Bob Enyart of the Denver Bible Church is a proponent of both Open Theism and Bible-based Christian teachings. But to me and my admittedly incomplete understanding of both, “Bible Church” and “Open Theism” seem to be at odds with each … Continue reading
In the New International Version of the Bible, Luke 6:27-30 says:
27“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
I’ve read all of the translations available at the above website and there can be no doubt of Jesus’ intended meaning: If you are struck in the face, present your cheek to receive yet another strike, and if someone steals your coat, give him the shirt off your back, and never ask for either to be returned.
Yes, that’s about as clear and unequivocal a statement as I’ve ever found.
To follow His way is to be a pacifist.
But let me now tell you what has again raised the conflict in my mind.
On a recent business trip, I received a grandfather’s testimony. The story centered on his grandson and it involved abuse, abuse so severe it may only be through the miracle of an answered prayer that the boy still lives.
Here is an extract of two paragraphs that begin to tell the story (for a complete copy of this particular article, click here):
“The compelling first flight of Air Compassion for Veterans illustrates the program’s impact in life and death situations. A 2 1/2 year-old boy named Alex Searles was beaten and abused while his father, Jason, a Marine sergeant, was in Iraq. The child’s mother had met a man on the Internet and developed a relationship with him, then went to Texas, taking Alex and his eight-month-old sister Ashleigh with them.
“When the boy had difficulty breathing and wouldn’t stop crying, the couple took him to the hospital and were then arrested and jailed for injury to a child. Alex’s grandparents, Bill and Sherry Searles, flew to Lubbock, Texas, from their home in Melbourne, Florida, to get temporary custody and make travel arrangements for Alex. Bill learned about the ACV program through a friend and was able to schedule a medical flight on a Learjet to Florida”.
But a much more in-depth description of the abuse and its subsequent developments are available, after registration and sign-in, through the grandfather’s blog-like diary at
http://www.carepages.com/ServeCarePage?cpn=AlexSearles&extrefid=tlcinvite but be forewarned, what happened to this defenseless child is criminal and the story is graphic. There is a photo gallery as well as many diary entries to read.
As I sat and listened to Bill, I tried to imagine myself in his shoes and how I would feel, and more to the point here, I asked myself, what would I have done, what would I do in a similar situation?
And when Bill paused for a moment to get his emotions in check, I confessed, “If I had been in your position, Bill, I tell you truly I would now be in prison for killing the person who committed these horrible acts.”
So, here is the conflict: What would Jesus have us do when faced with such evil?
To resist evil through the use of force is clearly contrary to the above passage from Luke. I’m sure Jesus would pray for both the little boy and also for his abuser.
But if the abuser appears in my presence and begins to harm the boy, what then? Do I stand between the abuser and shield the child? If the abuser pushes me out of the way, do I again put myself in harm’s way? And if the abuser raises a weapon to put me out of the way permanently, do I, at that point, take this passage to heart and turn the other cheek and, in so doing, allow evil to have its way? Do I, through inaction, allow evil to have its way?
Or, do I resist? Do I resist evil, especially when I might be able to stop it? And if I resist, how strongly do I resist?
Just how universally do I apply this passage from Luke?
Pacifism in the face of violence to oneself is one thing. But what about when the threat is to others?
Let me ask you a question. If you had been on-board the second plane that struck the World Trade Center, if you knew what was probably going to happen in the next few minutes, what would Jesus wish you to do? Would you charge the terrorists knowing they have weapons and that you will probably be killed for naught just because there is some small chance you might be able to stop the murder of thousands of innocents even though your life is probably sacrificed no matter what?
We could pray that the Lord would give us answers to such questions but, for myself at least, I would rather pray that I am never faced with situations such as these.
Lord, keep me from such terrible tests.
And regardless of that, I also know that no words will suffice to rule if and when such a situation comes up in my life. No amount of preparation, of study, of contemplation will prepare me.
When faced with evil, what will I do?
When faced with such evil, I cannot tell you now what I will do then.
It is impossible.
Instead, I pray that should such a situation arise in my life, that Jesus will be there, that He will stand beside me, take me by the hand, and show me the Way.
God, help me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Because I am sure that, before that moment, there is nothing to say or do that will guarantee my actions.
All I can do now is pray that He will be with me then, and that He will give me His guidance.
Free Will is a terrible responsibility.
Lord, help me use it as You would hope.
In your hands, Lord. I’m in your hands now, and also then, and then forever.
As they say, I’m conflicted.
On the one hand I have the wherewithall, both mental and physical, both of which are God-given abilities, to protect myself. It is true, of course, that I can choose to use those abilities for good or evil and so the question arises, when, if ever, should I use force for the purpose of doing good?
And I’m not talking about using muscle to help someone to their feet.
I mean violent force.
When, if ever, is it “good” to use violent force?
Jesus certainly seems to be the consummate pacifist. His example seems clear. Indeed, one of the rare times he mentions weapons (Luke 22:38) is when he expects to be arrested and, so say some apologists, he wants the disciples to look like a band of criminals to facilitate his arrest. When he instructs the disciples to get swords and they say they have two of them, he responds, “That is enough.”
Jesus’ tone of voice in that phrase would have told us quite a lot about his feelings concerning weapons but, sadly, the printed word just does not convey it. We don’t know if he means, “Weapons are evil and I don’t want to hear anymore about them,” or “Two swords are sufficient to make us convincingly look like a band of criminals,” or even, “That’s a trivial detail; let’s get on to more important things now.” The available commentaries on this verse have different opinions. My bottom line has to be that I just don’t know.
I can rationalize the use of defensive violence, as opposed to offensive violence, on the grounds that if I fail to protect myself and am killed, I can no longer work to propogate, to promote The Way.
But I find no support for that rationalization in the New Testament. Clearly it is not in the written record of Jesus’ teachings.
Interestingly, that reference to swords does not appear in The Jefferson Bible which otherwise includes those statements and stories Thomas Jefferson felt were directly attributable to Jesus. Unfortunately, Jefferson did not include a commentary on why he omitted this particular verse.
But all that accepted, I still cannot get rid of the gut feeling that life is precious, that life is God’s work, that The Way says we should resist evil and promote life.
In the NIV, John 2:13-17, it says,
13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Some commentaries suggest this act of passion, this aggression, was an aberration and that Jesus would eschew such acts in spite of His actions that day.
But the fact remains that the Bible records this story of Jesus’ actions and, indeed, that it was even foretold. That is, to fulfill the prophecy, Jesus had to behave in this manner. To repeat,
17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
But Jesus fulfilling the prophecy is one thing. My using force or violence such as Jesus did, is another. I am not fulfilling a prophecy. I am not Jesus.
So, when is violence good, if ever? When is it not a sin to use force in resisting evil? Should we all go, without resistance, to be fed to lions?
Some say, “Yes.” Some say complete pacifism in the face of evil is part of The Way.
But I have to then ask, if I don’t take medications to fend off disease, I may die. If a wild animal, maddened by rabies, attacks, am I supposed to surrender my life to it? Or am I only supposed to be a pacifist with other humans? What about non-violent aggressions such as verbal or written accusations that are intended to harm my well-being, or being unjustly tried in a court of law — shouldn’t I defend myself?
What constitutes violence? Is physical violence the only violence?
I think not.
Watch the immediate effect of verbal abuse on a child.
Witness the consequent effect that shows much later in that child’s life of the damage to his/her life.
No, violence is not just physical. Violence can be perpetrated in many different ways without being physical.
I don’t think Jesus would condone verbal abuse.
I do agree that he would have attempted to combat it with gentle persuasion but, faced with it again and again and again, would he have acted out as he did in the temple? And regardless of what he might have done, isn’t the very continuation of life based on innumerable instances of acts every day directed toward the resistance of the destruction of life?
Ultimately, it must become a question of degree, of which acts constitute good resistance and which acts constitute bad (evil) resistance (to evil).
Certainly wars and fighting often just go on and on as each side retaliates for the other side’s previous retaliation. It only stops when one side either chooses, or is forced (!), to stop.
Is the forceful cessation of war a sin?
Or should we just allow ourselves to be killed?
When extermination of all those who believe as you do is the avowed goal of a militant group, when and how do you resist or do you just let them in and bow your head to their sword?
And, to go to the next degree, when does “defense” turn into “offense”? I’m thinking of the US reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Specifically, when evil has shown its intentions and continues to foment such works, when is life served by travelling to evil’s lair and exterminating it?
– – –
Oh Lord, the world is so complicated and your gift of Free Will so terrifying in its awesomeness.
Please Lord, shine your light brightly so my cloudy eyes may see,
shout your words so my deafened ears will hear, and
guide my feet to the climb that will lead me to The Way.
And take pity on my frustrated and confused mind: strike me dumb with Your truth, I pray.