Because I was home schooled through eighth grade, one would think I never should have had problems with bullies during my grade school years. However, that was not the case. When I was eight, I had a terrible bullying problem—in church. People look at me incredulously whenever they hear me say that, but it is true. “Aaron” would literally pick on me during the minutes between Sunday school and church, on the way to hear the pastor’s sermon on loving thy neighbor as thyself. When I ignored Aaron’s verbal insults, he quickly got physical. The abuse escalated to the point where I was forced to hide in the bathroom until I was sure Aaron was gone. On one of these occasions, Mom caught me furtively sticking my head out of the men’s room.
My parents enrolled me in Karate the very next day. As Bible-believing Christians, my family and I believe in Jesus’ words: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).
A lot of Christians agree with me that it is morally right to defend yourself from an attacker. Some Christians, I know, translate this particular verse so literally, they believe it’s wrong to strike back at an evil person, even to save your own life. So how to these seemingly conflicting ideas go together? Here is my interpretation of this verse: a slap on the cheek isn’t an attack, but an insult. In the days of Musketeers, if a man removed his glove and struck another man, it wasn’t meant to inflict physical pain but rather to challenge him to fight back. Such a slap doesn’t hurt that much, but it does sting one’s pride. If the slapped man accepted the challenge, he would not be defending his life, but his honor (in fact he would be putting his life in danger to do so). I am reminded of a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia where the mouse Reepicheep requests that Aslan restore his truncated tail, which he calls his honor. Aslan wonders whether Reepicheep is being prideful, too concerned with defending his honor. Jesus condemns this attitude with his words. However, I don’t believe Christ is ordering Christians to not defend ourselves. No one ever died from a slap on the cheek. If someone is trying to kill me, I can’t turn the other cheek if I am dead. I should defend myself to preserve the sanctity of life, the same way I should fight to rescue a helpless person being attacked.
In my case, Aaron had gone a lot further than slapping my cheeks, and my instructor, Master Roger Terrell, told me that if someone attacked me, the only reason I should turn my cheek was to deliver a spin hook kick! I also cannot write a journal on this topic without quoting one of my favorite TV shows, Kung Fu: "Weakness prevails over strength. Gentleness conquers. Become the calm and restful breeze that tames the violent sea." Master Kan’s word to Kwai Chang Caine reflect Christ’s, and throughout the series, Caine never accepted a challenge from an evil person. However, when his life, or an innocent person’s life was threatened, the gentle, soft-spoken Kwai Chang conquered his violent foes with ease.