In Luke 6:27-29 Jesus says, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also." Passages like this have guided Christians throughout the ages, turning them from retaliation and vengeance to a non-violent way of addressing injustice. Martin Luther King Jr., and his associates led the Civil Rights Movement following this principle, this idea of resistance and non-compliance rather than violent confrontation. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela worked to win freedom and equal rights for blacks through reason, persuasion, and resistance. Great good can be done when we refrain from striking back, when we meet violence with truth rather than revenge.
The son of a good friend of mine was savagely beaten a few nights ago. I have known him since he was 8 years old. A sweet child, he is now becoming a wonderful man. Leaving a club, he saw several men beating one man. He intervened and soon found himself the target of the group's rage. He was kicked in the head repeatedly until his nose was broken and his sinus cavities shattered. Thanks be to God he is alive; he is facing a long recovery period.
When I heard about this I was furious. My friends are such good people, gracious, faithful, community-minded. Imagining the awful attack on this young man I found myself wanting to find those responsible and join with others in beating them senseless. That is often my first reaction when I hear that someone I care about has been hurt. I want to hurt someone in return. It feels justified; hitting back seems like what the other person deserves.
And maybe it is, but if we all hit back when we are injured, spit back when we've been insulted, where does it end? In my mind and heart I cherish Jesus' words, I embrace them: "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you..." but my being, my person wants to react just the opposite. My sense of outrage longs to kick back when I've been kicked.
Theologian and author Walter Wink says we live in a culture founded on "the myth of redemptive violence." We believe that when danger comes we need bigger guns, more strength, and better weapons to fend it off. There's good evidence that, indeed, we do accept the myth of redemptive violence. Most of our stories show how those who've been attacked prevail by using greater violence - cowboys outshoot the villains, the Karate Kid out-fights the bullies, Men in Black out-zap the aliens. We live in gated communities, arm our homes with alarm systems, and keep a gun in the bedside table all in an attempt to keep ourselves safe.
Our salvation, however, does not come through force or domination. We are saved by One who allowed himself to be broken by violence. Insulted, whipped, spat upon Jesus did not seek revenge. He succumbed to violence, holding fast to love and truth. If Jesus is our Lord, then his way of non-violence is also our way. If our top allegiance is to Jesus then we will refuse to strike back, refuse to engage in violent behavior. It is one or the other - either we are saved by weapons and fighting, or we are saved by Jesus. We cannot have it both ways.
I pray for my friends and their son, that their lives will be restored and their wounds healed. I pray for those who senselessly beat a fine young man, that God's light will shine on them and they will be changed. And I pray for myself, that I will reject vengeance and choose truth and love. Truth and love, together, expose what is false and hold accountable those who are unjust. Only truth and love - God's love - will lead us all to true redemption.