This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pacifism 3

How far should we take not returning evil for evil?  How far should we take turning the other cheek?  What if people threaten to kill you?  Shouldn't you be able to engage in violence when someone seeks to use lethal force against you? 

i admit it seems that way to me.  It sounds perfectly sensible that evil people should be allowed to go only so far, and then i have every right to "take matters into my own hands."  In fact, it seems like if i don't physically retaliate at some point, something's wrong with me.  Like i'm cowardly or wimpy or have no guts or no self-respect.  Choosing to just let someone "walk all over me" violently seems un-manly and definitely un-American. 

But is it un-Christian?  That's what i want to know.  i could be the most "manly American" around (a regular Toby Keith) and still be a dirt-poor disciple of Christ.  What would Christ have me do?  Do any of His words or actions tell me how far i should take not-returning-evil-for-evil?  Perhaps 1Peter 2 provides some answers. 

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.(1Peter 2:19-24)
Christ left us an example and wants us to follow in His steps by enduring unjust suffering.  When people insulted Christ, He didn't insult them in return.  When people beat Him, He didn't beat back.  Rather, Christ kept entrusting Himself to God as the judge who will make things right.  As soon as people threatened Jesus' life, did things change?  Did He stop entrusting Himself to God?  Did He then trust in His own ability as a human to violently resist those people using lethal force against Him?  Did He take matters into His own hands in order to preserve His own life?  To what extent did Christ keep entrusting Himself to God?  Peter says, "He Himself bore our sins in His body."  Christ did not retaliate or change His moral strategy even when His life was threatened.

The author of Hebrews offers something similar to Peter's words.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:2-4)
Jewish Christians suffered a great deal of persecution from the Jews and were rather tempted to revert back to Judaism to end their suffering.  Christ's endurance even to the point of death, the Hebrews writer tells them, is the Christian's moral exemplar.  The author says they hadn't "yet" had to shed their blood (i take this as a reference to dying), which suggests that if they continued to do the right thing, it may very well have come to that.

Peter and the writer of Hebrews point out that this is how Christ did things, and it's our job to follow in His steps.  Further, this seems to be the practice among Christians in the New Testament.  Paul was stoned by a mob in Lystra that intended to kill him yet Paul and his companions did not engage the mob violently (Acts 14:19f).  Stephen was stoned to death and did not resist his murderers violently (Acts 7:54-60). 

Thus, it may be manly or American or even common-sensical to fight back when people threaten to harm you, especially when they use lethal force against you.  But it's not the Christ-like thing to do. 

1 comment:

Rance said...

I appreciate your comments and hope you are continually encouraged. Unfortunately it seems to be a minority view, in Christianity, that there is no justiable reason to retaliate against someone or return evil for evil.

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