It may be one of the most quoted biblical phrases…”an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but what is the intent behind those words for a man who lives in the twenty first century? Clearly Jesus was using those words as a backdrop to show a different kind of love expected of his followers. Personal vengeance was not acceptable, responding in love with graciousness was. But to what extent?
I am a Christian and I am also a gun owner. Many people in the community of faith believe those to traits are not compatible. They violate the “love your enemies” passages and go against the nature of forgiveness for one’s enemies. Which, in the grand scheme of things, might be true. However, in practical application they are not opposites.
When it comes to an act of revenge or vengeance, the call of Christ compels us to see things differently. In some respects, whether from Paul or Proverbs, the challenge is to let God do his work and leave the revenge to him (Prov.20:22, 24:29, Romans 12:19-21). Yet, when it comes to an actual act of violence, not lawsuits or compulsion by a “government official or servant”, I suspect the response can be different. In other words, if someone breaks into my home and desires my stuff, that’s one thing. Should they choose to desire my wife, that is another matter entirely. If someone breaks into my home regardless of their intended desire, I will shoot first and ask questions later. That is not an act of revenge but self preservation.
When it comes to the teachings of Christ in Matthew 5:38-41 and Luke 6:27-36, the intended code of conduct is quite different. Persecution for the faith, false witnesses against ones character or behavior seems to be the intent. Even the OT passages that are quoted from Leviticus bear the context of within the community and not those attacks from the outside. So Jesus stretches the meaning and in effect says, “live differently than anyone else when it comes to personal attacks on your character or faith. Love beyond what it expected of you – those who love you – and reach for a love that embraces your enemies, those who would seek to destroy your character.” With little doubt, that is a supreme challenge in and of itself as reflected in the command to “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).”
Building a Christ-like character that reflects that kind of love is a challenge for me. Or at least, I believe it would be a challenge. In all honesty, I’m not being attacked in that manner very often. However, I suspect it will not be long before most believers are challenged by an unbelieving society. One that seeks to repress Christianity and its values, even destroy it if possible. Then the question becomes, how shall we act. Shall we fight in court for our rights? Seek to establish or retain laws that protect our heritage or personal beliefs and values. Shall we engage in “holy wars” and crusades that seek to destroy the enemy and establish sovereign rules that protect us and guarantee the future?
Everyone (spoken with a broad brush) seeks to establish or protect their individual or group rights. Many rely on the constitution for their rule of law. However, Christians are called to appeal to a higher court. Does that then mean we march or demonstrate or conduct sit-ins to have our voice heard? Doubtful. We are to throw off the cords of retaliation and vengeance – seek to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile, knowing that God will not be defeated by any means at any time in any age?
What kind of love is that?