I am one of those people who likes to please others. I genuinely enjoy making others happy. To feel useful is a major part of what drives me. I don’t require accolades or public recognition, but I do seem to need a sense of being appreciated for what I do. As I weigh the cost of a little demonstration of appreciation against all I am willing to do for it, I think it is a pretty good deal for those whom I serve. When I think of my God and what motivates him, I see some definite parallels. It takes a lot to offend God, usually a lot more than it takes to offend the majority of us.
What is offense?
In www.dictionary.com the first definition of the word “offend” is to “to irritate, annoy, or anger; cause resentful displeasure in.” As I read this definition my first reaction was one of recognition of the feeling of offense, but I had to stop and think about each descriptive word of the definition for the whole sentiment to begin to sink in.
What irritates me? What puts a “bee in my bonnet” or a “burr under my saddle,” if you will? Some things people do are irritants, and cause a sense of restlessness, like when someone runs their fingernails across a blackboard just to see you squirm or when someone takes issue with everything you say just because they know it will upset you. They seem to derive pleasure in upsetting others with supposedly “innocent” observations or comments.
What annoys me? Annoyances are disturbances that cause you to feel troubled in some way. For me, I get annoyed if I am sound asleep and someone walks into the room and flips on the light, in effect, blinding me. Then there is the person in church who bounces their leg nervously throughout the meeting causing the whole bench to shake. You want to just reach over and put your hand on their knee and hold their leg still.
The list of what causes me anger is even longer than the lists for what annoys and irritates me. It includes people who hurt other people, people who are mean spirited or who choose to deliberately inconvenience others, like they gain some kind of pleasure out of how much they can cause others to suffer.
Finally, I find “resentful displeasure” in those who, for whatever reason, are angry with my efforts to do good, make their life easier, or seem to feel it is their privilege to expect the best from me, but feel no obligation to have to do anything to earn that privilege.
What offends God?
Wouldn’t it be nice if the title of this article could just have a period (.) at the end of it, instead of an ellipsis (…)? How would we all behave in this life if there was no way to offend our God? We could continue acting like we already are, but without any guilt, care, or concern about the effects of our actions.
I have always been one to be worried about knowing what the rules are to anything and everything, so I know what my limits are. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally push the limits in my life, but at least I feel more comfortable knowing when I am operating within the limits of something so I feel safe. I had a job once as a manager of a customer service desk in a wholesale warehouse. My boss had her office high above the desk in the corner of the mezzanine. She would stand up and lean over the edge and yell at me to tell me what she thought I was doing wrong, in front of the whole warehouse. I finally compiled a list of all her complaints, and in so doing I created the first company manual on how to run the customer service desk. That way I had, in writing, all the rules so no one could say I was doing it wrong.
Commandments are the rules we have been given from our Father in Heaven. If we know what they are, and live by them, he can’t fault us. This is what is meant when the scriptures talk about being “justified” before the law. But what offends God? In Doctrine and Covenants 59:21 he tells us.
21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.
This is such a simple statement that I almost feel let down that there isn’t more of a grocery list of things that cause offense. After all, look at the ever so brief list I gave you at the beginning of this article. My list was multiple paragraphs long, and I was being brief! The Lord managed to include everything in his list in one reasonably-lengthed sentence.
Two ways to offend
God is offended in only two ways. We offend him if we refuse to acknowledge his hand in our lives and in the world around us in “all things,” and if we refuse to obey his commandments. That is an interesting selection of reasons for offense.
Why might the Lord be offended with us just because we refuse to acknowledge his efforts in all things? If he was a human that might seem almost excessively petty. But he isn’t, and it isn’t petty. The Lord is not only omnipotent – all powerful – but he is also omniscient – all knowing. Long before any of us even knew that the Lord would create an earth for us to experience mortality, he already knew every decision each of us would make while in mortality. We cannot even begin to comprehend that kind of foreknowledge. Yet we are told that God knows the end from the beginning.
Equipped with this knowledge he mapped out our families, our places, times, and the degree of our influence on others in mortality, so each of us would have the very best opportunity for salvation. His perfect love would not permit him to do anything less than his very best when it came to his efforts to save each of his children. This also admits of his supreme ability to do something so phenomenally complicated and intricate. When we make statements about life just casually, and accidentally coming into existence, we deny our Father’s whole work and glory, which is to bring about our exaltation.
When in our arrogance we believe we can solve the intricacies of science, mathematics, societal problems, (insert an infinitely long list here) we deny his care and concern for our welfare, and deny his ability to help and bless us with the knowledge we need to accomplish what we are trying so hard to do. We essentially are cutting him out of our lives and saying we don’t need him and can do it ourselves.
We don’t need to do this in big things in order to offend our Father. We do it in small ways as well. We act like we can save ourselves, rather than relying on the saving grace of Him and His Son for our salvation. We don’t take his prophets seriously and act like we don’t need their direction, like what they are saying is second-rate knowledge that can easily be set aside without any serious consequence. These are just a couple of examples of how we refuse to acknowledge God’s hand in all things.
What makes God a god in the first place is his character and nature. The commandments the Lord has given us are designed to help us change our natures and characters into godly ones. When we pick and choose which commandments we will deign to honor, and which ones we will ignore altogether, we slight the Lord by telling him by how we live our life that we don’t really believe that all of his commandments are necessary for our happiness. We sometimes act like that child that honors the curfew of 11:00 p.m., but tries to hide from the parents that we were out drinking and carousing before we returned to honor our curfew. We pick and choose which commandments we will honor.
The interesting thing about this obedience part of what offends God is that it was God who gave us our moral agency so we had the right to choose our behavior in the first place. What we tend to forget is that along with the granting of our moral agency came a long list of laws with consequences, both blessings and punishments for the behaviors we chose. But God doesn’t lightly give us agency just to watch us casually throw ourselves into the pit. The purpose of our agency is so we could learn from our own experience to always choose to do good, and repent of the evil so we can be exalted in the end. After all, our eventual exaltation is his whole purpose for giving us spirit and physical bodies in the first place.
For us to continue to disobey his commandments is to tell him we don’t care how much he has done for us. It is to disregard all of his infinite patience and his efforts to bless us and prepare us for exaltation. God, our Father is not without feelings. He does, in fact, feel very deeply. Look at his interview with Enoch in the Pearl of Great Price. He openly weeps for the sins of man. It pains him deeply to see what we do to ourselves because of our immaturity and stubbornness.
Mortality is not just an afternoon jaunt away from our heavenly home. We won’t be able to just return at will when we are through with our time in mortality. Our mortal experience was purchased with a one-way ticket away from our heavenly home. The ticket back to our heavenly parents was purchased by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. If we aren’t willing to accept that God has his hand in ALL things in our lives, and keep his commandments, we won’t be able to return to his presence. And this is what brings upon us the judgments of an offended God.
Is it difficult to please God? I don’t think so. He has infinite patience. If he sees any progress at all, he is willing to wait for us. If he sees any effort to change for the better he is willing to forgive, no matter how many times it is required. The Lord’s love for his children far exceeds what we can imagine, but there are limits. He is only offended when we place ourselves above his efforts and love, and demonstrate by how we live that his efforts on our behalf weren’t extensive enough or not good enough. He is only offended (I would say hurt) when we are not willing to accept his commandments, which are the way, the path, the iron rod, that will lead us back into his presence once again.
We would each do well to take some time on a regular basis and evaluate our lives. Are we properly acknowledging all that our Father and Savior have done for us to help us find our way back home? Are we accepting with gratitude our Lord’s commandments because they are what provide us with the changes we need to return to our heavenly home? Sometimes we just need to stop and take inventory to make sure we are filling our lives with what really matters in the grand scheme of things.
As we serve others we need to remember that the service we render needs to be without expectation of reward and even without expectation of recognition. To minister is to demonstrate love for the sake of love alone. This is the same kind of love a parent has for a child that is sometimes ungrateful and even unmindful of what is really being done for them. It is good to remember that we are often this way with our Father in Heaven. Aren’t we glad he is so forgiving of our neglect and lack of appreciation?