THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO TERRORISM
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven."
- Matthew 5:38-45
How should a Christian react to something as blatantly evil as the 9/11 terrorist acts? Does Jesus' admonition to 'turn the other cheek' mean we can't advocate that our government take extreme action against the terrorists and their sponsors? Wouldn't that be 'resisting evil', and therefore unloving?
'Turn the other cheek' is an often misunderstood concept. To understand what Jesus actually meant, we first need to look at the context. To begin with, what did He mean by, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" This is a reference, of course, to the Old Testament law given to Moses. There were many rules set down by the Lord to govern conduct, with punishments often also given for violations. Who was authorized to carry out these punishments? The ruling authorities, naturally. Thus, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' was the guideline for a judge determining punishment in a personal injury case. If you punched someone and knocked out one of their teeth, the judge would sentence you to have your own tooth removed as punishment. It was an effective means of deterring people from causing harm to each other.
What must be understood is that Jesus was not addressing a problem with the law itself in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount. He had just said a few minutes before, "Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets [the Old Testament, the only part of the current Bible then in existence]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, till Heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:17-18) So it wasn't the law that was the problem. It was how the Pharisees had come to misuse it. They had allowed the 'eye for an eye' guidelines to be used as an excuse for revenge on the personal level. This is exactly what the harsh sentencing guidelines were meant by God to prevent. The Pharisees had thus effectively turned the Law of God completely on its head.
So, Jesus wasn't saying that 'an eye for an eye' was no longer valid, or somehow wrong. The basic underlying concept behind it is that the government alone should address punishment for offenses, NOT the individual, and that the punishment should fit the crime. While we in America don't use those specific sentencing guidelines, our legal system does operate on the same basic principles that were behind them. It's always been part of the Christian faith that the rulers of whatever country we live in should be given respect, except when that government orders us to do something contrary to our faith (see Romans 13:1-7). A government law enforcement person, whether local policeman or military soldier, "does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer." (v. 4)
So, what Jesus was addressing was the confusion that existed between our personal reaction to wrongdoing against us, and the God-ordained Government response. The latter is supposed to be a force to oppose evil in the world; it is not God's will that those who would do wrong to others have a free reign, because then the world would be in total chaos. Evil is to be opposed and punished by the ruling authorities. These rulers are to execute these duties faithfully, for at least two reasons: 1) to minimize the amount of lawbreaking, out of fear of the punishment; and, 2) so that people will have a sense of justice in the society, and thus be much less tempted to take personal revenge.
On the personal level, we are to 'turn the other cheek,' 'let him have your cloak as well,' and 'go with him two miles.' The basic principle there is that we are to go beyond the normal human reaction to strike back, or defend ourselves as much as possible, or only do what is necessary, or whatever the situation involves, in order to show that the love of God is within us. We must be willing to forgive those who wrong us, just as God has forgiven us. We must love our enemies - in thought, word and deed - and pray for them, and leave the retribution to the God-ordained ruling authorities. Even if those authorities fail in their duty, that is between them and God; it is still not an excuse for personal revenge.
So, it is not unloving to advocate action against those who were in any way involved with the terrible acts of 9/11. In fact, it can actually be argued that opposing such action is unloving, because not strongly dealing with terrorism and terrorists only encourages more such acts of violence to take place, causing more innocent people to be victimized. It is completely appropriate for the American Christian to support our government's war on terrorists. Specific actions in what will surely be a long process may be legitimately disagreed upon by sincere believers, but we should all agree that attempting to beat down and defeat this particularly heinous form of evil is within the scope of God-ordained governing authorities.
At the same time, we must try our best to allow God's Spirit to help us forgive the people who have chosen this evil path, on the personal level. We should pray for them sincerely. Above all, we should stand up for those who are NOT terrorists, but who happen to share the same religion and/or ethnicity. The acts of violence and vandalism that have been occurring against Arab-Americans are just plain wrong, and anyone who names the name of Jesus should not only be sickened by the thought of doing such a thing, but should boldly speak up against these acts at every reasonable opportunity.
God is both perfect love and perfect justice. It is His will that we should love each other and forgive each other on the personal level. It is also His will that some of us be involved with enforcing law and order at the governmental level. Being good to other people and supporting the government's God-appointed ongoing battle against evil are both loving acts, and completely consistent with Biblical principles for Christian behavior.
May God be with us in this ongoing struggle, granting all of us the ability to love and forgive our enemies at the personal level, and success to those who represent all of us at the front lines of the fight against evil.
Bible Lesson Home