When You're Attacked...
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 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. (Matt 5:38-40)
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. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt 5:43-45)
I don't know about you, but when someone pushes me, either verbally or physically, my first instinct is to push back. I think that partly developed in me as a defense mechanism in my formative younger years. I was a fat kid, really smart, and socially lacking, so I ended up getting bullied constantly in school until I finally decided that I wasn't going to put up with it anymore. The next time someone started in on me I chose to fight back, literally. It only took two instances of that before my would be bullies decided to go find easier pickings than me. After that I resorted to being verbally belligerent in order to create an atmosphere around me that would prevent anyone from taking advantage of me like that ever again.
…and I've spent the majority of my adult life trying to back away from those destructive habits.
When someone treats us wrongly or insults us, it's natural to at least want to defend ourselves. We accomplish that through many different ways. Maybe you're someone like me who likes to fight back. Maybe you keep silent, but inside you're seething and hold a grudge against the person for the rest of your life. Maybe you defend yourself and explain why the other person is wrong or argue with them. Whatever you do, it takes a very real toll on your inner, emotional world.
There's no shortage of people expressing their opinions out there and if you have a social media account of any type, you know the hate that come across. Whatever you believe, there will be someone online who thinks you're an idiot and is willing to tell you exactly why. So what should you do when they come after you?
If you respond by fighting back, defending yourself, or internalizing it, you risk creating a destructive internal emotional atmosphere. You've inherently made a dynamic where you are the one responsible to police what happens externally. You've made yourself the person responsible to ensure other people comply with giving you the respect you deserve. The problem is, you can't control other people. They're not going to be behave how you think they should behave and they're not going to speak kindly all of the time.
I once heard a person talking about being bitter towards other people or holding a grudge and they described it as "drinking poison and hoping the other person dies from it". The practical upshot is that you're the one who has drank the poison… you're the one who's going to suffer from it.
Jesus' way was to turn the other cheek, to forgive the person, to love them for who they are no matter how they behave. Even when faced with his own torture and death, He was silent before His accusers. Even when suffering, He prayed for His persecutors. Jesus didn't defend Himself. He was who He was and didn't feel the need to justify Himself to those who disagreed with Him.
It actually takes a huge amount of maturity (or divine help) in order to respond with love, care, and concern for the other person when they express disdain for you and your views. It takes a heart that believes in the inherent value for the person, regardless of their opinions. It takes a willingness to believe that God can and will be your defender and that it is not our own job to police the people around us. This is what Christians are called to. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus who demonstrated this heart so thoroughly.
So how are you doing with this? Are you loving well or are you poisoning yourself? Today's world could use a lot more love and a lot less vitriol.