Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Christian Doormats

Christians are supposed to be pushovers. We're not supposed to "resist an evil person." (Mat 5:39) The way you hear some say it, we're supposed to be even worse than pushovers, we are to be doormats. That is, instead of being easily knocked over, we're already laying on the ground just waiting to be walked all over. Right? After all, we're supposed to "turn the other cheek" and "go the extra mile" aren't we?


"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." (2 Tim 1:7)

It's not about being afraid and being timid. But we instead have a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. That we need to train ourselves to display God's powerful love through our words and actions.

It's not about lying down and just taking it, allowing others to walk all over you. But it's not about forcibly resisting either. And it's certainly not about exacting some form of "equal revenge." Look at the Mat 5: 38-41 passage again that I was picking out of earlier:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
How is it that we're not supposed to resist an evil person, and still be able to stand up for ourselves?

I happen to think that it is by going along with what is being asked/demanded (so long as it's not compromising your morality) but by doing so in a way that makes the person demanding it become more aware of their actions. Just look at the examples Jesus gave us about this.
  • If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Think about how you would be struck on the right cheek. That's not a natural way to be hit (since most people are right handed....sorry southpaws). In Jesus' time, Jews were legally allowed to be struck on the right cheek by a backhanded slap from a Roman citizen/official/soldier with no punishment to the person who did it. To be backhanded in this fashion was not only physical violence, but it was an insult to the person's status who was being assaulted. They were being placed in a subservient state, being made "lesser" to the person who was assaulting them. BUT, to "turn to him the other also" isn't merely an invitation to continue the beating. If you were to offer up your left cheek as well, for the person to hit you they would socially be considering you an equal instead of "lesser." They would not be able to backhand you, but either go "open palm" or "knuckles out" all over your other side of your face. See the twisting of the situation here?
  • And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. A tunic was basically a long shirt that went down to a person's knees-ish. It was not EXACTLY a dress.....but pretty darn close in some respects (see Peter Pan over there -->). It was the article of clothing that was worn closest to the skin, and was rarely very loose. If someone were to "win" your tunic in a legal dispute, it would result in great shame (as you'd be pretty much nakers). To cover yourself, you would wrap up in your cloak and sulk away. To say "let him have your cloak as well" is to remove from yourself the ability to cover yourself up. It is to make yourself be very much so nakers. It brings the attention to the accuser, as now you have nothing to cover up with. He is made to realize the extent of his actions and also to realize that his attempt at shaming you has backfired. Because you're not shamed. You're not hiding behind your cloak. You're just basking in the sunlight.
  • If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. A Roman soldier carried a lot of gear with him. Shields & spears are heavy, mkay? A soldier was allowed to "volunteer" a Jew to carry his gear for up to a length of 1 mile (ish). This was not debatable, if you were "volunteered" you had to do it...only for 1 mile. As such, if you were carrying the gear you would most likely not be too pleased about it and probably be pretty vocal about your situation. Jesus seems to not think this is a great practice. He doesn't say to refuse the Roman soldier, he says to double it up! Make the 2nd mile be of your own will. Do what you're commanded, and then kick it up a notch. Going that 2nd mile would certainly be shocking, and if you did both of the miles while NOT griping and cursing the whole time it would probably be even more shocking. Not only this, but by YOU taking the 2nd mile you are taking the place of another Jew who would have been immediately "volunteered" as soon as your mile is up. It is showing the soldier your care for others to not be put into your place by volunteering yourself. While at the same time convicting them of what they are demanding in the first place.
I see these examples all of ways that Jesus tries to get us to look at the "bigger picture" in a way that we did not view it before. That we are not to "resist the evil person" who makes the demands of us, but fulfill the demand in a way that brings recognition to both the deed and the motivation of the person who asks in the first place.

We are to do this in a self-disciplined fashion. Full of love, being spurned on by the power of God's spirit.

Maybe it means for us to look at the initial way we want to act to someone who is being a tool to us, and find a way to come about it in an unconventional yet self-disciplined and loving way.

Perhaps when a supervisor barks at you to quit being lazy and take some of the work they have piled up on their desk, you shouldn't just lower your head, sulk and go do so. But maybe instead do it cheerfully. Let them know that you have run out of things to do at the moment and would be glad to do some of theirs to help them out. Or adding something along the lines of, "If you have more work to do later, please let me know. You don't need to wait until I come to you to get some, just ask me for help."

Or say you have a co-worker who deliberately pretends you don't exist and seems to want it this way, perhaps you should go out of your way to be friendly to them. Say you're standing next to the front door when it is time for this person to leave. They walk near you, grab their purse and refuse to go through the front door. Instead they walk 150 feet or more through the back of the building, out one of the side doors, and then back up another 150 feet to the front along the outside to get to their car...which is parked right next to the front door where you have been standing. They have obviously gone to great lengths to actively avoid you and are making no small effort to display their disdain. Perhaps you should stick your head out the front door to wish them a good weekend/evening. Maybe you should do something similar when they storm in every morning and greet everyone in the office except for you. Bring their display of hatred to the forefront by refusing to counter it with your own and refusing to lay down and take it blindly.

I think that we are called to bring attention to these "minor injustices" in our lives. But we are not called to actively resist them. God does not want us to be frustrated and angry in our daily lives due to our inability to cope with those who are mentally, verbally or physically abusive to us.

We must be creatively led by God to see what to do in the situations we are presented with. We are to find disciplined ways to powerfully display God's love to those who want nothing to do with it. God will do the convicting, it is not our job to change someone's heart. It is merely our job to be faithful in the situations we find ourselves in.

What kind of creative ways could God show us to deal with these situations? Keep in mind, it is never done to spite the other person or with a mindset of retaliation.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." (2 Tim 1:7)

1 comment:

  1. interesting thoughts, and peter pan allusions as well.

    These are certainly tricky situations to understand the practical application of Jesus' words in Biblical context and in our modern world.

    Thanks for sharing.