Self-Defense and “Turning the Other Cheek”

Is it wrong to defend myself if someone attacks me? What does Jesus mean when He says, "I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matthew 5:39). I'm really confused about this. Am I supposed to take this verse literally?

It’s hard to know how to respond to your question without knowing more about your reasons for asking it. What exactly motivated you to raise this issue? Do you have a child who is dealing with a bully at school? Are you personally dealing with domestic violence or facing some kind of threat in your neighborhood or workplace? It would help if we had some insight into the context of your confusion.

As we see it, Jesus’ teaching in this passage has a very narrow application. It’s mainly concerned with the issue of personal revenge or retaliation, not self-defense. Christ is telling His followers that they need to let go of the desire to “get back” at others who have wronged them in some way. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other great thinkers in the history of Christian theology have explained this verse as follows. Disciples of Jesus should be willing to suffer personal injustices (see 1 Corinthians 6:6, 7). But they should also realize that loving one’s neighbor sometimes implies a willingness to use force. In other words, we should always be prepared to defend others who are being abused and mistreated in some way. Complete non-resistance, then, is not necessarily an absolute standard for the Christian life.

How does this apply to kids? We don’t believe that children should be expected to stand back passively while other youngsters attack them. Instead, they should be equipped with a plan of action. They should be trained to respond, not simply react. We recommend that parents provide their children with goals, objectives and alternatives that are within their reach: truthfulness, faithfulness and a desire to cooperate with others as far as it is possible to do so. In cases where these options are not feasible, they should also be prepared to defend themselves appropriately.

We could go on but, as we’ve already said, we have no way of knowing whether any of this advice relates directly to your situation or not. If you’d like to discuss your concerns at greater length with a member of our team, don’t hesitate to contact us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


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