Something is wrong, terribly wrong with our world. Anders Behring Breivik’s mass killings in Norway were followed by Tan Do’s shooting of 5 family members and himself near Dallas. For me these events have brought 3 questions percolating to the top of my brain.

#1 How does God respond to evil people?
In Jesus’ most famous sermon he gives us a succinct answer to our probing of God’s justice: “God makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust and makes it rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Before he says that, Jesus commands us “Do not retaliate revengefully by evil means” (which is, according to Evangelicals Stassen and Gushee, a more accurate translation than “Do not resist evil.”). And then He blasts our expectations out of the water with this gem: “love your enemies.”

#2 Does Jesus just not understand evil, it’s reality and power?
Ok, love your enemies. Jesus is wrong here, isn’t he? Or painfully naïve? Or speaking about another time (Hello Dispensationalists), or giving us an impossible ideal to make us feel rotten (Welcome home Lutherans) or (insert your favorite reason here_____). Bonhoeffer begs the question astutely asking, “Surely we do not wish to accuse Jesus of ignoring the reality of evil (pg 144)?” From Niebuhr on this has indeed been in vogue, ie, the irresponsibility of pacifism.

Jesus here is most assuredly NOT letting evil have its way! He is not being passive, or advocating a “flight” mentality. He is offering a third way between fight or flight which addresses evil head on: return evil with good. Consistent throughout the New Testament we find this same Christo-centric teaching.

  • Peter, Jesus right hand man says, “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but on the contrary repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called (1 Peter 3:9).”
  • Paul, the Protestant hero and theologian par excellance, says in his commentary on this passage, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… never avenge yourselves instead feed your enemy, give them water. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good.”

Jesus gives us four examples of how to upend violence by doing good.

  1. Expose your violent attacker by turning the other cheek and demanding equal treatment.
  2. Give your cloak to one who unjustly demands the shirt off your back.
  3. Go the second mile when asked to go one.
  4. Give generously to all who ask.

In each instance Jesus invites us to do the exact opposite of what’s expected by the law of the jungle (an eye for an eye). By doing so, we unmask evil for what it us (morally corrupt) and heap burning coals on the offenders head by responding out of goodness, not further harm. Stassen and Gushee say, “The evidence is overwhelming, this is not an impossible ideal of not resisting evil, but a naming of the vicious cycle of retaliation by violent, revengeful or evil means (pg 138).”

Jesus teaches us to respond with goodness precisely because he does understand evil, perhaps more than anyone else in the history of humanity. He understood that violence grows when met with violence. The only way to “defeat” an enemy is to stop having enemies altogether.

#3 What kind of person do I need to become to love like this?
Here’s the kicker, Jesus asks us to “be perfect/whole/complete” like God, seemingly associating a nonviolent response with godliness. According to Paul Neuchterlain Jesus leads the way, “For the cross of Jesus Christ is essentially God’s nonviolent response to human violence.”

Our typical response is to treat people how they treat us. We allow ourselves to drop down to the lowest common ethic and give our enemies (of all people!) permission to dictate how we will act. But Jesus reminds us anyone is capable of this ethic. It takes no faith, no grace, no sanctification to live like that! “Do not even the Gentiles (and horrible bosses, jerks, and wall-street moguls!) do the same?” Instead as Christians we are to respond based on who we are, not who they are. Bonhoeffer says, “The Christians behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself received from Jesus.” And how has Jesus treated us?

With grace, love, and mercy. Paul says that “While we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:11).” In other words, Jesus asks us to be radically free. Free from retribution, free from reciprocity, free from emotional bursts of hate and anger, free from bitterness, free from defensiveness and the need for vengeance. Free for radical self-identity. Free for differentiation of self. We get our identity from God, not from those around us.”It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1)!”

Something is indeed wrong in our violent world. But Christ’s precise response to evil is the only hope we’ve got: goodness. A dear friend and member of Houston Mennonite Church wrote a Sending/Benediction for our summer worship series. I’ll leave you with a favorite line: “Do not be afraid of your own capacity for goodness.” AMEN. May that be true of us all.

This is the fifth in a series of sermons on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. You can link to the others here: Part 1: Community of the Damned; Part 2: How Christianity blocks me from following Jesus; Part 3: Remedy for the World’s biggest problems; Part 4: Bridges to [the] cross: Dealing with Conflict Day to Day Part 5: Just Marriage: How Jesus saved ‘Biblical’ marriage.

7 Responses to “Was Jesus an idiot? God’s response to evil.”

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  4. Anna Says:

    For him it was quite logical to go after those who implemented the policy of importing all those muslims. By declaring him insane it is easier to stop the debate over the failure of Norwegian immigration policy. Reminds me of the Soviet Union….

  5. Hannah Says:

    Well in Norway the maximum sentence is 18 years. That’s the law, the law the liberal Norwegians implemented. Now it doen’t suit their purpose, it’s an embarrassment. You have to remember Norwegian society is very small, very clannish and very protective of Norway. I have no doubt this diagnosis was a political decision.

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