I have been having some different thoughts this year about Memorial Day. I am having a hard time feeling good about all the people who have died in wars for America. While I honor those who have chosen to defend our freedom, I am not feeling as much proud as I am sad there have been so many who have died because of war. For many years I have viewed war as a necessary evil, and while as Christ follower I am committed to personal peace, and trying to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, I have never been personally attacked and had to make a choice about whether or not to fight back. In the Gospel of Matthew we read, ““Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (The Message)
Another translation says, “Do not resist an evil person.”
I used to live just outside NY City when I was 17. I took a self defense class and learned how to try and avoid attack. I’ve walked alone in dark and dangerous places and prepared in my mind what I would do if attacked. But I have often had this nagging conflict – is violence ever an answer – even in self-defense? And those overused questions like “What Would Jesus Do?” haven’t really helped me much. I prefer to ask, “What will I do with the Spirit of Christ dwelling in me in this situation?” I’ve heard stories of people who have practiced non-violent responses to attacks and reacted in the power of the Holy Spirit and had miraculous results.
So, during this weekend of remembering those who have died because of violence, I am wondering is it possible to live out my God-created identity as described in Matthew 5? Is it possible for an entire society to live this way, or will our nation always need to respond with violence to threats or attacks? What do you think?
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