Jesus teaches that a person should “turn the other cheek” but when should a Christian fight back? Is there such a thing in the Bible?
I believe there is Biblical support for both turning the other cheek and for self-defense.
And it is my understanding that the Church allows for both, depending on your station in life. The Catechism puts both options, turning the other cheek and defending yourself, right next to each other in the Catechism: CCC 2262-2266.
It is my understanding that the Church encourages turning the other cheek as the “higher way” while simultaneously teaching that if you defend yourself it is not a sin.
It seems to me that someone should turn the other cheek if they think they could profit the Kingdom of God more by their death than by their life. I think this includes those in the consecrated religious life when they have professed vows that forbid them from taking up arms.
As for someone who should defend themselves, it seems to me that someone should defend their self if they think they could profit the Kingdom of God more by their life than by their death. The Catechism seems to apply this to those who have responsibility for the lives of others, especially the State: CCC 2265.
A Biblical passage that supports the State’s responsibility to use the sword to defend themselves and others is Romans 13:4 – “[The government] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.”
A Biblical passage that supports other peoples’ right to use the sword to defend themselves is Luke 22:35-37 – "And [Jesus] said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’ He said to them, ‘But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was reckoned with transgressors”; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.’ "
Because Jesus said that His followers may take a sword with them when they go out for a journey, that indicates to me that it is legitimate to use it if the need arises.
Please let me know if that explanation is helpful.
Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek was given within the context of insult, not the context of physical attack. Note that the quote is that if someone strikes you on the right cheek, to turn the other one. How does a right-handed person (as the great majority of people are) strike another person on the right cheek? With a back-handed slap – a gesture of insult in that world. This isn’t the same as a mugging.
Here are my own personal general guidelines. If someone is assaulting me verbally for any reason (my race, my age, my gender, my social preferences, my religion, whatever), let it happen. Words can sting, but they can’t really wound.
If I am being physically attacked because of my religion (like the ISIS victims and the Christian martyrs of the first four centuries of Church history), I will not defend myself.
If I am being physically attacked to force me to give up something that it will not hurt me to give up, I will give it up.
If I am being physically attacked with the intent to kill me for other reasons, or if someone attacks someone who is under my protection, I will introduce the attacker to Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson with a clear conscience.
That’s a good distinction - between insult and actual danger. If possible, one can try the resistance that involves a lesser amount of force first, then ramp it up if needed. This is how police do, after all. Sometimes we do have to think of preserving our lives - a father with a family to support, a woman with an elderly mother who is the only caregiver or visitor to the healthcare facility, etc. We can’t just let the thugs take over or we’d have total societal anarchy.
A good article on CA brought out the point that when the soldier struck Jesus he did not offer the other cheek. Jesus, bound at the time, confronted him and asked him why he struck Him. I think it makes a good point that when we are attacked we can defend ourselves.:shrug:
Another good point is that when St. Paul learned that a Jewish coalition was trying to kill him, he informed the Roman centurion who was keeping him imprisoned, who then provided him with an armed guard. Acts 23:12-31. In that passage, St. Paul appears to me to do this so that he will have an armed defense for his life.
This is a fascinating topic. There have been a few good ones lately!
I’m having to give this some hard thinking, largely for this reason: Most of the concepts of “fighting back” allow for, as an example, the killing of an abortionist who poses no threat to the killer. I may be mistaken, but did not the guy who murdered George Tiller do so out of the belief that he was protecting innocent life? Worse, in some way he might have been, but I need to add that the killing of Tiller was murder, plain and simple.
I will leave aside the concept of a nation defending itself, and focus instead on the concept of self-defense. The best way of phrasing what I believe would be acceptable morality would be these 2 corollaries:
- It is legitimate to fight back against a perceived actual threat to oneself or others, where there is no reasonable basis to expect help from authorities, and
- Even if the authorities will assist, one need not defer to the authorities alone to act on one’s behalf.
This would allow for a) any form of self-defense against a perceived threat in the eyes of the person threatened or observing the threat to another; while b) allowing self-defense even where the police might be around to assist, i.e., I’m allowed to fight back, even if others might be around to assist me. *It would also allow the split-second decisions these issues are often presented in the context of. * It would also c) preclude something like the murder of George Tiller, on grounds that Tiller could be combatted in legitimate legal ways, i.e., shutting down his clinic by other means.
Is that workable?
Total aside: John Cardinal O’Connor once said something that made an impact on me: he said, at a pro-life gathering I was at, “if anyone would ever want to kill an abortionist, let him kill me first.” Powerful.
Yes it’s helpful, thanks.