A couple weeks ago at Bible study, we were talking about our reactions to things like aggression and violence done to us or our families. We saw, of course, the human response–“hurt my kids and I’ll go all mama-bear on you.” And then we dwelled a while on the responses of communities who choose to forgive perpetrators of violent crimes against their members, like the AME church in Charleston and Amish community that suffered the school shooting.
I posed the idea that a community choosing this sort of reaction is a deliberate decision–made perhaps in part to curtail further violence, but also based on the knowledge that if they react in like form, there would be consequences for everyone in that community. To react with violence is to invite further violence.
Still, that has to be a decision, right? Because the human instinct is not to forgive. The human instinct is to respond. To react. The human one…but what about the Christian one?
No doubt you’ve heard, as I have, that humanity is hardwired with a “fight or flight” reaction to danger or surprise–leap out at someone in a dark alley, and they’ll probably either scream and run away or sock you in the nose. When we or our families are attacked, it’s perfectly natural to either lash out or flee (“or cry” as someone pointed out, LOL). These are our two biological answers to such a situation.
Which is when it dawned on me that when Christ says “turn the other cheek” He’s showing us a third way.
When we find ourselves in those situations–situations of violence, of aggression, of speech filled with hate, of people pushing us physically or emotionally–we don’t just have those two natural reactions open to us. We have a third choice.
Don’t fight back. Don’t run away.
Stay there, and turn the other cheek. Give more than someone tried to take. Serve them. This very unnatural reaction accomplishes something neither fighting nor fleeing ever can. It makes a statement that even someone in the throes of rage can’t totally ignore.
It moves us from victim or opponent into a whole other category. And it lets the light of Christ really shine.
This, my friends, is what makes Christianity thrive through persecution and hardship. This is what keeps us from ever being wiped out. Because as long as we Christ followers are doing this, we are winning souls even in the midst of our own destruction. We are increasing our numbers by recruiting our tormentors through the simple action of active peace.
The simple, complicated action.
Because peace isn’t just a lack of violence. Peace isn’t the absence of war. Peace has to have a positive definition, it has to be something, not just the lack of something else. And Christ really paints that definition clearly for us, doesn’t He? He shows us exactly what peace, true peace looks like. It looks like giving. It looks like service. It looks like sacrifice. Peace looks like loving your neighbor…and your enemy. Peace looks like going out of your way for the people you least want to spend time with.
Violent situations will come–they always do, whether on a cultural or personal scale. We’re going to encounter people who dislike us or even hate us. We’re going to have to face abusers and bigots and people who judge us. Let’s have thought through our response. And let’s remember that there are consequences for what we choose in those moments. Consequences for us…and for those aggressors. God loves them just as much as He loves you. What if your reaction is the thing that shows Him to that furious soul?
The world is violent. Let’s #BeBetter. And let’s remember that the way of peace is not inaction. The way of peace is choosing that radical third way of responding.