I don’t deal with insults often. Sure, a stranger in a slow-moving crowd made a snide remark about my stopping too quickly in front of her (I was trying to navigate a safe route across a bus lane at an Orlando theme park with my second-grade son). And I get the occasional rage filled email or voicemail from a disgruntled churchgoer; but those are the exception not the rule.
What’s your go-to response when somebody comes after you? I can think of four.
1. The “Let It Ride” approach. You know better than to respond to hecklers. It’s a waste of time and energy. You just rise above the nonsense; you acknowledge their anger may be about something else; you just happened to bear the brunt of it in the moment.
Proverbs 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
2. The “Scorched Earth” response. You believe that if you don’t shut this joker down now, he’ll only get bolder over time. So, you go nuclear. If they lob a Level 4 offense at you, you immediately turn it up to Level 11. Retribution is swift and merciless.
You’re cut out of the same cloth as Jesus’s friends James and John. When a particular town rejected Jesus and his message, they set blasters to “kill” and asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54-56). Clearly, Jesus isn’t a fan of this option. Neither are the courts and the police (See also, “Road Rage”).`
3. The “Bless Back” strategy. This is what Mother Theresa would likely do if someone came after her: return curses with blessings. She rips this page right out of Jesus’s teaching. In Luke 6:28 he says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Of course, this is easier said than done. This feels like black belt level spirituality. It’s completely counter-intuitive to our natural response to defend and justify ourselves when we’re under attack. Jesus, however, doesn’t ignore the offender or lash out against them. He recognizes the human beneath the bravado and, in the name of the Father, wishes them well. Even though they don’t deserve it.
4. The “Divine Design” option. I’ll confess. I’m familiar with the first three options. As of today, this one is new to me. You’ll find it in the book of 2 Samuel; it’s a story from one of the later chapters in King David’s life.
In this scene, David is fleeing his palace in Jerusalem. His son Absalom has crowned himself king in a neighboring city and is making a play for the whole kingdom. As David and his entourage are making a break for it, a descendant of his historic rival (Saul) starts screaming at David and throwing rocks at him. The king’s bodyguard offers to kill him (see Option 2, again). David offers a curious response.
2 Samuel 16:10b, 11b-13 If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?” Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.” So, David and his men continued down the road, and Shimei kept pace with them on a nearby hillside, cursing and throwing stones and dirt at David.
David doesn’t ignore, bless or, in this moment, attack Shimei. He just asks “What if God is trying to tell me something in this moment? What if I am wrong? What if my behavior or agenda is less than honorable? What if God is graciously trying to get my attention, gently leading me to course correct?” And then the clincher “If he’s wrong and none of it is justified, perhaps God will bless me because of the curses.”
Perhaps. Perhaps. God allows the insults, the offenses, the personal attacks (even the unjustified ones) to humble us and keep us grounded. And maybe, just maybe God will throw in a random gift and some sweet vindication in along the way.