Does “Turning the Other Cheek” Really Work?

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I was sitting with a client yesterday who was alone even though they had originally come with their spouse for marriage counseling. She told me things were going better in her marriage and she wasn’t quite sure why. Our recent sessions had been focused on how she responded to unfair, unkind and hurtful situations in her marriage. She had been focusing on not escalating the battle of words and when she was ill-treated to respond with kindness.  My thoughts immediately went to the words of Jesus.   

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
— Matthew 5:38-41 NIV

When Jesus said these words the prevailing wisdom was that when someone hit you, you needed to hit them back harder. (that philosophy is still very common) Jesus was expressing a radical ethic that has its roots in trusting in an all-powerful and just God who will ultimately bring down judgment on the wicked and reward the innocent.

But there is another very practical reason to employ this new ethic. It works.  It works because it is based on the way humans relate to each other. This should not be surprising. I have found that EVERYTHING God has said we should do is both empirically true and relationally effective.

That is why my client is experiencing greater success in her relationship.

The predictable pattern is to respond in kind to others. When someone is nasty to us we respond by being nasty to them. If they are kind to us we respond by returning the kindness. In other words, the old “eye for an eye” ethic. And as someone once said if we live by the “eye for an eye” ethic everybody will be blind. But if we are maligned we respond in kindness and when treated harshly we are gentle the whole dynamic of the relationship is turned on its head. The downward cycle of aggression and retaliation is broken. How do you stay angry with someone who simply refuses to return the anger? How do you continually criticize and malign someone who refuses to return the insults? You simply can’t. Either the dynamic in the relationship changes or the oppressor gives up and finds another victim to justify their behavior.

Please hear me on this, I am not talking about physical or emotional abuse. It is not right to allow unchecked aggression to be directed toward you or anybody else. If this is the case then you need to seek help to correct the situation and/or get separation from the abuser.

I am referring to those arguments and personality conflicts that are common in most marriages and dissolve into long-standing resentments and perpetual arguments.

This new way of being in a relationship is not easy – in fact, it is practically impossible apart from a powerful spiritual transformation of the heart. It is also not a quick fix cure. The aggressor is not likely to suddenly “see the light” and change their pattern of behavior overnight. But for those who decide to walk as Jesus walked there are awesome rewards waiting for them. Here are a few.

  • The soul-destroying cancer called resentment is reduced or eliminated
  • The potential for developing reconciliation is vastly increased
  • Harmful conflict is greatly shortened and vastly reduced
  • Intimacy with God is deepened. (whenever we choose to obey the words of our Lord we deepen our love for him) John 14:15
  • We become more open to examining our own hearts and correcting our own faults
  • We set an example to other family members of how to deal with difficult people and situations

Again, this is not easy to do – especially if there is a long-standing pattern of tit for tat conflict. But it is so worth the effort to escape the hopeless maze of unending struggles.

As always if there is anything we can do for you or if you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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