"If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." ~ Jesus
That seems like strange advice. But what would have happened if Christians had of fought against the Romans when they were persecuted? The Romans were not averse to crucifying hundreds, even thousands of people. If they opposed Rome with force, they would have been wiped out. What about today? What would happen to the Christian community in Pakistan if they rose up against their persecutors? (See the video below for a little bit about what is going on there.1)
Obviously using force against a much more powerful oppressor is not a good idea. But does that mean you should be silent in the face of oppression? Should we speak up when oppressed?
In the Old Testament the Israelites were told, “Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so that you will not share in their guilt" (See Lev 19:17).
Why would you hate him? It would seem the only reason you'd hate him is if he was doing something to you or someone close to you that you didn't like. And what does not hating him look like? It means rebuking him frankly. In fact the best thing you could do for him was to confront him and tell him he's in the wrong. And if you didn't, you would share in his guilt. (Jesus said we should love our enemies. Sometimes loving an enemy will mean warning them.)
Jesus drew on this principle when he said, '...watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them."'
So again, the loving thing to do is to "rebuke them."
When the religious leaders in Jesus day did things they should have been ashamed of, he rebuked them. Obviously there are good grounds for telling others that they're in the wrong when they are treating you or others unjustly.
When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, it seems he's simply making a point about how we must be willing to suffer if we are going to try and help those who treat us unfairly.
We are to love others, that includes our enemies. So what does it mean to love someone?
If you love an alcoholic, will you give him what he wants (more alcohol)? Or will you help him overcome his addiction?
A parent who loves their child, does what's best for the child, which often means not giving them what they want. (And sometimes it means stopping them from getting what they want.) This is why love can be very hard on parents. Parents often have to punish their children for their good. "A father punishes the son he loves." And, "The evidence of maturity is love."
It takes strength to love, and to love well. When we cause those we love pain, it can cause us pain too.
If loving someone means doing what's best for them, which sometimes means not giving them what they want (and for some it will often mean not giving them what they want); letting a bully have his way is often not the most loving thing to do for him. If we really do care about people, sometimes we will have to tell them that what they're doing is wrong. Or like Paul, we might have to appeal to the authorities (See Acts 22;23-29). (And there might be occasions when we have to use force. See The Peasant Girl's Dream by George MacDonald for some good examples of how a Christian might use force.) But no matter what course of action we as individuals choose, our goal must never be to harm. If we are going to love people, if we are going to make this world a better place, we must be gentle.
Unfortunately, the more we love, the more we will suffer. There is no way around this. A mother who loves her son will hate it if her son becomes addicted to drugs. The more a parent loves his or her son, the more that addiction will cause the parent to suffer. And the more they love their son, the more they will hate those drugs. So in an imperfect world, the more we love some people, the more we will hate the evil that destroys them. Love, in an imperfect world, causes those who love to suffer. But does this mean that if we love we will ultimately collapse in a heap and not be able to go on? No. Love does something for a person when the one they love is doing things which are self destructive. Love gives a person strength, and great self control. The greater the person, the greater the love. The greater the love, the greater the suffering, and the greater the self-control.2
A Diversion: If you know someone who is being bullied, they might find the following video helpful.
The Bible says:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
The more we love the more we will suffer until such time as the world is made perfect and sin and death are destroyed. Until that time true life will be full of love, hatred and suffering. The more we love a person the more we will hate their sins because those sins destroy them. And yet we take up our cross, bare the pain, and continue to try to help them because love gives us strength. (A digression. We all know love can soften the hardest heart. Nothing is more beautiful than love. If you are a sucker for love stories you'll like this story about a true prince and a true princess. Little Daylight by George MacDonald.)
The good news is this suffering will not continue forever. The rightful King of this world is coming, and he will make things right. (He is the rightful King because no one loves like him. No one is more deserving of our trust and obedience.) Will you obey the King?3
1. For more about the history of persecution in that region of the world read The Third Choice by Mark Durie.
2. There's a very interesting poem about true greatness by George MacDonald called "Willie's Question," and can be read here.
3. Jesus calls us to a life of self-denial and suffering. If we are not willing to suffer in order to help others, if we are not willing to go the extra mile, we will not be able to begin to make things right. But what if you don't believe Jesus is who he claimed to be? You can't make yourself believe he is the rightful king by an act of your will. (No more than you could make yourself believe that pigs can fly backwards by saying they can over and over again.) How then can you come to believe he is who he claimed to be? Even though we can not make ourselves believe things by an act of the will, we can choose to do things which enable belief. We all have people we believe in. How did you come to believe in the people you believe in? You trusted them, and you discovered they were trustworthy. (If they were not trustworthy you would not have come to believe in them.) If you trust Jesus you will discover that he is worthy of your trust; then you will believe in him. How do we trust him? Jesus says God loves you and cares for you deeply. So he doesn't want you to be consumed with your own needs and wants; he wants you to believe that God really does care about you and to do what he asks. So take him at his word and do what he says. (Even though you will do it imperfectly, you will discover the truth about him simply by persevering.) You won't have to go against your conscience, if you think this is what he wants from you you're misunderstanding what he taught (see here). When we trust someone who is trustworthy, we come to believe in them.