A man and a woman lived in paradise. No conflict marred their relationship and everything they needed was supplied. They even had a special friendship with the King, living in a perfect place He had provided, sharing intimate times of friendship with Him.
Until one day. That day, someone asked, “Did God really mean what He said?”
All of us now live with the consequences of their debate and reaction to that question. And the question still comes today, whispered into our minds by the same enemy — Does God really mean this?
One of the things so wholly foreign to us humans, so utterly Christ-like that we cannot believe God really expects us to live it out is this command from Jesus:
But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39)
Surely God does not expect us to be so weak. Surely God does not intend that we let evil actions go unchallenged and unpunished. Surely God wants us to stand for what is right. Surely Jesus did not mean that when someone strikes us, harms us, demeans us, takes advantage of us, then we are to give them another opportunity to do the same thing again!
Surely God does not mean what He said.
A man dies in wracking pain, executed for wrongs he did not commit. But with the last breaths in his battered, bloody body, he utters this request: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
Just a few years later, a lynch mob drags another man out of the city. As he falls under their blows, he prays, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.”
A man shoots ten young Amish girls. Five of the girls die. Amish and non-Amish alike, families of the children and families of the murderer, the entire community—all are ripped open by the killer’s brutal actions. The Amish say, “We will forgive.”
God says, “Do not repay evil for evil. Love those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who work against you. Offer the other cheek also.”
While I am asking God to show me how to live this, a friend tells me her story. She owns a summer home relatively secluded from neighbors. While she was away, someone broke into her home and stole from her. She knew who had done it, yet she did not accuse; the young man already had a record, but she did not file a report with authorities. She saw the young man as Jesus saw him, loved him as Jesus loved him. The end of the story? Like Zaccheus, he returned some of her possessions and paid her for those he had already sold and could not retrieve. And she turned the other cheek—now, she asks that same young man to watch over her home while she is away.
“Turning the other cheek,” she says, “is seeing others as God sees them.”
Off the other cheek also. At one time, I thought this simply meant we were not to return injury for injury. We’re not to seek revenge. But let us be honest. If all Jesus is commanding us to do is refrain from striking back, then we still have a big problem—the anger within, the bitterness, a sense of injustice, perhaps self-righteousness, the need for punishment and revenge.
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” (Matt. 5:39-41)
We’re not only to refrain from striking back, we’re to do good things for those who harm us! Jesus calls us to a new way of living, but we cannot live that way if anger and bitterness or a desire for revenge or insistence on justice soaks our soul. We can only live in this way if the Spirit gives us new hearts and new minds. We can only live in this way if we can see others with Jesus’ love and compassion.
I am far from understanding the depth of this command and far from being able to live it out consistently in my life. Every day, even in the little, day-to-day irritations and conflicts and misunderstandings, I must make a choice. I do know there are things in me that must die if I want to love others as Jesus loved me.
But I also know this–
Turning the other cheek means loving another as God loves us. Do we deserve His mercy and forgiveness? Do we deserve His patience with us? I’m ashamed that at times I still slap Him in the face; I do not always live a life worthy of the calling I’ve received (Eph. 4:1). Yet He sees me as a beloved child of His, with a new heart and spirit given by Him. He sees me as He intends to make me. How often has He turned the other cheek to me? Seventy times seventy times seventy times seventy?
How do I “see” those who strike me? Can I see them as God does? Can I see the plans He may have for them? Will I live by the Spirit of Christ and love and forgive them, rather than letting my natural human tendencies govern how I deal with them both now and in the future? They might very well slap me again; can I forgive 489 more times? Will I forgive 489 more times?
Turning the other cheek brings God’s grace into both lives. Whether it be enemy who harms me or friend who disappoints me, if I turn the other cheek I extend love, mercy, and forgiveness to the other person instead of anger and judgment. This is the calling given to the children of God; we are called to the ministry of reconciliation; we are called to continue Christ’s mission in this world, showing the world the mercy and forgiveness of God.
And I believe Jesus asks me to turn the other cheek because it’s part of God’s plan to change me, to transform me into the image of Christ, who has turned the other cheek to me and shown me His mercy and forgiveness so many, many times.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. (Eph. 5:1-2)
All Scripture from the New Living Translation