“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” 1 Peter 2:23 NIV
Turning the other cheek, as Jesus counselled us to do, is a difficult teaching for many of us. As a former doormat, I used to let people not just walk all over me, but grind their muddy boots into my soul as well. It took me a long time to realise that this was not what the Lord was recommending. We should not seek out suffering, nor is it wrong to protect ourselves from hurt. Boundaries and self-defence mechanisms are necessary tools for getting through life. But when we are insulted or treated badly, it is our reactions that should mark us out as different.
The reason for this, as I have come to understand it, is that whatever is happening to us in the earthly, we maintain as God’s children, our integrity, which is eternal. Julian of Norwich saw in her understandings from the Lord that our true selves are incorruptible and stay close to God’s breast all the while we are alive. Nothing can touch or harm them in any way that will impact the eternal, the true and manifest wholeness and perfection of them. So although suffering hurts us of course, it cannot hurt that unreachable self whom God keeps close. This is why Paul (or whoever the writer of Hebrews was) said “What can man do to me?” echoing Psalm 56 amongst others. It seems we might answer, “Well, quite a lot, actually,” but when we remember that this same man had been beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked and persecuted for following Christ, we must take these words seriously.
For my own part, I think that any kind of insult or abuse loses its power over us when we bear it with gentleness. So yes, we call injustices what they are, and as far as possible we protect ourselves and others from ill treatment, and from inflicting it. Systematic abuse must be escaped and challenged whenever possible, this righteous anger and action is also part of following Jesus: we stand up for widows, orphans, and speak for the voiceless. But where it is appropriate and we are able to, turning the other cheek can be an effective tool for the gospel. It was certainly when I bore the bullying silently and without redress that my school peers got bored of tormenting me. “For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God,” says Peter in his first letter (chapter 2, v 19) and he is talking about the severe injustices borne under slavery.
This bearing with the sorrows of today with quiet dignity because we live in the knowledge of eternity (whilst owning our own wholeness and integrity kept safe within the bosom of our God) is the heart of gospel living to this man who walked closely with Jesus. It might rankle with us today, but there is a deep and precious wisdom and a powerful witness in patient, gentle endurance, especially when paired with forgiveness, and Peter, for one, believed it changed those hurting us.
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