Perhaps the title is a little overly dramatic, but the theological consequences are none-the-less important. Recently I have been in discussion with a friend and fellow Christ-follower over what the New Testement says about “turning the other cheek” and whether or not a Christian can rightly defend themselves.
I would be very interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this matter, especially other Christ-followers.
Here are some edited excerpts of my thoughts on the matter:
In “No More Christian Nice Guy” Paul Coughlin talks about how Jesus suffered for us because that was his plan… that was the Gospel… and his Resurrection concurred evil, literally. We are called to suffer in his name, but the four-year-old who punches a three-year-old doesn’t do it because the three-year-old was serving Christ… he did it because a four-year-old can bully a three-year-old. He did it because he’s a little bigger and is of a fouler temper. Kids don’t get picked on because they are Christians… they get picked on because they look different or talk different or are smaller. Taking that abuse doesn’t bring any honor to Christ or his kingdom.
The old school Christianity (1950′s-ish) teaches the walk away response… they teach that Jesus would never fight back, but that is the feminist influence talking (the same that declared alcohol a sin) and it is a lie. Would Jesus really never fight back? We know that he had to be crucified, but apart from the passion (including having to restrain Peter) what other examples do we have that he accepted blatent abuse? The Bible has mostly occasions of verbal sparring, and Jesus was great at it. And when he saw someone abusing his father’s house he took action with words and with a whip! He even shouted at people. His righteous anger was not to be ignored, nor should ours. My body is a temple, and if someone abuses it it is my duty to Christ to defend what is rightly Christ’s body, too… and that may mean that if a bigger boys pushes me on the ground for no reason I may have to get up and punch him in the mouth as hard and fast as I can.
Studies show that the “ignore it” doctrine shoved into kids’ heads in school does not deter bullies… they aren’t bullying (most of the time) for the reaction they get from you, but from the reaction they get from their laughing friends. Bullies don’t like to have their macho-ness challenged so they specifically target the least likely person to fight back. That’s the reality of bullies. Our mothers would be happy to see us boys simply walk away from fights… of course they aren’t the ones that have to face those same bullies the next day in school or on the playground. They are speaking as a female, and in the end we aren’t commanded to please our mothers, only our Heavenly Father.
I personally think the sermon on the mount has been misconstrued to allow Christians to be pushovers and not stand up for what is right. We wouldn’t let anyone abuse our wives (indeed the poor fool who tries to abuse my wife will quickly be laying fetal in a puddle of his own blood and excrement)… and we wouldn’t let someone come and take our property from right under our nose… so why would let someone take our dignity and/or harm our physical being? Do we literally stand there and let them hit the other cheek? Is that a literal command to us? If that’s the case then even walking away becomes an un-Biblical response. But I don’t think that’s what was meant, anyway.
Now, everything in moderation. We need to know there’s balance involved and that the other extreme is just as wrong. Going out looking for a fight is not going to draw anyone to the cross (at least that I can resonably surmise in the few seconds it takes me to type this). Once you’ve physically deterred a bully pursuing him for more “deterrence” is probably wrong. Also, if someone steals from your home and you didn’t catch the thief in the act of stealing, finding him at a later time and THEN stabbing him in the leg with your kitchen knife is probably a bad idea.
And everything in moderation again… I’m sure it’s a whole new ballgame when you’re not living in a foreigner friendly place and the rules can sometimes morph into an enemy. That needs to be taken into account. We’re called to be wise as serpeants… and Christ showed us that when he was in a tricky situation and people were trying to stumble him with trick questions. He didn’t walk away… instead he answered deftly and with a subtle sting that left his enemies speechless and the crowds amazed.
It’s been demonstrated that young males need to be taught by their dads how to be a man because the nature that God put in us men He (in his infinite wisdom) did not put in moms. They don’t understand, but that’s ok. I would get worried when our response, as males, to physical conflict resonates well with our mothers… for the same reason that I don’t take marital advice from bachelors.
Here’s some excerpts of my thoughts with regard to the allowance of defending your wife, kids, the weak… but not your SELF:
Here’s a thought. If you are the protector of your wife and children would it not be your responsibility to keep the “protector” in good working order? In that sense self-defense becomes a required requisite for protecting your family. And not even just for protection but for provision. I think if a crazy person wants to cut my arm off I have a right to pull it away… let alone not be required by the sermon on the mount to provide the other arm as well.
Even more so… if there’s a group of four males attacking me and my wife is with me I need to do my best to get out of the situation for her safety. This may mean I need to fight them as long as I can so she can get away… because I would greatly fear what they’ll do to her when I’m incapacitated by them. If we can’t get away then I need to take them out… for the same reason, my wife’s safety.
I think there’s also a difference if you’re suffering at the hands of local authorities (like Christ, Paul, and the disciples) or if you’re suffering because a drunk on the street decided he didn’t like you.
I didn’t mean to make my thoughts sound like weak vs manly. I see godly as BOTH meek and manly. I do think that feminism during the late 1800’s to present has reduced Christ’s character to a gentle bearded lady… concentrating on all his gentle and meek responses and glossing over his angry and forceful (violent?) responses. Therefore “godly” has taken on connotations of pacifism in disproportion to Christ’s example. Godly can mean meek or manly, depending on the situation.
This just came to me: would we teach our wives that the godly response to an attacker is to let them beat them or rape them or whatever? I just cannot resolve that with Christ’s character… therefore, for me, I need to understand turning the other cheek in a context that does not contradict what I understand of Christ. because I’m really, really sure that Christian females aren’t required to allow themselves to be raped as a way of suffering for the kingdom.
You are right, it does take courage to not respond in kind… and if your continued well-being is not in danger (i.e. the attack was a one-blow wonder) then not responding is probably the better response (and a difficult one). But remember, a literal interpretation of turning the other cheek doesn’t allow for walking away but for standing there until they’re done abusing you. I just can’t imagine how that’s correct.
And then after greatly scouring the internet I came up with some links that had seemingly Scriptural lines of reasoning for self-defense. Most of it seemed to speak of the fact that we are under the authority of the government, and so if someone is attacking us illegally, in defiance of that authority, then we are to respond in self-defense as permitted by that same authority and law.
Many have wondered just how far the famous “turn the other cheek” instruction from Jesus Christ should go in everyday Christian Living. Does it mean that we must allow ourselves to be defenseless victims of every thief or attacker that may come along?
It’s very important to realize the context in which Jesus Christ was speaking. In essence, He was telling those gathered there before Him, as well as us today, that Christians are not to respond to religious persecutors as though they were common criminals. He went on to say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 RSV).
Jesus Christ was not prohibiting self defense by Christians in a manner permitted by law. He also said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.” (Luke 11:21 RSV). No “turn the other cheek” for burglars or looters, and by extension, every other sort of common criminal.
The New Testament says not to defend yourself when someone takes legitimate legal action against you requiring you to do what the law requires, or simply asking to borrow from you. You also are not to defend yourself against actions by the government; this issue is dealt with in greater detail in the author’s article on civil disobedience. This is different from someone who breaks the law trying to do you harm, because it is appropriate to defend yourself against illegal actions. However, you must pray for those who persecute you, and bless those who intend you harm.
I recommend reading the entire articles of both of the above quotes. The second one is wicked long… just to warn you.