Evil will always invite us to a feast of retaliation—that seductive chance to pay an offender back with more evil, disguised under the pretense of protecting what is rightfully ours and of defending our dignity. Reciprocated malice is what it craves most of us, as it thrives on infecting us with its slimy, slithery, leprous self. It seeks voraciously, insatiably to ensnare, enslave and devour us, for it's a hideously monstrous creature sent from deepest caverns of hell. Its predatory intent is to extinguish our light with its darkness, and if we open the door to it (even a crack) it will reach around with long, lecherous fingers to grab us by the throat and choke the life out of us with such force and speed that we won't even see it coming.
But goodness has an invitation of its own, an invitation both to us and to our offender, an invitation to drive out the infection of evil and illuminate the darkness. It invites us, when offended, into the precarious but glorious adventure of turning the other cheek. But first we must understand clearly that this turning of the cheek should never be mistaken for turning a blind eye to continual sin. It is NOT ignoring the hurt or diminishing the harm done to us so that we might spare ourselves the dreaded inconvenience of rocking the boat and disrupting our own greater interests, nor is it foolishly submitting to evil's unhindered presence around us and control over us while cowering in the face of it. It is not attempting to self-righteously shrug off that which feels to us like a serrated knife twisting in our belly or burying, beneath the layers of an ever toughening heart, the fallout from an ongoing betrayal which mocks all that is decent and sacred. It is not weakly accommodating habitual, sinful behavior in the name of peacemaking, giving up the good fight of faith in order to give in and just live with it while our soul suffocates in the meantime. It is not saying that it doesn't matter, that it's okay or no big deal. To do so (and I have surely done them all) is to deny the powerful truth of the gospel, the truth of the serious and highly offensive nature of all sin, the truth that God absolutely hates it, is greatly angered by it, calls it what it is and that He desires (and has made provision through Jesus Christ) to set sinners free from it, not simply overlook it and leave them entangled in it.
So we too ought to have a righteous anger toward the destructive nature of sin, both in ourselves and in others, seeing it as God sees it and calling it what He calls it by humbly speaking the truth in love and pointing them to Christ. And once we have removed (or are willingly, honestly engaged in the process of removing) the obvious plank(s) from our own eye (including a crouching fear of uncomfortable but necessary confrontation), we are supposed to do what we can (whenever and however the Holy Spirit leads us...that part is most essential) to help others (with mercy, meekness and wisdom from God) remove the speck from theirs. We are called to 'restore gently' (Galatians 6:1) and '****** others from the fire and save them' (Jude 23) as the Lord enables us by His sovereign and saving grace to do it, to enter fully into His kingdom work in this dark world and into the risky business of loving even our worst enemies. It is our high privilege and duty as followers of Jesus Christ and those who bear His name on this earth to participate with Him in His work of redemption. He alone can save and deliver from sin, but we are called to be some of the instruments He providentially uses in the process.
Turning the other cheek (as Jesus taught it, commanded it and lived it out) is a shrewd, deliberate and Spirit-led extending of extravagant grace and unselfish blessing to our offender, along with a daringly tactical invitation to him to show his true colors and his true intentions, whatever they may be. Exactly how this looks and plays out will vary greatly depending on the unique circumstance or relationship, and we must always rely fully on the Lord (on His word and through communion with Him in prayer, His perfect example and His prompting) to give us wisdom and creativity in carrying out our part with humility and discernment, never forgetting that we too are in want of much deliverance from our own sins and besetting habits and therefore in desperate need of others to graciously do the same for us.
We must ask and believe God for His step-by-step direction in all of these things and be willing to follow Him no matter what it might cost us, even if the price is the seemingly unbearable discovery that our offender does not and will not love us—a possibility which may feel worse to us than death. The paralyzing fear of such a devastating revelation can easily become one of our greatest stumbling blocks to giving truly wise and beneficial gifts to those who hurt us, especially if they are among those from whom we desire a particular intimacy and acceptance.
Are we willing to face even more rejection? Are we willing to set aside our own 'need' to be loved by them in order to courageously, unconditionally love them as Jesus loves them and as He loves us—with a yearning for deliverance from sin and restoration to intimacy with God that requires the laying down of oneself for the sake of the other, the spending of oneself on behalf of the spiritually captive, naked, hungry and oppressed? And if not for their sake, are we willing to do it for the sake of our own intimacy with Christ and our own soul's hunger? Are we willing to rest completely in and rely only on His perfect and never-ending love to fill us so full that it cannot help but spill over to them? Are we willing to trust that He is enough for us in all things and at all times through all situations?
However complicated the situation may be, offering the other cheek is meant to be a sacrificially loving and boldly open invitation for our offender to make a clear and definite choice between repentance or continued and greater evil. It gives him the freedom, the responsibility and the obvious opportunity to decide exactly what he will do with our 'other cheek.' Will he 'kiss' it with genuine kindness this time (as a pledge toward true restoration) or strike us once again? The choice and responsibility are his alone, but either way it will eventually expose him for what he really is and his intentions for what they actually are and, perhaps, by the mercy of God bring him to see his need and desire for true reconciliation and healing. Our part is simply to hunger for him to hunger after God and to do what we can to cunningly provoke such an appetite.
But even if that never happens, even if he chooses to remain in captivity to sin, evil will no longer have a safe place to hide in the shadows. And once it is out in the open we can look it fully in the face with our dignity intact and without backing down or shrinking from our call to always be the aroma of Christ, and we can overcome it with the power of good through the strength of Jesus and the praise of His name (even when the situation and the Spirit dictate that it is wisest to keep our mouth shut and 'not cast our pearls...'). And because of Christ's satisfying love and all-sufficient grace, we can do it again and again and again, not with reluctance and resentment but with overwhelming compassion and unexplainable peace flooding our soul, even in the midst of earth-shattering pain. We can defeat evil by our very refusal to give into it or become part of it and by our determination to rest in the Lord and His promise to defend us in His perfect time and in His perfect way. And that is the heart's ultimate 'vengeance' against evil, for surely it cries out resoundingly for it.
So rather than taking our desired revenge on the evildoer (our offender), we can take it straight out upon the evil one (the devil), upon our real enemy and on his evil schemes. One of the weapons which the Lord has given us to carry out this precise form of tactical warfare is forgiveness, and we must learn to use it regularly, skillfully and lavishly without giving way to fearful intimidation or self-serving cowardice. 'And who is equal to such a task?' Only the Spirit of Christ living in us! We are utterly dependent on Him to do it in and through us and, unless we yield to His grace and power, it will be an impossible undertaking.
Dear wounded and hurting ones, we have been issued distinct invitations to two mutually exclusive feasts, and it is time now for us to choose which one we will be attending. There is much at stake in our decision, and so we must journey to the foot of the cross to make it...