Thus far in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve already come across a trio of statements by Jesus often misquoted in English to pervert His teaching. We have His words about making peace, about turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. Each of these belongs in a context not obvious in any English translation.
Nothing in Jesus’ teaching prohibits violence in itself. He does suggest that you need to be very careful about it, because it’s too easy to let your human lusts crowd out the glory of God as your primary motivations. No two of us can possibly have the same approach to this issue. Still, any image of Jesus that doesn’t account for His use of a whip in a violent clearing of the Temple Court of Gentiles does violence to His teaching.
The real problem is human motivations. Has anyone noticed that John the Baptist never told the Roman soldiers to desert their uniform? Yet Jesus endorsed John’s message. Repentance does not require pacifism as popularly defined. There are lots of posers who claim the label “pacifist.” Do you know that a true pacifist will fight valiantly to prevent a senseless war? That comes closer to what John and Jesus taught.
The real problem starts with rejecting the doctrine of the Fall, along with a completely false view of the meaning and the place of death in the order of things. The natural world is filled with death, but not with murder. Only humanity is fallen, and only humans see death unnaturally. It’s impossible to understand Creation without the Creator’s revelation. The silly intellectual orientation that ignores the Two Realms is a source of horrors on the earth. In one sense, God never intended that we die. In another sense, death is just a circumstance. The English language comes chained to a deeply confused moral grasp.
Let’s cut to the chase: There are times when it is entirely righteous to take another person’s life. By extension, violence itself is not a sin, but a mere tool of human interaction. It has nothing to do with whether some government commands you to war; if anything, that’s more likely to be evil than good. Rather, it’s a matter of divine calling. Your mission from God could require defending your domain, the domain He granted to you.
That may include defending the innocents in your care, defending your own person, or defending some bit of property essential to the mission. Or it could mean none of that. You are the one who knows what He requires of you, and no other human can judge what your heart of conviction tells you. Granted, you already know you’ll face the improper and ill-informed judgments of men in making those choices, but that has nothing to do with how God judges things. Our whole purpose is not some excuse for violence. It’s all about obeying Him who is the ultimate Judge of all things.
So what kind of violence, and how much, does it take to defend your mission from God? That’s how much we should be ready to use. When the attack stops, so does the defense. In other words, it’s nothing personal. Only you in that moment can know for sure, but such is the general guideline. Nor is it a question confined to whether He will deliver your enemy into your hands, but whether your convictions demand that you try. The rest is just a question of mere tactics and methods.