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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Other Cheek

Terrorism has touched our country again. And we want payback. I sure do.

But before we unleash the fury of an enraged republic on the perpetrators - assuming we can identify them - what would Jesus do?

The first answer we get , the most prominent, is turn the other cheek. Absorb the blow, while praying for our enemies.

The second answer is found in Peter's defence of Jesus at His arrest - put your sword away, Peter, because if you live by it, you'll die by it.

Is this the sum of His teaching? To take the shock - certainly, while using everything we can to identify and prevent future occurrences - but not to retaliate with violence?

Or does the theological concept of a just war apply, allowing us to remove the threat using minimum force - but using force nonetheless?

This is probably the hardest question we can face. Far more pressing than prayer in schools, or same-sex marriages.The answer we give launches our souls onto a trajectory that can take them to Heaven - o Hell.

Jesus did not leave many instructions on using violence in defense, besides the two examples above. But He did leave a few.

First, He wasn't gently accepting of the merchants in the temple. He made a DIY whip, and used it to drive them out. It's hardly likely that He only hit their tables, and their retail goods.

Second, He said that it would be better to be drowned rather than to lead a child astray. "Millstone tied to the neck" was, I believe, how he put it.

And one of the victims in Boston was an eight-year-old.

Third, he healed the servant of a centurion, and complimented this Roman soldier on having more faith than most. He did not suggest a change in profession.

In the first instance, He did not stand by, praying. He saw a wrong, and He moved to correct it. He used minimum force, but He used force nonetheless. The offense was directed against the Father, and so against Him, and He did not step aside, taking it in.

In the second case, what's implied - and this is admittedly a stretch - is a directive to protect the innocent.

In the case of the centurion, Jesus was very forthright in identifying the man's faith as being what He was looking for. If He had wanted to make an anti-war statement, that would have been a logical place. But He didn't.

Taken together,  these suggest a doctrine of minimum force in a just (i.e., defensive) war for society at large, and a doctrine of nonviolence for His direct representatives - the clergy. (This is precisely the way military chaplains behave - they can encourage fighting me - "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!" - but they cannot take material part in battle.)

But that's a theory, and while it draws a lot of support, it may be self-serving. What I fall back on is the 'child and the millstone'. To be blunt, killing a child who's accepted Christ (and one who's beneath the age of reason) places that child into Jesus' care. Instantly.

But hurting? Putting the child into the nether region, on the cusp between life and death...scaring the child? That's abuse, and it's almost impossible for me to imagine Jesus wringing His hands, and praying, while the abuse goes on.

I think, and I hope, that He would stop it.

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