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Shoot First and Take No Prisoners: When People Take Offense

April 12, 2015

Police Officer, Michael Slager shoots an unarmed suspect, Walter Scott, while he is fleeing the scene in Charleston, SC

Police Officer, Michael Slager shoots an unarmed suspect, Walter Scott, while he is fleeing the scene in Charleston, SC

One of the biggest things in the news lately is how Michael Slager shot an unarmed suspect, Walter Scott, as he was fleeing the scene of a traffic stop in Charleston, SC. The officer was caught on video using his authority to make the final judgment over another human being’s life. It appears, in a moment of weakness, spite, or misjudgment, this officer charged to protect and serve the public became judge, jury, and executioner in whatever way suited him at the moment. In other words, Slager did not adhere to the law nor did he follow basic human morals.

It is outrageous when such an abuse of power is perpetrated upon anyone, whether innocent or guilty. But many of us are guilty of doing exactly the same thing. How, you may ask?

bad-dayWe all have bad days. Times when we feel down, unappreciated, diminished, angry, stressed, or any number of other negative ways that make us want to take control and gain back some of our lost power. Such may have been the case in this officer’s life, too. It isn’t uncommon for men and women of the law to feel like they have just had enough.

Maybe Slager had become frustrated at never seeing any positive changes in the world despite his efforts. Maybe he felt totally unappreciated for putting his life on the line. He was probably even jaded from dealing with people who are of low character day in and day out. But that is no excuse, is it? He had a choice.

charlie-chaplin-you-need-power-only-when-you-want-to-do-something-harmful-otherwise-love-is-enough-to-get-everything-done

Fitting for my point though not an endorsement of Charlie Chaplin. (Notwithstanding power from the Lord and other technical forms of power or energy of course).

Nevertheless, I think all of us can relate to those feelings to some degree. We are all vulnerable taking matters into our own hands when we take offense with others. When we are having a bad day, we often feel the need to gain back some form of control in order to bring back the balance of power we have lost. So, maybe it will come as no surprise to hear that this is precisely the time when we are most likely going to abuse our power and authority over others.

Still, you may object to my claim that most of us are as guilty as Michael Slager is, sometimes on a daily basis. How can a people be guilty of the same crime, when they don’t carry around a gun?

Few of us realize that unarmed citizens have the same power to kill others as policemen do. They may not carry a gun or a knife, but people can kill through their angry, negative words and shaming, self-righteous acts. This is how human beings become fully loaded weapons in the hand of their enemy, the devil, to kill, steal, and destroy. Yet, unlike Slager, most of us excuse our actions by chalking them up to the bad day we just had. We realize little consequence for our actions until we are eaten up with cancer or our children don’t want to talk to us any longer, or worse, they get into a life of crime or drug addiction.

Hold on for a minute! The Good news is coming! There is a solution.

The reason most of us, even Christians and ministers, fail in this respect is because sin is embedded in our psyches. While the power of sin and the devil have been disabled when we come to the Cross of Christ, we hold onto patterns of reacting to others through our brain’s powerful memory banks. This can be very difficult to overcome unless the right strategy is applied.

One strategy is to help folks understand how human psychology works as defined by Scripture through supporting scientific evidence (yes, social-psychology is just one more scientific discipline that is finally catching up with the Bible). Understanding how something called toxic shame is able to distort the human identity is key. Other strategies I use employ simple tools such as worksheets found in my book; Accelerated Transformation: Maturity, Intimacy, and Unity through Emotional Healing to identify the distortions in our identity.

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I also use a method of healing prayer that I can administer through pastoral counseling or coaching sessions. In this form of prayer, we seek to listen to the voice of God versus petitioning the hand of God to act on our behalf (this method is also explained in my book). Personally hearing the voice of God, versus being taught or prophesied to, is what instantly heals the heart. Articles on this website are dedicated to bringing greater awareness to the problems caused by sin and our distorted identities as well as highlighting the solutions that exist.

Since so few of us fully understand the sort of power we wield over the lives of others when we spew our angry words or become self-righteous or toxic towards others, it is important that we get a grasp on this. I cannot over emphasize this enough; by behaving in such ways, we are equally capable of causing long lasting damage to the psyches of those we love as we are to the acquaintances and strangers in our lives.

I never like to put too much attention on the devil because we need to see the potential of God in every situation to heal and transform broken lives, but it does pay off to know the strategies of one’s enemy.

10624251_1541530666082541_1774374613_aSatan and his henchmen (demons, etc…) are very real. But demons need human beings to have any power to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). As a matter of fact, I don’t think they actually have to work very hard at spreading the disease of human suffering in the world. Because once the poison of sin has distorted the human identity and diminished the human being’s sense of self-worth, the deadly mixture will go viral and spread like wild fire totally unassisted by the enemy of our souls. Embedded in the toxic words and actions of human beings who are constantly trying to prove their worth to the world through self-effort (i.e., self-righteousness, pride, people pleasing), hate and death will bury their bitter selves deep into the hearts of many of the people they come into contact with. And the cycle just repeats itself from one offended and wounded heart to the next.

It isn’t just others that we hurt, but we hurt ourselves as well. The number one thing Satan uses to derail our relationships, opportunities, and ministries is our offenses with others. Once we are offended, our enemy can usually bank on us reacting out of our flesh rather than responding to our offender in love. That, my brothers and sisters, is the key to defeating our enemy, responding to our offenders in love. However, it is much easier said than done. As a matter of fact, for some people in some circumstances it is impossible for them to gain this amount of self-control without going through some extensive healing. That is because most ministers as well as Christians, often come from deeply troubled backgrounds or circumstances

I can’t tell you how many wounded Christians and ministers I have watched fall into this trap with their families, friends, and church members despite having committed themselves to the commission to bring healing and life into the lives of those God has entrusted into their care. Instead, many times they yield to their flesh in the heat of an argument or during a moment of insecurity and inadvertently ending up crushing and destroying a heart; the very last thing any Christian or minister wants to do.

Could this be because we take such a cavalier attitude towards such actions in our satirical culture? If so, it might help some to see what Jesus had to say about it.

Jesus equated this sort of reaction to murder, as follows:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Social-psychologists refer to this as committing “soul murder.” While our offenses may be real, our reactions should be biblical; self-sacrificing, in love. Instead they are typically self-righteous or self-preserving. Then why is it that many religions including some Christian sects seem to have so many within their ranks crying out for hell fire and damnation? Isn’t justice important? First, let’s look at what Jesus had to say about all of this?

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. (Matthew 5:38-40).

 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

It is a pretty serious matter to not be forgiven by God. Instead of forgiving others, what we usually try to do is take our pain out on the other person… demanding skin for skin, taking what we are owed from their hide by crucifying their soul. If this is difficult to understand, hang in there, the explanation is forthcoming.

But first, to complicate matters more, what does Jesus tell US to do when we offend others (such as when we react in anger to someone who has offended us)?

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)

Sounds a little bit like a double standard. Others can drag us into court but we must forgive. Well, sort of. But based upon many other scriptures, this isn’t meant to be a hard and fast rule regarding taking action against one who has broken the law. Christians are not forbidden from seeking civil justice. But, in some cases, depending on how the Lord and your conscience leads, you might have to lay down your rights. It is something we each need to pray earnestly about. Many a Christian has forgiven huge debts for horrible acts committed against them and gained the salvation of the offender’s soul in the process. But in these verses of scripture, the judge being referred to here may or may not work in an actual local court of law. Either way, it is good advice as there is both a spiritual as well as a literal connotation to this example.

Satan's Roles

Satan’s Roles

With regard to the spiritual connotation, few probably realize that spiritual court is being held behind the scenes every day of our lives. In this court of appeals Satan serves as our accuser as he did in the book of Job when requesting to sift another man of God. Who serves as our judge? God, of course. And if you have put your trust in our Lord, Jesus will serve as your Advocate (Lawyer).

But how many of us actually will choose to heed the advice of our Advocate with regard to settling our debts quickly? Have you asked yourself why Jesus would instruct us not to delay in settling our accounts let we be dragged into court?

Waiting is often an act of self-righteousness. If you have received the Gift of Grace that Jesus’ Blood has afforded you, you have no right to claim any righteousness in and of your own effort. Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). It must come from the Blood of Jesus to keep our accuser, Satan, from taking that opportunity to put some sort of disease, disaster, or destruction upon our lives. Not only does Satan serve as our accuser, but he will be happy to serve as our tormentor as well. However, if we will but trust in the Lord’s Blood to provide payment for our sins by asking forgiveness for them, our enemy has no further right to lay anything upon us. And those things he has already managed to put upon us can be healed and our lives can be restored.

However, if we continue to hold anyone else in bondage, requiring payment for their sins by not forgiving them, our Father in Heaven won’t forgive us either and Satan will, once again, have the right to torment us. If this doesn’t already make a lot of sense to you, Jesus provided us with an excellent example that will help you to gain quick understanding of the issue through “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” from Matthew 18:21-36.

In a nutshell, when the disciples asked Jesus how many times a person should forgive the same offender, Jesus told them “seventy times seven.” He shared this parable to help them gain better understanding as to why.

There was a king wanting to settle his accounts with his servants. But one servant was unable to repay a really huge debt. So, when the servant and his family were to be sold as slaves to repay the debt, the servant pleaded with the king for mercy. When the king had compassion and cancelled the debt, instead of being grateful and doing the same to all of his debtors, the servant began choking one of his debtors who only owed him a small sum while demanding repayment. When that debtor begged for mercy, he threw him in jail. When the king found out about this, he was outraged and he handed that servant over to be tortured and jailed until he paid back every cent.

The king being spoke of here is to represent God who has forgiven all who accept His mercy for the huge debt each of us owes for our sin; a human life. Since our lives, being unholy, are unable to satisfy the debt, we will be turned over to the tormentors unless someone with a life holy and worthy enough to pay off the debt is given in their place. Who paid for that debt? The King’s precious and holy Son, Jesus. Can you understand this now? If a Christian refuses to forgive those who have offended him/her, it is like trampling underfoot the precious Blood of Jesus basically elevating oneself above God.

So one of the big keys to our healing and restoration physically, financially, intellectually, emotionally, and relationally is to forgive all those who have offended us in the past, present, and in the future. When we respond in love rather than reacting in anger, we are able to stop the poison of sin from spreading from person to person. Our distorted identities can be restored in healing communities; churches that foster a nonshaming* social culture where individuals are safe to be vulnerable while transforming into their restored Image and Likeness of Jesus Christ.

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*You may want to read other articles about how toxic shame is different from healthy shame in order to understand the different roles of each.

© Tracey Nelson, M.Ed.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by The Spotless Bride Ministries.

Please include the previous and following statements on any distributed copy:

By Tracey Nelson, M.Ed., author Accelerated Transformation , © Oct. 21, 2014 Website: The Spotless Bride Blog; (Some images, songs, & videos not owned by author).

**Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is meant to serve as medical advice. If you feel you are suffering from a mental illness, you need to seek the counsel of a certified mental health worker. The author is simply providing you with helpful information as a pastoral counselor with Master’s degrees in adult education and conflict negotiation and mediation.

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