We live in an age of perpetual offence. We are taught to be so wary of offending people that we tend to walk on eggshells around any topic that has the remotest possibility of being offensive. Christians, of course, are rightly wary of offending others. Paul clearly instructed, “Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Jesus at sought to avoid unnecessary offence (Matthew 17:27). In biblical terms, however, an “offence” is not something that is taken as a personal affront, but a deliberate action that serves as a barrier to faith in God (cf. Romans 9:33; Galatians 5:11).
Earlier this month, an uproar arose over a piece of art being displayed in an Israeli museum. Dubbed McJesus, the piece was a crucifix with the body of Jesus painted like Ronald McDonald. Intended as a critique of consumerism, the sculpture raised the ire of Israeli Christians. One man called it a “disgraceful sculpture” and added, “As a Christian person … I take deep offence to this depiction of our symbols.” (He may be unaware that the “symbol” in question—the cross—was, in fact, a symbol of disgrace in the first century!)
Israeli Christians responded with violent protest, and many Christians around the world called for a boycott of McDonald’s over the piece. One Facebook objector wrote, “I’m literally appalled and disgusted beyond belief. McDonald’s APPROVED this to put up in a museum in Israel, called ‘McJesus.’ This is sheer blasphemy and the deeds of the non-good shall not go unpunished. This is making a mockery of God! Our God has nothing to do with McDonald’s.” In point of fact, McDonald’s had nothing to do with the piece—either its creation or its approval. McDonald’s South Africa formally distanced itself from the depiction.
It needs to be said that the purpose of the piece was not to attack Christianity. Instead, the image was intended to “address the collaboration between religious systems and the consumer culture.” Still, it did not sit well with many Christians, whose offence resulted in the piece being removed from the display.
Whether or not Christians ought to take offence at McJesus is probably a matter of debate. Though the artist was clearly seeking to capture attention and make a statement, it seems unlikely that his intention was to deliberately attack the Christian message and lead people to unbelief. It would be surprising if he didn’t anticipate the backlash that it might cause, but that was certainly not his goal.
A far more direct attack on the Christian faith and message came recently from DC Comics, whose flagship superhero, Superman, is often considered by social commentators to be a type of Jesus Christ.
Vertigo Comics is an imprint of DC, created to publish graphic content that would not pass restrictions within the code of mainstream comic stories. Vertigo recently announced the publication of a comic called Second Coming.Its premise reads,
Witness the return of Jesus Christ, as he is sent on a most holy mission by God to learn what it takes to be the true messiah of mankind by becoming roommates with the world’s favorite savior: the all-powerful super hero Sun-Man, the Last Son of Krispex! But when Christ returns to Earth, he’s shocked to discover what has become of his gospel—and now, he aims to set the record straight.
Explaining further, the comic’s author, Mark Russell, states,
The concept is that God was so upset with Jesus’s performance the first time he came to Earth, since he was arrested so soon and crucified shortly after, that he has kept him locked-up since then.
God then sees this superhero on Earth a few thousand years later and says “that’s what I wanted for you!” He sends Jesus down to learn from this superhero and they end up learning from each other. They learn the limitations of each other’s approach to the world and its problems.
That is a far more direct attack on Christianity. According to the Bible, Jesus was in no way a failure, and his crucifixion was carefully planned by God to happen exactly when it did in order to bring salvation to God’s people. In comic book parlance, Jesus—in his person and his work—is the hero of the story.
If there is doubt as to whether Christians should consider McJesus to be offensive, there is no such ambiguity about Second Coming. The message of Second Coming is directly contrary to the message of the Bible and, if embraced, will lead people away from faith in Christ. In biblical language, the author might be better off attaching a millstone to his neck and drowning himself in the sea (Matthew 18:5–6).
My interest, however, is not with the offensive content of the story, but with the way that Christians should think about it. How should Christians respond to messages that are genuinely offensive to the gospel?
The wrong thing to do, obviously, is to respond in kind. Even if there was justification for Israeli Christians to take offence at the McJesus sculpture, there was no justification for their violent response. Jesus certainly did not teach that we should petrol bomb those who oppose us. Let me suggest three ways we should respond to attacks against our faith.
First, we should not be surprised. Jesus taught his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). Why should it surprise us that a world that hates Jesus, and therefore hates his followers, would design something as opposed to the Christian message as Vertigo’s Second Coming? As Jonathan Edwards notes,
Men that have their spirits heated and enraged and rising in bitter resentment when they are injured act as if they thought some strange thing had happened to them. Whereas they are very foolish in so thinking for it is no strange thing at all but only what was to be expected in a world like this. They therefore do not act wisely that allow their spirits to be ruffled by the injuries they suffer.
Second, we should pray for those who offend us. Again, Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45). Our natural reaction is to lash out at those who attack us, but Jesus calls us to a very counter-cultural response.
Third, we should actively do good and seek to win those who offend us. Not only should we pray for those who persecute us, but we should “do good to those who hate” us (Luke 6:27). The goal is, through the love of Christ, to win those who harm us. That is why Jesus, in the context of offences, instructed his disciples, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4).
In short, we should work hard to be slow to take offence and quick to pray for, do good to, and seek to win those who have wronged us.