100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

#37: Does being a Christian mean being a push-over?

The Bible tells us “to do justice, and to love kindness [or “mercy”]” (Micah 6:8), and to “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9). Standing up for the oppressed is a Christian’s duty. But the impression people often have of Christians is that they can be taken advantage of because they won't fight back, since they are commanded to always do good. So, for example, if I know of someone who says they're hungry but will actually spend what I give them on cigarettes or alcohol, should I keep on giving to such a person even though I know I'm being lied to and used? Jesus said...

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42)

To be told "I'm hungry," and then to see that person spend the money you've given them on cigarettes can be just like a slap in the face. So what do we do? Do we “turn the other cheek” by allowing them to once again take our money under false pretenses? Well, that's what Jesus is telling us to do. He goes on to say:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:44-46)

I put it to you that most of the world's population enjoy the sun and rain without a scrap of thought toward God who gives us these things. Yet He gives both the just and the unjust all of these blessings; even life itself. It's not because we deserve it. God is not giving us these blessings because He receives our gratitude. Love is selfless. If we’re bothered by a man who uses us, we might wonder whether we’re giving for the right reason? Are we giving out of love, or to receive thanks and praise? I know people who verbally spit in the face of God, but they are neither cold nor hungry. If we would be like God, we would give to others regardless of whether they deserve it or not. It's not so hard to see that the beggar I spoke of is really just a man struggling with addiction and poverty. He needs love and care, rather than for someone to say “You're not worthy of my charity because you're dishonest.” I think that when such a person says they're hungry, we ought to buy them food rather than give them money. But I don't think it is right to refuse them because of the way they treat us. How much more deep is a person’s love when they continue to love in spite of ingratitude and abuse? It should be through us that Christ's love for them is expressed. Though we were His enemies, (the Bible says), Christ died for us; so great is His love.

If the Bible tells us to “do justice”, as I quoted at the beginning, does this contradict by suggesting that we cannot claim justice for ourselves? Should we just stick up for others but not for ourselves? It seems to me that, Biblically, this is precisely the distinction we should make. We ought to defend others who are being treated unjustly, but (so long as we are innocent), our own suffering of injustice only puts the wrongdoer to shame. Peter says:

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:20)

When we are wronged, we must ourselves remain innocent. Jesus, who was always innocent and righteous, is our example:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

All of these passages about “turning the other cheek” and enduring suffering are about our own response to injustice done to us, personally. We are wise to choose not to defend ourselves in favour of trusting in God who “judges justly”. Paul says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” (Romans 12:19). But these passages don’t deny that we should defend those who are being treated unjustly. Why did Jesus teach us to “turn the other cheek”? It was precisely that we might bare witness of the love of God to those who persecute us. But to defend the oppressed also expresses God’s love for those who are oppressed. Love is selfless. If I defend myself, I am not being self-less but am acting out of self-concern. But to boldly defend the oppressed at a cost to ones’ self is what God’s love is like.

Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. (Psalm 44:22)

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