"But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Mat 5:39 NASB
I am sure all of you have heard this verse, or at least the "turn the other cheek" rule in general. As a whole we Christians know that when somebody slaps us, we are to turn our head to the side and say, "Hey, how 'bout you even things up on this cheek!" But what does Jesus really mean when he put this rule in place? Is he saying that we must never offer resistance to an evil one, or are there certain cases where it is not only right, but even our duty, to stand against said evil one? In the next few minutes I will offer my view on this matter.
First, let us understand what a slap is. A slap occurs when the hand of a person comes in contact at considerable speed with the cheek of another person. A loud smacking sound results from this action, but in general the victim of this affront is more offended then he/she is hurt. In short, a slap hurts your personal pride more than it does anything else, for though that soft piece of flesh on your face may sting for a minute, there is usually no lasting harm. I believe this is why Jesus used the analogy of a slap to convey his instruction to not resist an evil person. We are told that as Christians we should humble ourselves; retaliating over something that hurts what we should be getting rid of anyway makes no sense. Personal pride is something we shouldn't mind getting slapped out of us.
I hope this makes sense, as it is a very important point. We are commanded by our Lord to make no defense against any action that hurts our pride alone. To do so would show that we value our pride more than we value the person afflicting us with the insult. We are to love our enemies, not pride! The bible is very clear on this. When we follow Christ's lead on this matter, a wonderful glimpse of what a Christian should look like is seen.
This same principle applies to our personal belongings, for Jesus continues in Mathew 5:40, "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also." We are to love our enemies more than we love material things as well. I believe these words of Jesus are to illustrate this point; I do not believe in any way he is saying we should allow our personal belongs to be taken at whim by anyone who has a fancy for them. It is clear in scripture that we are given the right to own and protect belongings, thus the command against stealing. There is no misunderstanding in this verse, something that can not be said for the verse proceeding it.
Yes, my friends, it is true that the "turning the other cheek" rule is one of the most misunderstood and debated rules in Christianity. There is a wide range of views on this issue. On one side we have those who are waiting with baited breath for the second slap to be inflicted so that they can let fly with their fists the moment after—Jesus says nothing about allowing a third slap, after all. On the other hand there are those who would willingly let an intruder kill them and their families before offering resistance—something that absolutely horrifies me, but is the opinion held by several respected Christians I know. I think I can safely guess that most of you fall somewhere between these two views.
Then there is Gandhi's view. This is the message the respected pioneer of nonviolent protest had to share with Great Briton during World War 2:
“I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered . . .” – Gandhi
I hope you don't agree with Mr. Gandhi here, for he takes "turning the other cheek" to a level that frankly should appall us. Can you imagine if Hitler was allowed to take over the world without a fight? We would now be living in a world devoid of God's chosen people; we would be living as socialist minions; we would be persecuted for being Christian; there would be no "Land of the Free". The list goes on and on. Obviously, there is some balance that we as Christians should have to this issue. We need to understand what Jesus had in mind when he said to turn the other cheek.
Some Christians would promptly answer that Jesus clearly means we are not to resist the evil one. Ever. That's that. I find this hard to believe. One of my favorite books of the Bible is Nehemiah. In this book, against all odds and hopelessly outnumbered, Nehemiah and the faithful Jews with him began to desperately rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that they might defend themselves against their many enemies. All the while they worked with sword at hand, ready to fight off any who would seek to destroy them. In fact, it nearly came to battle, and the Sons of Israel had to be placed strategically all around the city with weapons ready in preparation of this fight. Obviously, they were prepared to resist evil ones, many of them, with fatal force. We learn in Nehemiah 6:16 and in several other places that God helped their cause, which means He saw the actions of the Sons of Israel as righteous. Fighting for your family (Nehemiah 4:14), your nation, and your life cannot always be wrong.
There are many other Old Testament passages that show people of God defending themselves and their country, but let us look now at a New Testament passage that begs an explanation if Jesus never intends for us to defend ourselves.
And He (Jesus) said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one." Luke 22:36 NASB
Whoa! Hold on a minute, Jesus tells us to arm ourselves? There is no other explaination than that to be armed is to be ready to resist someone who wants to harm you, so how do we reconcile this verse with Mathew 5:39?
Here is what this has all been leading up to. You see, I believe Jesus is speaking in Mathew 5:39 of our response to personal offenses. Contrary to what some would have us believe, he is not giving us a rule on self defense. In cases where you are insulted and belittled, but not physically harmed, it is right for you to turn the other cheek. God wants our actions to glorify Him. As it is natural instinct for humans to lash back at someone who insults them, an enemy could not help but see something different in us when we bear his slander and affronts without retaliating. In fact, we should willingly offer to take a second dose of this treatment! But when someone approaches us with the intent of giving us physical harm, I for one firmly do not believe we are called to sit by and let ourselves be hurt. There are times where I believe we should defend ourselves; there are times where Christians should fight! I believe the Bible backs this up.
Of course, not every situation is black and white. Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the other three missionaries with them had guns near at hand the day they were martyred, but they did not use them when the Auca Indians attacked. They sacrificed their lives instead, for to use their guns would have been to kill the very men they were trying to save, men who would spend eternity in hell if they were killed at that time. What a glorious sacrifice they made, and there was unbelievable spiritual fruit because of it! However, this was the missionaries' choice, not an obligation to scripture.
Finally, some of you might think that the sixth commandment, Thou shall not kill, should have a say in this discussion. Yes, but no. Let me explain. It is very clear that God highly regards human life and that it should not be taken lightly, please understand that, but it is also very clear from scripture that it is not wrong to defend what God has given you, including your life, your family, and even to some extent your possessions. Exodus 22:2 says that if a thief caught breaking in was struck so that he died, there would be no blood guilt on the account of the owner who delivered the fatal blow. Furthermore, Ecclesiastes 3:3 says that there is indeed "a time to kill". Obviously, this time would be as a last resort of self defense. I couldn't imagine taking the life of another human being, but if in the end that is what it takes to protect myself or any of the people I love, I believe it would be right in the eyes of my Lord. The sixth commandment is better translated "Though shall not murder" ( as it is indeed translated in most newer bible versions).
I had a personal example of turning the other cheek just yesterday (thus the reason for this post). My family (excluding my dad, who had to work) was at our local Planned Parenthood clinic yesterday. We were there to hold a prayer vigil initiated by the pro-life group 40 Days for Life (see the end of my last post). I was praying, head bowed, when something crashed into my back. It did not hurt at all, but it was quite startling. Turns out some dude had gotten the bright idea of throwing his soda cup, complete with ice, at me as he sped past in his car. This could be counted as a slap, for sure, but it really wasn't much of a deal to me. It will take more than a soda cup to shake my beliefs. I joked about the incident with my family, and I was quick to forgive the unknown dude and even prayed for him, that God would open his eyes to what abortion really is.
Then the second cup hit me half an hour later, probably from the same dude. This time, along with the ice, several ounces of orange soda came along for the ride as well, redecorating my jacket and shirt. Now that, my friends, is when I had a hard time keeping in line with my Christian morals. This missile, launched from the same "dude car", as my family calls them, was a little harder to laugh at and forgive. A fleeting fantasy crossed my mind where if I saw that car again, I would offer the dude inside my own missile—a little steaming package readily available from my baby sister. I know, that's wrong. How easy it is for us humans to get our ire raised because of our pride! In the end, I did the right thing, rather reluctantly. I offered the same prayer I had prayed before for the dude, and it is my hope that he will one day come to know Jesus. Perhaps even the way I handled his missiles will start his journey to Christ. Now there is an awesome thought, one that is worth a little orange soda stained on my jacket. :0)
Now if that same dude had, say, hopped out of his car and made to harm any of my family, I would have had a much different response than offering a prayer. The dude would learn what my two extra-large fists can do when I reach 'em back the full length of my long arms and let fly. I wonder if he would still have a headache now as a result?
That, blog followers, is my opinion on this matter. Thanks for reading! If you have a different view on this issue, please don't feel like I am criticizing your opinion at all. In fact, I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue (comment below!). Adios for now!