Jesus Says NO to Self Defense?

There is plenty in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount to wrestle with. Does he really mean, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and threw it away”? Does he really mean, “Blessed are those who mourn”? Wait … um, doesn’t the Bible also command me to rejoice? (See Philippians 4:4; Nehemiah 8:10.) Jesus, I think I’m confused.

To make matters worse, part of my preparation for overseas work has been self defense training in a discipline called Krav Maga. Granted, much lot of the class is about situational awareness, that is, how to avoid dangerous situations, but a great deal of it also deals with what to do when someone actually hits you. Yes, I am learning how to kick and how to throw a guy to the ground. This, though, seems to fly in the face of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:38-42
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Even spending time to train in self defense sounds like it goes against what Jesus is talking about. After all, Jesus never physically hit a person, did he? What would Jesus do? What was Jesus really teaching?

This we know: Jesus did not walk the earth in the 21st century. Nor did he deliver the Sermon on the Mount to 20th-century Americans. He said it to first century Middle Easterners. What is the context of this passage? What did he intend to say to his audience? To the Jewish audience of Jesus, what would come to mind when Jesus talked about being hit on the cheek? Scriptures in the Old Testament make it clear.

Job 16:10
People open their mouths to jeer at me;
they strike my cheek in scorn
and unite together against me.

Lamentations 3:30
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.

Job speaks of his cheek being hit “in scorn,” not “to damage.” The last scripture illustrates clearer. It does not say, “let him be filled with pain,” but rather, “disgrace.” A strike on the cheek is not meant to injure the face, but the injure the ego. What Jesus is clearly saying to his followers is not, “put away your bodily self defense,” but, “put away your ego defense.”

Krav Maga is designed solely to get home safe. It takes advantage of any pressure point a week point in human body. It Is not a sport. If I get into a self-defense situation, my only goal is to disable the assailant long enough to runaway. I am unfairly attacked without warning, I’m instructed to target the eyes and kick or knee the groin.

There is one move that I have not been taught: the cheek slap. That’s right. If the mission worker is trying to inflict damage on an aggressor to incapacitate them, I have never heard of it self defense instructor telling him, “Go for the cheek!” He might be taught to elbow the jaw, palm strike the nose, or poke the eyes, but the cheek is a less vulnerable area. The purpose of striking someone in the cheek is not to inflict damage; it is to insult in a non-harmful way.

This changes the conversation entirely, doesn’t it? Is there matter of fact, this is much more difficult for 21st-century Christians in America to accept. For most of us, it is fairly rare to be assaulted bodily, but attacks to our ego come quite often. Now, we’ll never call it retaliation, but I think we definitely defend our egos more than we realize. We may call it clarifying, explaining, or defending, but Jesus does not endorse any of these courses of action.

Jesus modeled the correct behavior, as described in 1 Peter 2:23: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate…. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

I am greatly relieved to learn that Jesus is not telling me not to protect myself or my family. I shouldn’t get too comfortable, though. He is commanding me to do something much harder, to commit my reputation totally into the Father’s Hands. Next time I am personally insulted, will I defend myself? Or entrust myself to the One who will one day bring final justice?

Stay hungry, my friendsGG logo

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