Most Christians…

Most Christians believe that you can glorify God in virtually any occupation. With the exception of organized crime or prostitution perhaps

Most Christians believe that there are times when we must conform to the institutions of this world, even if that means compromising a little

I don’t know if I want to think just like “Most Christians” anymore. 

 

Right now, I am reading The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy (when i have time). I was going to talk about it when I finished it, but I am so excited I don’t think I can wait. Tolstoy is also the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Anyway, he also wrote some theological books. The Kingdom of God is Within You is turning out to be different than I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be strictly an inspirational book. I even feared that it was going to be one of those “We are ALL God” books. As much as I believe that God dwells in people who allow Him to, I also believe that He is a distinct entity, and I find it a little arrogant to suggest otherwise. I digress.

The premise of the book is the concept of “nonresistance to evil.” The strongest evidence supporting this view is Matthew 5:39: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. 

So many of us have heard the phrase “turn the other cheek,” as well as “go the extra mile” which comes from an adjacent verse. But I don’t recall explicitly a sermon on “do not resist an evil person” (but maybe I just forgot). Maybe you haven’t either. You know why? Because it’s so general! It is so general that if you really think about it and accept it, it’s hard to find a loophole.

This isn’t an ambiguous verse that someone butchered from the Bible. And this isn’t some corny saying like “God helps those who help themselves.” This is from the Sermon on the Mount! How could this mean anything other than what it says? Why would Jesus say it in a sermon if He was being sarcastic? And how could He have meant it halfway? That doesn’t even make sense. So either He meant it, or He didn’t. 

And there is action to back up this verse. Jesus let people crucify Him! I don’t know about you, but that sounds like nonresistance to evil. And He told Peter not to defend HIm in Matthew 26:52. I rest my case.

Tolstoy ventures to explain why non resistance is ignored by, well, everyone:

“The preachers of the Church never in any other case advocate the breaking of any other commandment. But in connection with the commandment of nonresistance they openly teach that we must not understand it too literally, but that there are conditions and circumstances in which we must do the direct opposite, that is, to go law, fight, punish. So that occasions for fulfilling the commandment of nonresistance to evil by force are taught for the most part as occasions for not fulfilling it. The fulfillment of the command, they say, is very difficult and pertains only to perfection. And how can it not be difficult, when the breach of it is not only not forbidden, but law courts, prisons, cannons, guns, armies, and wars are under the immediate sanction of the Church?” (32). 

I know that this is going to offend someone. Let’s be frank, this kind of discredits the military as well as police, lawyers perhaps, etc. 

I used to believe that using force was necessary in extreme circumstances. After all, what red-blooded American is prepared to say that WWII shouldn’t have been fought? Indeed, you may get labelled a heartless anti-Semite (among other things) for such an outrageous comment. And what’s so wrong with defending your country and others? Surely that is an implicit commandment. And it’s a little foolish to say that force is always used for selfish reasons. 

Tolstoy has a rebuttal for that, too. He brings up an important point: that the necessity of defending others is at best an implicit commandment, and at worst, a non-existent one. If you can find a place in the Bible that does condone defending others with violence, however, please show it to me.

“Besides, apologies for violence used against one’s neighbor in defense of another neighbor from greater violence are always untrustworthy, because when force is used against one who has not yet carried out his evil intent, I can never know which would be greater- the evil of my act of violence or of the act I want to prevent” (31).

I think that this relates to a lot of things going on in the world right now, and I’m sure that many non-Christians would agree because it happens to make sense. Here in the States, the news has been littered with incidents of questionable force exercised by police. And of course, you always wonder “War… what is it good for?”

Before I started reading this book, I would have tried to answer that question, but now I am pretty convinced by “nonresistance to evil.” I was reluctant to get taken in, but what is being said so far is Biblical. Can you really go wrong by not resisting evil? Sure you could get killed. But is that really suicide if someone else forces death upon you? And if you kill them instead, will you be able to sleep tightly, 100% convinced that you did not commit murder? And what if the person you killed would have become a Christian had you not killed them? But that is a sort of mind-boggling theological area that maybe I should try to avoid. 

So if you haven’t read the book, I would recommend it, and I don’t think I’ll take back that recommendation unless the ending is really weird.

I don’t want to be afraid of the world anymore. I don’t want to be afraid of offending people. I don’t want to be afraid of “shaking things up” in my own quiet and non-violent way. Why are the institutions of this world so holy and unquestionable? Why must I sell my soul and die in a bloody war for my country? Why must I compromise my beliefs just for the comfort of others? 

I don’t feel compelled to spit in the graves of veterans. But I do make a humble appeal to cast off arms. I know that it’s difficult and unpractical, but I think that’s why it’ll be worth it in the end. If nothing else, in my own way, I feel that I must ask God to help me to not defend my life or my possession. Let’s face it, it’s hard even to stop being offensive. How does one stop being defensive? It’s the most unnatural thing in the world. Only with the spirit of God in love can it ever be accomplished. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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