lasting need of Him.

By Ben Somervell

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