Saturday, August 30, 2014

Resisting Evil?

Christians are now experiencing escalating persecution worldwide. This raises several questions:

“Should Christians ever bring legal charges against their persecutors?

Some feel that we shouldn’t and cite:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:14-19)

They reason that, since we must “bless and… not curse” and “never avenge” ourselves, bringing legal charges isn’t an option. Instead, we are to trust that God will bring “vengeance” (justice) - “the wrath of God” - on the Day of Judgment.

However, is “the wrath of God” only reserved for that Day? According to Paul, “the wrath of God” is also meant to be exercised through the court system:

  • Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4)

God also takes vengeance through the “governing authorities.” They are His invention to bring about justice. Therefore, to “leave it to the wrath of God” is to bring the matter before those whom God has ordained.

Paul repeats that we are required to submit to these authorities in the next verse. He then instructs Christians to pay them “taxes” (13:6) and “honor” (13:7).

How do we honor them? By respecting their office, by being witnesses against evil (Eph. 5:11) and even by pressing charges, when appropriate! If we know a gang is committing rapes and we fail to testify against them, then we become moral accomplices and bring disrepute upon our faith by allowing them to continue unchecked.

We also honor the authorities by allowing them to do their job.  It is not our job to bring justice. We cannot form vigilante groups or take revenge. However, we can help the governing authorities by bringing to them charges of criminal wrongdoing. If we fail to do this, we are guilty before God:

  • He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)

If we give the wicked a free pass, our God is not pleased.

“Is it ever right to use physical force against the evildoer?”

Some would argue that personal physical force is never justified:

  • To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)

They argue that, if we are to overcome “evil with good,” there is no place for physical force. However, this teaching, along with many others, pertains to the behavior of individual Christians not governments. Very few of the teaching in the New Testament were directed towards the authorities in their public roles. There was certainly no expectation that their Roman over-lords should “overcome evil with good” or to forgive their enemies. Instead, the authorities, whoever they were, ruled by fear – by the sword (Rom. 134). Anything other than this was unthinkable.

Ideally, the civil authorities are the ones to exercise justice and administer punishment, but what would happen if kidnappers broke into a home with young children? Should not the husband protect his family in the absence of the police? And what if the husband didn’t protect his family but misapplied the Jesus’ teaching about turning the other check, saying “You want my three-year-old-daughter? Take my four-year-old also.”

Such a response would be ignorant and bring disrepute upon the church. The next victim could then rightfully say, “Since you didn’t resist the kidnappers, you enabled them to come to my home on the following night!”

Of course, this scenario is absurd, but it demonstrates where this foolish thinking about non-resistance can take us. Instead, even Jesus taught that physically resisting evil was sometimes acceptable:

  • Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:42-43; Luke 12:39)

The homeowner had a perfect right to protect his family, even with the use of physical force. Even Jesus Himself resorted to physical force when He drove the money changers out of the temple.

“How then are we to overcome evil with good?”

I was asked, “What would you do if you ran into someone who had just enlisted to go fight with ISIS?”

I answered that I would invite him for a cup of coffee and an apple pie. In gentleness, I would then try to reason with him to repent. However, afterwards, I would call the authorities to have him detained.

Our calling to love our enemies is not in conflict with our calling to support the authorities. Instead, they should both go together.

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