“The Zombies Are After Me”
I’ve been sleeping with my left leg elevated lately. It’s because about a week ago at the time of this writing, the doctors over at Oregon Health Science University implanted an experimental device in my leg. In simple terms, they bolted a shock absorber to the bones on either side of my left knee, underneath the skin. I needed it because my left knee is worn out from too much basketball and tennis.
So a few nights after this surgery, I’m dead asleep at about 2 am, and I’m dreaming — about zombies.
In my dream more and more of the people in the town I live in are starting to turn. About five or so zombies found their way into my house and I had to escape. The drug dealers who live across the street (in real life, we have wonderful neighbors who live across the street, so, this is no reflection on them) had the money and foresight to construct concentric fences with locked gates around the town to keep the zombies in. Any healthy person in the town was given keys to the gates so they could escape.
Well, in real life I can procrastinate sometimes, and in this dream I must have procrastinated because I seemed to have waited too long to leave town. The zombie horde continued to grow until by the time I initiated my escape a crowd of zombies was pursuing me through the series of gates.
I was still alive at the last gate but the the crowd of zombies was pressing in closer and closer. I finally managed to get outside the final gate and I was trying to lock the gate behind me to keep the zombies in. But this one skinny-armed-zombie kept sticking his skinny arm through the fence and trying to grab my hand as I attempted to lock the gate — so it was awkward.
Then, as I was struggling to lock this gate without being eaten by the zombies, I saw a zombified dog circling toward me, growling.
He moved in to bite me and I kicked at his head with my left leg, just as hard as I possibly could.
It was at that moment the pain woke me up. I looked down to see that my left leg was positioned askew of the pillows it had been resting on and it hurt like crazy. In the real world, I kicked with my left leg, just as hard as I could, even though the zombie dog was only imaginary.
Life can be like that.
“What Kind Of Person Would Do That To My Child?”
There’s a TV commercial out right now where this lady takes a picture of her son, and another woman’s son is in the background. The lady who took the picture uses a photo editing feature on her phone to blur out the background which of course includes the son of the other woman. This ability to blur the background in a photo is called bokeh (pronounced bohkah).
So the mom of the son in the blurred background says to the mom who took the picture,
“Did you bokeh my child?”
And the mom who took the picture says apologetically, “It was totally unintentional.”
Then the mom of the son in the background says, “Why do you hate Jacob?”
Then the mom who took the picture explains that she can undo the bokeh.
But the mom of the son in the background draws a long deep breath, and says, “What kind of person bokeh’s a child?”
There are many reality TV shows out right now that include similar exchanges (only they’re usually more volatile). Someone’s always offended based on what they imagine someone else is thinking or feeling.
“He Has Bad Intentions, I Just Know He Does”
In the Bible we see an example of this when Abraham imagines what Pharaoh is thinking. Because of his wife Sarah’s great beauty, he’s sure that Pharaoh and other Egyptians have bad intentions toward them, intentions of killing Abraham and taking Sarah from him.
He says to his wife Sarah, “You’re such a beautiful woman, when the Egyptians see you they’ll say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they’ll kill me, and one of them will take you for himself.”
So Abraham comes up with this plan to deal with what he thinks is going on inside their heads. He tells Sarah to lie to the Egyptians, and tell them that she’s Abraham’s sister.
But now, Pharaoh, thinking Sarah is available, takes her into his household for himself. However just as soon as he does, God intervenes and afflicts Pharaoh and his household with a plague. So Pharaoh realizes this is beyond coincidence and he calls Abraham into a meeting. And instead of killing him, Pharaoh chastises Abraham for lying and sends him on his way with his wife Sarah.
“He Has It In For Me”
When I was new to the position of Captain, there was this older more senior firefighter named Frank on the same shift. Frank hadn’t made Captain yet, and he liked to take shots at me. I handled it either by ignoring him or by taking his digs good-naturedly. Until one day, a well-meaning supervisor shared that he was concerned I didn’t realize this older firefighter was putting me down.
That well-intentioned comment turned me into a different person.
Instead of giving Frank the benefit of the doubt, I began to read things into every word, every facial expression. And that happened not just with Frank, but with several other fire department members as well. “If I didn’t realize Frank had it in for me, who else might be harboring hostility?” I thought to myself. After my supervisor’s comment, my relationship with Frank (and a few others) was damaged. It was a couple of years before I finally realized what was happening inside my own heart and head.
It can be so easy to fall into this pattern. We imagine what other people are thinking or feeling, and based on those imaginings, we take offense. And, sometimes, as a result of taking offense, we go on the offensive. You’re sure the reason he gave you that advice was to put you down. Or the woman imagines her not being invited was an intentional insult. Or you imagine your boss is giving you a low level assignment to marginalize you. Or your friend tells you something she learned in a group text, not realizing you weren’t included in that group text, and you imagine what that might mean.
If You Have Amazing Insight Into What Other People Think, You Remind Me Of Jesus
Maybe right about now you’re saying, “Yes Kurt, but I’m a person who has a lot of empathy and insight into what others are thinking and feeling. More so than most other people.”
Well, if that’s true, then you remind me of Jesus. Because Jesus had that kind of insight. There are several places in the Bible where we learn that Jesus knew the thoughts of others. One example of this is when Jesus knew what Judas was thinking.
After washing Judas’s feet along with the feet of the other disciples, Jesus told them his betrayer was there with them, at the table, during the last supper. And when he said that, “. . . they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”
So think this through with me: When Jesus revealed that his betrayer was there among his twelve disciples, Jesus’ love for Judas was so genuine and complete that none of the other disciples had any idea which of them was Jesus’ betrayer. When Judas left to betray Jesus, the other disciples thought he was making a grocery run. (John 13:21-30)
Even in the very moment of the act of betrayal, Jesus calls Judas his friend. Whatever Judas was thinking and feeling toward Jesus in those days and weeks leading up to his betrayal, Jesus loved him, even to the very end. (Luke 22:23, Matthew 26:50)
We also see the way Jesus responded to Nathanael when Jesus knew Nathanael had said of him, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?”
In both cases, there wasn’t even a hint of Jesus taking offense in any way.
People Who Love Like Jesus
That imaginary zombie dog from my dream caused real life damage to my leg. When Abraham imagined what Pharaoh was thinking it resulted in Sarah finding herself in a real life unthinkably vulnerable position. And when you or I imagine someone has bad feelings or thoughts toward us, we do damage to real life relationships.
But here’s the thing. Even if it’s true, when we take offense we still do damage to relationships. Even if we’re right in our assessment of what someone else is thinking or feeling toward us, we still choke off our ability to love that person when we take offense.
Jesus tells us to forgive 70 x 7 times. The Bible tells us “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Matthew 18:21-22, 1 Corinthians 13:7)
In the end, what we see is that when we take offense we choke our ability to love people like Jesus loves people. We prioritize our own pride ahead of loving others as Jesus commanded us to.
My experience has been the people I know who are most successful at loving like Jesus, also tend to be the people who are most successful at becoming unoffendable.
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)
You might also like Love Like Jesus–Jesus And Anger.
Notes:Living without concerning ourselves about whether or not we should take offense results in a happier life. It turns out that when I overlook an offense or forgive an offense, I’m just doing a favor for myself. When I forgive, I’m free. I’m free to love people well, and I’m free to be happy. When I take offense, I contribute to my own suffering. (See University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson in an article by Marilyn Elias, Psychologists now know what makes people happy, USA TODAY, 12/8/2002, URL: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2002-12-08-happy-main_x.htm)
Further study will be rewarded: See Brant Hansen, Unoffendable, Thomas Nelson, 2015
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, IVP Books, 2011
Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Team, Angry Young Men and Heart Disease, June 4, 2013, URL: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/06/studies-show-angry-young-men-become-old-men-with-heart-disease/
Joseph Scheumann, Five Truths About the Wrath of God, Desiring God, 11/4/2014