How do you find security? What is your response to growing threats? The natural way is to meet violence with violence, to counter aggression with more power. Billions of dollars are spent every year by governments to buy more armaments though we have enough war material to annihilate the world’s population already in hand. We spent the second half of the 20th century in the Cold War, a nuclear standoff that was held in check by the aptly named policy – M.A.D. – Mutual Assured Destruction! “Peace through strength” may be a good political slogan, but to my eyes, it is hard for government with a powerful army to avoid using it!
As individuals we are prone to adopt much the same attitude towards those we perceive as threats or those who bring pain into our lives. We meet force with force, harsh words with more harsh words, threat with bigger threats. Yes, it is a kind of personal arms race that leads so often to mutual destruction.
Those of us who know God as our Father, who have given our lives to Jesus Christ, have a radical calling to peacemaking. Contrasting the old Law of reciprocity with a new way of non-violence, Jesus invites us to change our lives and our world with some of His most controversial, and widely ignored, directives for the Christian life.
“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. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48, NIV)
When I read that, a part of me wants to shrug it off as hopelessly impractical for the world in which I live. Turning the other cheek seems so weak, doesn’t it? Our natural thoughts are “You hit me, I’ll strike back in a way that will make you think twice about doing it again.” But, does that really work?
Let me be clear on one thing here. Jesus words are for us personally. In God’s purposes, we learn from Scripture that there is a place for measured justice and for society to restrain evil by punishing those who do wrong. That’s for another day’s thoughts.
For today, I want to engage our minds with Jesus’ call to us to get beyond the impulse to buy bigger guns, to meet muscle with muscle! Think of someone who makes your life difficult, who says things untrue about you, who steals your joy. Are you willing to lower your defense, actively pray for them, and trust God for ultimate vindication? Perhaps that sounds hopelessly naïve, downright stupid. In human terms, it is. Without real faith, we just cannot do it. But, when our lives are hidden in Christ, our great hope secured by His reign, we can and we must for God’s glory.
The choice for peace, active engagement with bad people with genuine love, requires a supernatural empowerment, a wisdom given by the Spirit, received by faith. What a difference we can make for Christ, though sometimes at a high cost to us personally. Will you let these words into your heart and mind today? Will you “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”
Our word from the Word comes from Romans where Paul quotes the Proverbs. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it,” says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NLT)
Lord, increase our faith. Amen.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
-St. Francis of Assisi