When I was in first grade, I was scared of Joby Skitka. It was his third time through the first grade, so he was bigger than the rest of us. He got into fights, and was always winning when the teachers intervened. He was sent to the office so often, there was a chair reserved outside the principal’s office with his name on it.
I told my brother I was scared of Joby. Steve told me that if he hit me, I should hit him back. Somewhere in my mind, there was a pause. Though I was five, I learned in church that I was supposed to turn the other cheek. I protested to Steve that Jesus told me I wasn’t supposed to hit back, but turn the other cheek. Steve, whose theology had advanced to junior high level, told me “turn the other cheek” was for church, but “hitting back” was for school.
Maybe it’s this election, or maybe it’s just where we are as a people, but sometimes I feel like the whole world has gone crazy. There are tragedies of black men being shot by police compounded by greater tragedies of protests that turn violent. From Ferguson, to Minneapolis, to our backyard in Charlotte, people turn to violence to express feelings of resentment and powerlessness. In one week, a lawyer shoots people in Houston because he dislikes his job, nine people are stabbed in Minnesota, and seven are stabbed in Boston. No one is turning the other cheek. Everyone is hitting back.
I watched the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I know it’s politics, but it felt more like a first grade playground: “You attack me and I’ll attack you back.” Couples come to see me about their problems and after a few moments and it feels just like the debate: “You hurt me, I’ll hurt you.”
When I got better teachers than my brother, I learned Jesus meant it when he said “Turn the other cheek.” Not only did he say it, he did it. Spat upon, beaten, nailed to a cross, he did not tap into all his power and hit back. Somehow that day, Jesus’ refusal to hit back meant violence and hate were stopped in their tracks. It took incredible strength for Jesus to turn the other cheek and not look back. It always take more strength to not hit than to hit.
As we move into the post-Christian phase of our culture, we’ve lost this core teaching of Jesus. We’re reverting to old ways of believing violence is the answer. That’s why it is imperative those who follow Jesus live by His way, not the way of the this world. That’s why we need to grow strength and trust. We need strength to receive the blow and not strike back. We need trust so we can believe God’s way is superior. It’s time for the people of God to do something counter-cultural and not hit back like everyone else.
A couple of years ago in my hometown newspaper I saw this headline: “Man Killed by Grandson in Domestic Dispute.” Turns out Joby Skitka was killed by his grandson in an argument over a knife. It made me sad, for Joby and for his grandson. They never learned Jesus’ way is the way to life; hitting back leads to death.
Have you learned Jesus way?