Violence and Turning the Other Cheek
November 23, 2007 Blogs by: Tim Jennings, M.D.

In a recent online discussion exploring what should one do when confronted with the horrific situation of an intruder invading your home with intent to harm or murder your family, the discussion went back and forth between pacifism and justifiable use of violence.

Some pointed out Jesus’ example of accepting abuse and never retaliating and wondered if this should be our example in such situations. Others argued that in such circumstances violence is appropriate and justifiable.

But there seems to have been several important factors overlooked in the discussion. First, the question is not about how does one act when your own life is being threatened, but how one acts when someone else’s life is being threatened. Do we stand idly by or do we act to protect? Secondly, the discussion did not explore the parameters of Godly love realizing that love does what is best for others – love heals, restores, regenerates, protects, builds up and love “compels” to action. And finally we must remember that sin actually damages, destroys, tears down – not just the victims of sin but the sinner himself is damaged by his sin.

Therefore, when Christ was on earth, He suffered not as a model of how to handle all circumstances of violence and abuse in this world of sin – God acted in different ways many times in other circumstances (Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharoah’s army, 185,000 Assyrians etc). God acted in love, by force, in many circumstances to protect others – to keep open the channel through which the redeemer would come. Christ, on the other hand, as a human, had a specific mission and His mission could not be completed in any other way than what He did. With all this in mind we can recognize that, in this world of sin, sometimes the most loving course of action is the course of restraining force.

Example, a psychotic patient who is violent and if not intervened with will kill other patients and staff – medical professionals will use force to restrain this person to protect others, but not just to protect other but to protect the psychotic patient as well. Now, there may be no agenda to kill the individual, the heart desire may be totally on healing and restoring because the psychotic one is your son, but you will still use force, if necessary, to restrain, even if it risks injury. This is protective for others but ALSO for the one being restrained. This is how love acts.

Consider the mother with post partum psychosis who kills her children. It is obvious that it is in the best interest of the children for someone to use force and stop the mother from killing them, would it not also be in the mother’s best interest for someone to stop her, even forcibly? And, if you were such a mother wouldn’t you even prefer someone to shoot and kill you, if that was the only way, to prevent you from killing your children? Sometimes the loving course, in this sick world of sin, is the course of restraining force. Does God use His power to restrain the four winds of strife? To set limits on the powers of darkness? While it is true God cannot ultimately win His war with evil by the use of force (Zech 4:6), He does, in emergency circumstances use restraining force in love.

Finally, sin damages the faculties that recognize and respond to truth and some people persist so long in sinful living that they are beyond reach (not for us to decide who those people are, but they are out there). On such unhealable individuals the methods of Jesus have no impact. Therefore, until God brings a full end to sin, He has ordained earthly governments to use force to maintain order and to restrain violent abusers (prison). This is protective for innocent citizens, but it is ALSO protective for the criminal as it prevents the criminal from further damaging himself.

The issue is not one of specific behavior in a specific circumstance, but rather one of heart motive – are you acting out of love to heal, build up, protect, and restore others, including the assailant, or are you acting out of fear and selfishness merely looking out for self or seeking vengeance upon another?

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Tim Jennings, M.D. Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association, and an international speaker. He served as president of the Southern and Tennessee Psychiatric Associations and is president and founder of Come and Reason Ministries. Dr. Jennings has authored many books, including The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain.