Day 5 of the Scripture challenge – final day, so I figured I’d save the most controversial for last. :) If you missed them, check out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4. I apologize for Day 5 coming on Day 12 or something like that. Life exploded over the past couple of days.
Before I go any further with this, we need to have a chat. I don’t give two stinks about whether or not you agree with me on any of the verses/passages I’ve written about.. If you agree with me, I don’t care. If you disagree with me, I don’t care. The only thing I care about is that you truly dig into God’s Word on your own and make a decision in light of the entirety of Scripture, the context, the language snafus going from Hebrew to English, the cultural context, etc. If you can tell me you’ve really dug into these topics and yet disagree with me wholeheartedly, then fine. That’s on your plate, and what I believe is on my plate. I’m accountable for that, and you’re accountable for what you believe. If you’re comfortable with that and okay with that and have no qualms, then more power to you. Romans 14 is where you need to direct your attention right now. Please, please please read this chapter before proceeding. We’re all at different points on the spectrum of weak and strong. While I believe that this truly is an issue that scripture is pretty black and white about (an example of one that is not black & white could be drinking or watching rated R movies – lots of context and details to think about), it does require a considerable amount of digging and wrestling through. This is one that I am continuously re-evaluating to be sure that I’m not blinded by my upbringing or something similar.
Day 5 – Matthew 5:38-39
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 someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
I’ve heard few to no pastors offer much insight to this verse when it’s used in a sermon. Generally we’re telling people to resist defending themselves in a host of situations. The cut & dry version I’ve learned? I think I’ve been taught (from the pulpit in a host of different settings) that I should be willing to get the living tar beat outta me for Jesus and never defend myself. The goal of this blog is to pair this verse with the concept of self-defense, as I have heard many people use this verse in defense (ironically) of not “fighting back” when it comes to defending one’s life. (Disclaimer: I could nearly write an entire book on this topic, therefore that should tell you I could go on all night. I’m going to try to keep this as short & sweet as possible since Part 2 gets some real-life comparison between someone who has the exact opposite view of me. If you want to know more, then study more).
Some questions that I hope are running through your mind:
Are we justified in defending ourselves, our loved ones, and our homes? Is that what this verse speaks to?
When do we fight back for safety?
How do we fight back?
Does this mean that if someone attacks me on the street that if I have a concealed carry permit I can’t defend myself?
I want to explore some of these questions. I’m not seeking to give specific pin-pointed answers, but instead I want to provide you with some food for thought that perhaps has not been considered. You can draw your own conclusions.
Whenever a passage includes unexpected or unusual details, we should probably ask why they’re included and what they mean. A key word here is ‘right.’ Jesus is talking about being struck on the right cheek, specifically.
Jesus does not just tell someone who takes a fist to the face to expose the uninjured side. He gives clear instruction to expose the left cheek. This leads to a couple important questions. Why would Jesus indicate that the first blow will come to the right cheek? Why would he instruct someone to offer the left cheek to an attacking Roman soldier?
Roman soldiers tended to be right-handed. When they struck an equal with a fist, it came from the right and made contact with the left side of the face. When they struck an inferior person, they swung with the back of their right hand making contact with the right cheek. In a Mediterranean culture that made clear distinctions between classes, Roman soldiers backhanded their subjects to make a point. Jews were second-class. No one thought twice about the rectitude of treating lesser people with less respect. (Paul Pensley, Turning the Other Cheek)
In light of this information, should we view this verse as the guiding principle for home/self-defense, or is Jesus perhaps speaking more to defending the equality of the Jews with Roman citizens to the point of telling them to make a very, very bold statement about said equality? (I laugh when people say Jesus was passive. This man was anything but passive) Jesus’ words and instruction to the Jews was to make the Roman soldiers treat them like equals. A literal turn to the other cheek would leave them no options.
Regardless of the level of controversy, Scripture does reinforce the idea that self-defense is necessary and permissible. Another question we need to ask is one that I asked in an earlier post: Does this one verse that I’m looking at truly align with the entirety of the message of Scripture? Let’s check out a few verses:
“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.” (Exodus 22:2)
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)
“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6).
“If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood” (Ezekiel 33:6).
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe” (Luke 11:21).
I find the verse from Ezekiel to be particularly interesting. If we see someone is in danger and we do nothing to protect their life, we’re held accountable for that. In other words, if I as a parent (let’s pretend) should, for some ungodly reason, be the coward of all cowards and do nothing to defend my child’s life if I know a psychopath has broken in my house and gone to his/her room, the psycho has the child’s blood on his hands, but I’m held accountable for not doing anything. Are you listening? This is the Word of God speaking.
I want to take into consideration another concept that Christians tend to feel very strongly about, and that’s abortion. I’d say that as a whole, we’re vehemently opposed. In fact, I’ll tell you how opposed I am: If I hear of a Christian who is ever okay with abortion in any circumstance where the mother’s life is not in immediate danger, I assume they aren’t actually a Christian. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Bible is it ever okay to terminate a pregnancy due to a rape, due to a one night stand, or due to the doctors believing the child is going to be deformed or handicapped. No where. So let’s just make that clear how vehement I am about this topic. Abortion is a no-go. I get the sense that many others are just as adamant.
With that in mind, I’m confused when I hear someone strongly oppose abortion while also strongly opposing the use of force to defend one’s life when said life is in grave and imminent danger. I’m going to set this aside with one question: Why are we willing to defend the life of the unborn but not of the born?
I worry that those who tend to lean to the passive side as well as the side that somewhat to adamantly opposes personal protection are a) buying into poor theology and b) grieve the heart of God. Hear me here: I believe God hates it that some of those he created are willing to murder in cold blood others he has created.. But I also believe there is a righteous anger and frustration in his heart when he hears one of his own who are not willing and ready to defend the lives of others around them when the murderer comes knocking on account that they never truly understood what it meant to turn the other cheek. I truly, honestly, and wholeheartedly wonder what runs through God’s mind when he hears of a husband who’s unwilling to defend the life of his wife and children in the face of adversity and sheer evil because he has a poor understanding of what it means to turn the other cheek. Speaking for myself, I value the gift of life given to me by God himself. I value the “miracle of life,” as we endearingly call it when a child is born, that he freely gave to me 25 years ago. I believe life is still a miracle, and I believe we should fight to defend said life. If we’re fighting for the fact that we’re fearful of death, then I believe we fight for the wrong reasons. But to say that God doesn’t want us to? I have a very difficult time with that in consideration with the rest of Scripture. A very difficult time. Ezekiel 33:6.
I’m not going to go on and on about this as I could, because I’m already pushing a 2,000-word blog. However, when we look at Scripture, we need to look at the entirety of Scripture and we need to dig. As pointed out in earlier posts, you can’t assume that the English language adequately encompasses the full meaning of the text, nor can you always take verses at face value because they have much richer meanings when we look at cultural context. If no one gains anything else from any of the junk I write, I really do hope that you see it’s necessary to dig beneath the surface.
Part 2 of this blog will look at someone else’s viewpoint that is radically opposed to my own. You’ll need to read the article beforehand and then click back here and read Part 2. I’d encourage you to take the time to truly read and consider both, not just skim and peruse.
Pray. Seek. Do.
Soli Deo Gloria.