My attempt to clarify the comment on self-defense seems to have muddied things. A friend writes and asks if my comment is the sort of thing we want to be saying to women who were/are victims of sexual abuse? Do we apply Jesus’ command to not “resist an evil person” to women and others being victimized? The quick answer is no, because sexual abuse does not seem to be the kind of act the Lord is speaking to. More below.
First of all, I think it’s indicative of the moment, and perhaps my generation of men (or just me), that my friend’s question did not occur to me as I was writing. That’s to the point of my last bullet about God’s Providence in things like the #MeToo movement. There is a necessary awakening, at least for people like me, implicit in the moment.
On to Jesus’ words: I think we ought to take the Lord as speaking to offenses more than violence. I haven’t done any serious reading on this for 20 years, so I should probably do more work before saying anything more, but the general exhortation in that section of the Sermon on the Mount is, “entrust yourself to God’s care rather than your own.” The context for that trust is what you might call “civil hassles,” in the sense of things that citizens encounter in any society: lawsuits, personal property loss, loss of time and energy, loss of money (vv.40-42). The slap on the cheek (v.39) is the one personal offense — something we might think of as an ultimate civil offense. Sexual abuse, of course, is in another category altogether. Few things are so damaging to a soul and have such lasting effect. A slap on the cheek doesn’t begin to come close to it.
I’ll leave it there for now, but I encourage you to read the Sermon on the Mount for yourself. It’s filled with challenging ideas and exhortations, many of which are difficult to reconcile with our current lives. Thanks for your patience with me on this one — Eric