“OK, so maybe when I turn the other cheek, I am demonstrating redemptive forgiveness. Is there ever a time when I should strike back?”—Katie
Last time, we discussed the reasons for why one would “turn the other cheek.” We acknowledged that the ethic of the New Testament is radical: forgiveness toward, even love for, enemies, is what is prescribed (Mt. 5:43-48). “Be at peace with all men, if at all possible” (Rom. 12:18; 14:19). This is the ideal.
In the ancient Scripture, however, we can see the reality of the situation. The world is a broken, harsh place and bad stuff happens. This situation often demands a response. Evil and idolatrous behavior resulted in punishment (II Kgs. 17:7-23.) David prayed for the destruction of his enemies (Psa. 137:7-9, passim.) The prophets called for justice (see Amos 4; 5:24.)
Jesus understood the reality of a sinful world. He warned of harsh times and persecution (Mt. 24:6-12.) He verbally opposed hypocrisy (Mt. 23:1-36.) Paul did also (Gal. 2:11ff) and instructed Timothy to be ready to “reprove and rebuke” (I Tim. 5:20; II Tim. 4:2.)
We restrict evil where we can, rejecting trouble-makers (Rom. 16:17-19) and caring for the weak and powerless (“orphans and widows”; see James 1:27). We stand against prejudice and bigotry because we understand that all people are valuable before God (Gen. 1:26ff; Mt. 6:9; Acts 10:34).
We live in the tension between the ideal of non-retaliation and the harsh realities of worldly abuses of power and violations of justice. We understand the value of taking no revenge—we also know we cannot allow evil and injustice to go unaddressed. A “good conscience” (I Tim. 1:5ff) constrains us to act against these things, not out of anger or retribution but out of “a pure heart” (right motives), “a sincere faith” (wanting God’s purposes to be achieved) and humility (knowing that our feelings are subjective, our understanding is limited and we are not perfect.)