A Story of Turning the Other Cheek

A problem with moral standards, whether rooted in Christianity or otherwise, is how to express them in a cultural context. That is, are we doing something because we think it’s right to do or because it’s socially-normative behavior. (And I realize that the two need not be separate). As such, sometimes we understand the morality of behavior more clearly when it goes against cultural expectations.

Here’s a story from NPR several years ago that illustrates it. It tells of how a man responded to being mugged. The “proper” response to being mugged is to 1) be safe and 2) contribute to the mugger getting caught or hurt. Instead, this victim expressed love.

It starts:

“Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,’” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth…..”

  • Holly

    Well, now, that’s a tough one.

    A couple of years ago, my 14 year old boy was mugged and beaten up as he walked home from mowing a yard. His face was gashed and required stitches, they broke out a tooth when they hit him, and they stomped on his when he fell – all for 25 dollars.

    We went thru the jury trial. I wrestled with this. What is the Christian response? We forgave almost immediately, were able to see the main perp as a victim of his upbringing.

    But we live in a small town (7,000) that is becoming overrun by gang/drug violence, too. I have many small children. I want them to be safe.

    As the trial went on, it came out that there were around 6 witnesses – and no one came forth to defend an innocent boy. They all lied to protect their group.

    That was a real dilemma to my husband and I. On the one hand, we would have liked to extend total and complete mercy and let the young man know of our radical forgiveness. (And if he hadn’t lied for over a year and had come forward, we would have likely done so.)

    On the other hand, our son suffered great psychological trauma from this, and we felt that he needed to see that we as his parents would work to protect him too. He worried about his siblings, and older people and pregnant women who walk our streets. Although only 19, the offender had a prior record of kidnapping another boy and of using violence.

    So, we pressed ahead, but it wasn’t with glee. It was with rather a heavy heart and a rock in the stomach. The jury unanimously convicted the offender.

    I am not sure we made the right decision – but we do pray for the young man. I would have visited him in prison and brought him supplies if I thought it could be done.

    Thoughts? What would you have done? What is the Christian response?

    • Jeremy Griffin

      That is quite the difficult story you have. I’m reminded of Miroslav Volf who writes on forgiveness. He talked about how when we as Christians forgive, we have release the person who owes us. But in forgiving them, we don’t release them from civil punishment if they deserve it. If the person broke the law, then they are guilty in the states’ eyes, even though you have forgiven them.

      If something like that happened to my family, I would probably carefully proceed in a very similar way that you did.

  • http://umbl0g.blogspot.com John Umland

    Great story at the top. This story in the comments is not great. There is nothing wrong with a measure of justice, of letting someone reap the consequences of their actions, even God lets us do that. By letting it go through the justice system, you protected other potential victims, at least for the short term. And, perhaps, God will work on the offender’s heart while he’s in jail.
    God is good
    jpu

  • Holly

    I don’t understand what you mean, John. Do you care to elaborate? I hope that you will be sensitive to a mother’s heart (mine,) who held her bleeding son in her arms and has dealt with his pain, anger and fear every day of his life since then? Yet – as a Christian, I care deeply about what happens to the other young man, too. He was once somebody’s baby as well. I expected to find it easy – I expected to find a measure of satisfaction. I actually found myself feeling sick by it all. Very very sad and confusing.

  • Holly

    I will say, John, that it wasn’t the measure of justice that bothered me – it was the thought that prison would probably make the young man a more hardened criminal, and the thought that there is not really much rehabilitation for young men in prison. I have prayed much for him, though (but not enough as time has passed….) that God would reach him there thru some compassionate individual. The thought has occurred to me that perhaps this is what God will use – combined with our prayers – to stop him in his tracks and call him to Himself.

  • http://razorwirewomen.wordpress.com Ashley

    I was so moved by both this blog post and by Holly’s comments on it that I wrote a response on my own blog. I hope you will find it useful: http://razorwirewomen.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/a-meditation-on-compassion-and-incarceration-a-post-by-ashley-lucas/

  • http://umbl0g.blogspot.com John Umland

    Hi Holly
    I’ve been away for a few days. I think your 2nd post sums it up best. Only God can bring the offender to repentance, but jail will keep him from hurting other innocent victims like your son for a while at least.
    Keep praying.
    God is good
    jpu

  • Kara

    I know I am a little late on this one, but after reading the posts I had to comment. HOLLY, nowhere in the scriptures does God teach that it is wrong to protect ourselves and our family. In fact, God often was sending people to war to protect His people from being over taken by people with less-than-honorable intents. (Case in point Gideon, Sampson, Deborah, etc.) Reading your post was a huge testimony of how we are to act in such circumstances. I read this posted by Adam J. Speck that I think says it well: “To better grasp the correct understanding of the “turn the other cheek” teaching of Christianity, we need to read the verses around them, in the same chapter of Matthew (5). There is a scripture (Matt. 5:5) that reads, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Being meek does not mean being weak. The true definition of being meek is withstanding insult or injury with patience, perseverance, and without resentment. It is being strong enough to withstand it freely, not being weak enough to not do anything about it. Then, just a few verses later, Scripture talks about turning the other cheek. Turning the other cheek suggests you are strong enough to do so, able to bear it willingly. It is an act of sacrifice, giving something up as opposed to someone taking it from you.” God is not telling us to be victims, rather He is saying when we have the opportunity to respond in like, we don’t. By having the perpetrator go through the justice system you are not responding in like- you are protecting your son.


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