There has been an explosive interest in politics over the last two years with specific attention placed on the roles of men and women in society. Traditionally, masculine traits are explained to be toxic, while passivity and sensationalism have been transformed into virtue. As Christians, we need to rightly understand where we fit into the bigger picture of political discussion and identify what behavioral traits are not only optimal for the society but align with our pursuit of Jesus. One of the key characteristics of human functionality is the approach we take to interpersonal relationships; thus our response to external pressure to change and respond to behavioral pressures are essential.
How Would You Respond to Tyranny?
In the book 1984, George Orwell presents a society that controls a populace through fear and the restriction of freedom. In the book, if one even thinks negatively about the government, there is intervention. What is the proper response to this kind of tyranny? At a micro level, how should you respond to a person that thinks that the biblical perspective on gender roles and the family is sexist and oppressive? How would you respond to a person that wants to inhabit your ability to succeed because of your ethnic or cultural background? Just as an example, Harvard is currently being sued by a group of Asian-Americans that believe that they have been discriminated against because of their ethnicities’ proclivity towards success.
What Does ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ Mean?
In Christian culture, the way that we respond to conflict is an area of contention. On the one hand, we realize that being bold in the face of evil is necessary; Christ drove out those who were selling goods in the temple in Matthew 21:12 and Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 tells us to abstain from evil, which would imply that support of evil through passivity. On the other hand, we have the principle of “turning the other cheek” (Matt 5:38-40), where at a surface level, submission to an oppressive force looks to be encouraged. Submitting to the will of a political bully or tyrannical ruler in any instance would be seen as weakness, and there are clear biblical examples of standing against oppression (see, Eph 5:25), but with the idea of turning the other cheek in play, there is a need for reconciliation.
The perspective that we should not resist the evil one in Matthew 5:39, if made to be all-encompassing, would ensure that Christian’s take a stance of passivity that would allow a culture that restricts religious freedoms, mocks God, and leaves Christians vulnerable, the opportunity to persecute Christians both socially and legislatively. Fortunately, turning the other cheek as opposed to resisting the evil one is an interpersonal command, limited to individual relationships and does not represent the Christian response to evil generally. R. T. France in his commentary on Matthew presents the non-resistance as a form of endurance and perseverance in the faith despite social persecution (France, 131). The Christian is called not to retaliate against those who malign him but to approach those who persecute him by doing good (Rom 12:21).
Turning the other cheek is not a call to be weak, but a call of endurance and strength in the face of wickedness. Christians must live an active life that is opposed to evil at the macro, meaning that we defend the rights of Christians, we speak out against injustices, and we live a life that promotes the gospel. At the individual level, however, the Christian must strive for love and goodness, enduring persecution from an individual in the hopes that the love of Jesus can be made known. Like Jesus, you fight against injustice broadly, defending yourself against oppression, but in the face of evil, you love with all your heart.
Caleb Russell Jacobs (BS, Liberty University; MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the host of The Basic Bible Podcast and writes at www.webasicbible.org.
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