In his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, Dr. Roy F. Beaumeister (2001) writes: “Most people believe they are justified in striking back at someone who has attacked them. . . . There is a tendency for these reciprocal and retaliatory acts of aggression to grow more severe, and so the initial antagonism may spiral into worse violence” (p. 294). It is no wonder then that Jesus in His lesson to the disciples on loving their enemies told them: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also” (Luke 6:29, KJV). However, what we have here is not necessarily a literal command, “but an assertion of a great principle, and so, with the exception of a very few mistaken fanatics, all the great teachers of Christianity have understood it” (The Pulpit Commentary). As Bible scholar John Gill observes: “Christ teaches patience in bearing injuries and affronts [insults], and not to seek private revenge; but rather, suffer more, than indulge such a temper.”
It is sometimes difficult, some would argue very difficult, to resit the urge to retaliate. Inherent within us is the instinct to protect ourselves not just from physical harm, but from all harm. When we see ourselves as victims, we can more or less justify the desire for revenge. We have been wronged, whether real or imagined, and we want to strike back; to hurt them if not more than they hurt us then at least with equal intensity. The Christian is not immune from those feelings and indeed some have gone ahead and have taken the proverbial “pound of flesh” from the offender(s). But in teaching His disciples a higher principle, Jesus also teaches us. If we are to remain faithful to the Master, we must change our perspective.
After some more practical teaching on the subject (vv. 30-34), Jesus spoke words that provoked a lump in our collective throats: “But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (vv. 35-36). Ah, so that’s it! Before we strike back, consider ourselves and the graciousness we have received from God and extend to those we deem our enemies, those who have wronged us, the same grace and mercy that God has extended to us. That’s what makes it all possible because, to paraphrase Romans 5:20, where wrongs abound, for those who are so willing, grace abounds even more.
Don’t retaliate! Don’t nurse the turn offense! Turn the other cheek! Love! Have you been hurt lately? In times past? Now you know what to do.