It is never long between the reports of some major crime against innocent people by someone either mentally insufficient or by someone so filled with hate that they are ready to murder people they have never met because of an imagined wrong. We’ve heard dozens of news reports of the incedent in Tucson, Arizona, but if we looked around the world on any given day there would be all kinds of others that involve even more people.
It seems to me that it becomes more and more the norm when tragic events occur that the cry for revenge, not just against the one who committed the crime but against anyone that we think might have had some influence on the person who did it, becomes louder all the time. People were ready to place the blame for one young man’s crime on everyone that disagreed with them politically.
When was the last time you were wronged by someone? Every day young children are sexually and physically abused by those who are adults and ought to be their protectors. Every day some woman is raped by someone who has a warped concept of sexual pleasure. Every day some elderly person is abused by a family member who has lost control often due to being worn out and not knowing where to turn. Every day in some part of the world some group of people in the name of religion will burn the homes and murder the people that they see as heritics since they don’t agree with them. Every day people are murdered because of their race, their color, or where they live.
If a person has never been the victim of some crime or some abuse in life they are both unusual and extremely fortunate. I often feel overwhelmed listening to the stories of how people have been hurt by family, friends, and associates.
What is the godly response when we have been hurt, wronged or horribly mistreated? I’m not talking about what the country should do, but what should you and I do when we are the victims?
If you look at Jesus and remember the horrible abuse he went through in being beaten by Roman soldiers, lied about by fellow Jews, mocked, spit upon, stripped and hanged on a cross despising the shame, it is easy to see what he did. The first thing that he said when he was nailed to the cross and hung between two thieves was, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” It’s amazing that this phrase is in the tense indicating he said it over and over again. If you want to talk about how bad your hurt is and how you don’t deserve it, read once again the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. He wasn’t speaking as some philosopher sitting in a plush office surrounded by books. He didn’t speak as some college professor who speaks as though he knows, yet has experienced little outside the confines of the university campus. He spoke as the one who was the victim of horrendous pain physically, emotionally and spiritually.
His actions on the cross serve as the perfect illustration for what he said we should all do when we are the victims. In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5, verses 38-48 he challenged all who would follow him to not follow the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mentality. “But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We’ve tended to come up with all kinds of creative ways to interpret this teaching to make it not mean what it obviously does mean. But the truth is that the light of Christian influence never shines brighter than when those who follow Christ in name, imitate him in forgiveness. It is human nature to strike back when we are hurt. It is godly nature to turn the other cheek. “Oh God forgive me for all the times I’ve dimmed the light of your influence by striking back instead of turning the other cheek.”