Jesus Christ Himself said we should humbly offer the other cheek if someone slaps us (Luke 6:29). If Christians are not careful to understand what Jesus meant, all of Christianity would park on a church pew and wait for God to wreck his enemies so He could tell us, “Okay, you can come out now.” Such a concept is loaded with nonsense. Like Old Testament swords and arrows, New Testament guns and bombs can be for a righteous cause before God. If that were not true there could never be an honorable peace.
The notion that “The righteous shall inherit the Earth” without resistance is a fantasy. The clash between good and evil has always involved bloodletting. We need look no further than brothers Cain and Abel.
The Book of Acts tells the ironic story of one Cornelius (Acts 10), a very high ranking Centurion officer in the Roman army who “Gave much alms” to the despised Jews. This, although he commanded a large contingent of hardened, brutal Roman soldiers who had a reputation for despising Jews. But that isn’t all: Cornelius became a Pentecostal tongue-talking Christian at the laying on of Peter’s hands. It is unlikely that he gave up his command but, as best he could without violating his faith, served God where he was.
I am reminded of one ironic account during World War I in France, before my father served there in Pershing’s army. The opposing forces were entrenched either side of a strip of no-man’s land. One Christmas Day they ceased shooting at one another to honor the holiday and began celebrating. Before long their festivities joined friend and foe in a mutual Christian celebration out on the killing fields. At the next day’s dawn, though, they went back to bloodletting. The irony was that the belligerents were thoroughly Christianized at the grass roots, but their felt differences were sharp enough to kill over. What difference? What each perceived to be right or wrong. We might say the “good guys” won, but unforgiveness on their part led to far worse. It was called Hitler.
Twenty-three years later a large airborne strike force led by one Mitsuo Fuchida devastated Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2000 men. World War II began. A river of blood ensued in order to secure peace and freedom. Black wreaths draped the doors and windows of half a million American homes alone. Two mushroom clouds were necessary to prevent that many more.
My oldest brother worked on the bottom deck of a thin-skinned baby aircraft carrier in the Pacific when it almost sank from the crash dives of two desperate Kamikaze pilots. The irony of the Pacific war was that the Samari code was all about aggressive power and dominance, while the Christian ethic that birthed the American Constitution was about peace and freedom for all, as taught by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Manning the military ranks of both, however, were multitudes who claimed neither religion but fought for their ideals. Reality, though, cared little about that–the blood was just as red. My brother escaped, but as irony would have it, he came home, married, fathered a baby daughter, but had a sudden brain hemorrhage at the age of 28, and died. It is not known whether or not he became a Christian before his passing, although he had shown serious interest.
In 1953 I joined the U.S. Air Force and saw duty abroad twice, one to England, another to the island of Guam. I became a Christian during my tour of duty, the irony of which was that General Paul Tibbets was for a while my Wing Commander. Tibbets was the man who piloted the Enola Gay, the B-29 which dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, ending the war.
As irony would have it, perhaps 15 years after I joined the U.S. Air Force, I went to our church one Sunday morning and saw on the platform sitting next to our pastor a very well dressed, composed oriental gentleman. He was to be our surprise speaker that day. The pastor introduced him as none other than Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the raid on Pearl Harbor! He presented a rich Christian testimony of humility, having received forgiveness for his great sins. I was one of many who shook his hand after the service, welcoming him into God’s family. Ironically, my brother who fought for a Christian nation might have missed Heaven, whereas Fuchida lived, a man who fought as a Samari warrior, but became a Christian and made Heaven his home.
In recent years our church has had a quiet yet friendly, very elderly, dignified gentleman attending our church. One Sunday a few weeks ago his visiting daughter and son-in-law sat beside him. They were casually dressed, her husband wearing a sports shirt. To my great surprise the pastor recognized him as none other than Admiral Vern Clark, recently retired chief of all U.S. naval operations around the world! While this humble man had a very devout Christian testimony, he had been Chief, under only the U.S. President, of the greatest naval war machine the world has ever known! I was unable to shake his hand that day, but I did shake the hand of his delightful wife. Since his retirement he is heavily engaged in Christian endeavors. Indeed, here was a classic life of irony between a great warrior and a peace maker occupying the same body, both of them in the service of God! Here was a man who well knew both how to turn his cheek, but also how to make war like no other.
It is easy to miss the middle ground in Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek. For many reasons necessity turned the cheek but bore arms as well. Perhaps it would not have been necessary had humanity at large rose to faith in their Creator. But we didn’t, did we. I am reminded of the farmer trying to plow with an obstinate mule. He used a two-by-four up side the mule’s head, but only to get his attention so as to perform a task necessary to feed them all–including the mule. –DA