3 Ways to Respond to People Who Hurt Us

In elementary school my neighbor Robert and I were good friends and played together a lot. One day while we were playing in the grass between our houses we decided to run around the perimeter of the area in opposite directions (we didn’t need much to entertain ourselves).

As we passed each other, he reached out and slapped me. The next thing I remembered was Robert on the ground pleading for mercy; I had beaten him up.

blog retaliation

An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth

When someone injures us, our usual response is to retaliate. Robert slapped me and I beat him up; my retaliation was greater than his injury to me.

Exodus chapter 21 prohibits escalation:

If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

This instruction seems severe to us, but it was a merciful law in ancient culture where small infractions led to escalating retaliation. Vendettas and blood feuds could disrupt societies and decimate families or tribes, so it is not surprising to find a similar law in the earlier Code of Hammurabi.

You Have Heard; But I Say…

Leave it to Jesus to go beyond this law to provide his own instruction. In Matthew chapter 5, he says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.

Jesus refers to an Old Testament commandment and rejects it as insufficient, just as he did with commandments on murder, adultery, and swearing oaths. Here he says not to resist (retaliate against) an evil person. We should respond instead in peace and reconciliation—expressions of Jesus’ principle of loving others.

Responding to Insults

Jesus says:

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

If a right handed person slaps someone on the right cheek, it is most likely done with the back of the hand. Slapping with the back of the hand was a deliberate insult in the Middle East of Jesus’ day, and I understand it still is in some places.

Rather than retaliate, Jesus says to remain vulnerable for an additional insult. This isn’t normal human nature and those who don’t retaliate are often viewed as wimps, but Jesus proposes the principles of peace and reconciliation instead. And they go far beyond the restriction of an eye for an eye.

When Robert slapped me, he did not not mean it as an insult; it was spontaneous playfulness. I shouldn’t have retaliated at all; instead I might have asked, ‘Why did you slap me?’ He probably would have apologized and learned a lesson, and there would have been reconciliation.

We are all physically or verbally insulted from time to time; Jesus tells us not to get even but to remain vulnerable.

Responding to Government Force

Jesus continues with a statement on force:

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.

If someone takes us to court and wins, we should comply gracefully instead of retaliating, though if we have options to appeal I think we can pursue them, but if we lose in the end we should not retaliate.

In Jesus’ time, the Jewish people were ruled by the Roman Empire. Imperial representatives could press subjects into service like carrying mail or a soldiers equipment. We also remember the example of  Simon of Cyrene who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross.

Jesus says we should cooperate willingly. Perhaps he had in mind the opposite attitude of the zealots who resisted the Romans.

We aren’t subject to foreign rule today, but we might consider how Jesus’ words relate to our relationship to our government.

Responding to Financial Requests

Jesus gives one more example:

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

I don’t think Jesus has in mind just anyone who might hit us up for money; he is thinking of those in real need. Sometimes such people are desperate and might not have even the resources for the next meal.

Our culture has institutions that help financially stressed people; but there are times when people need personal help from us, and we should not turn them away. Nor should we take advantage of them for profit.

Some of us face the situation of relatives or acquaintances who are in financial trouble due to their own self-destructive behavior, such as irresponsibility or laziness. I don’t think we are asked to continually feed their self-destructiveness, but in the principle of love we should not abandon them. We should do all we can to encourage them to change their behavior.

‘What’s Mine is Mine and You Can’t Take It!’

As part of Jesus’ principle of loving others, we should not be so protective of what is ours, whether it is our dignity (insults), our time (governmental laws), or our money. The principle of loving others goes far beyond an eye for an eye.

Graphic via Quote Factory
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Have a great day! ~Tim
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34 Responses to 3 Ways to Respond to People Who Hurt Us

  1. michaeleeast says:

    I always felt that after 9/11 the U.S.A. could have absorbed the blow
    and responded by increasing aid to third world countries.
    Instead we had a ghastly war in Iraq (this is retaliation).
    The U.S.A. was big enough and secure enough to turn the other cheek.
    Many will say that this is not a realistic response.
    We live in the real world of might and power.
    But this is Jesus’ teaching none the less.


    • I think nations are too eager to get into wars.

      We shouldn’t expect nations to follow the teachings of Jesus, but believers within the nations should follow Jesus’ ethic during times of conflict between nations. However, I cannot dictate what that means to anyone other than myself.


      • Chas says:

        I would normally have replied that nations should follow the philosophy of non-retaliation, but this raises the question of what to do when one’s own territory is invaded – whether to defend, or just allow one’s territory to be invaded. A literal acceptance of the words about turning the other cheek, or going an extra mile with someone who forces you, would imply that we should actively help an invading force!


    • Chas says:

      At the time, my reaction to 9/11 was to hope for a response of forgiveness, coupled with better measures to guard against terrorist acts, both in the air and on the ground, but in the event USA, with UK in tow, chose to attack first Afghanistan, which it saw as the home of Al-Qaida, and then Iraq, in which Saddam Hussain was actually an enemy of Al-Qaida. In the case of UK, this was done in ways that made a mockery of our democracy, so it is me who has to forgive Tony Blair, our then Prime Minister, for his deceit and lies in taking us unnecessarily into these wars, just to support USA. I am able to do this by recognizing that God allowed him to do so, although He could quite easily have avoided it. It therefore follows that there must be less suffering overall from what has happened than would have otherwise occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq.


      • michaeleeast says:

        I do not necessarily agree that there must therefore be less suffering resulting from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because God allowed it.
        People have free will and God does intervene unless called upon.
        People commit crimes which cause intense suffering. I do not believe that there is somehow less suffering because of them.


        • Chas says:

          God has foreknowledge of everything that will ever happen,even when He has chosen to allow free will. Since He is loving, kind and compassionate, it therefore seems to me that He will be able to steer everything to minimize the sum total of suffering, even when He is constraining Himself by allowing us free will. He can do anything that He chooses.


    • sheila0405 says:

      Wow, this is the first time since 9/11 that I have found someone of a like mind on this. I did not hate those who attacked us. Instead, I prayed for their souls (I’m Catholic) and left them to the mercy of God. I was immensely sad that they had been so brainwashed that they felt the need to hurt us and kill our citizens. I still pray that those with such hatred will find the love of God in Jesus. Changing hearts is the only way to bring about peace.


      • michaeleeast says:

        In the Catholic Church you pray not to harden your hearts.
        And one of your aspects is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
        You would be well served to follow these teachings.


        • sheila0405 says:

          The reason I didn’t hate the terrorists who attacked us is precisely because I am a Catholic. My parish was the target of vandals yesterday. Someone smashed up our beautiful statues. My first response was to ask God to give the vandals a penitent heart, as well as salvation for their souls. I am praying for them, not being angry and bitter. The solution for a hardened heart is the grace of Jesus. I agree with you 100%. Knowing that you are also Catholic explains why you believe the way you do. Nice to meet you!


  2. Chuck Gatlin says:

    It is certainly difficult enough for an individual to follow this teaching of Jesus; but when the subject of war is introduced, I’m not sure if what Jesus tells individuals to do when attacked applies to what actions governments should take. I don’t recall whether Jesus said anything directly about government except the principles in “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Even the statement about living by the sword and dying by the sword appears to me to be addressed to the individual, not the institution of authority. Maybe this is straying from the immediate topic and should be the topic for another day.


    • Chuck, I think you are right.

      Jesus doesn’t seem to say anything about how nations should behave; it is all about the individual and the community of his followers. It seems to me that Jesus had in mind a people who would form a new ‘kingdom’ within the ‘kingdoms’ of the world, though not in conflict with them.

      Jesus’ teaching does, however, say a lot about how believers should live peacefully within the earthly kingdoms, and the ethics of Jesus were most important to believers if the two kingdoms conflicted.

      Of course, as believers attained widespread influence, one would expect them to impact the kingdoms to some extent. But what happened instead is that the two ‘kingdoms’ were merged a few hundred years after Jesus, and they have both been crippled ever since.

      Today, many believers can’t tell the difference between kingdom living and politics, which I think is a good subject for a later topic, as you suggest.


  3. Chas says:

    For me, this post brings to mind the actions of Nelson Mandela. While I was aware of his amazing forgiveness for his largely political imprisonment, it was only after his death that I became aware of his work in bringing about reconciliation between black and white in relation to violence committed by both sides against the other during apartheit (sorry, can’t spell that). A particular feature of that reconciliation was that the perpetrator was required to repent of what he/she had done, and meet with the victim, or their relatives if dead, to express their regret and to hear and face whatever was said back to them. The impression that it left was one of healing and true reconciliation.
    Just before Mandela’s death, the Attorney General in Northern Ireland had suggested the need for an amnesty there for those who had committed killings during the conflict between the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. Being rather more aware of the depth of feeling that had been generated, I could not see how that was going to work. However, learning more of the example in South Africa showed how it could be tackled: not as just simple amnesty, when people would still feel that they had not received any justice for their loved ones, but as reconciliation with amnesty for those who admitted their crimes, and were willing to face and talk with the relatives of victims.


  4. lotharson says:

    Having ADHD, I have had huge problems with other people during my youth.
    I was hurt lots of times but to be fair I have also hurt weaker people.
    Thanks to God my life is now extremely better and I can say I am a far better person though I still fall short of perfection.

    Your regular readers can be interested to take a look at the recent post I wrote about as respect as applied to homosexuals:

    This is a hot topic and I hope that the discussion won’t run out of control.


    • Lothar,

      I read the post you mention earlier today and I recommend it highly to my readers. I love the things the guest author wrote about Christians and gays. The article was filled with excellent content and fresh insights.


      • lotharson says:

        Thank you Tim.

        You know, I am extremely thankful for all your comments on my blog.

        You always bring up a sensible and compassionate progressive Christian perspective on the issues I am addressing.

        If it does not bother you, I have a request.

        I have just written a theoretical post about an atheistic argument against Christianity (and religion in general).

        I have tried to make it friendly for lay persons.
        Could you please tell me if you can grasp the stuff, if it is not too boring or if I should improve certain things?

        My aim is to be understood by normal Christians who have not a backgound in philosophy or science.
        I think it is vital since the Internet confronts us every day with all kind of intellectual challenges against our faith.

        Lovely greetings in Christ.


        • Lothar,

          I enjoyed the article and was able to follow it. I have some background in theology; I read philosophy but am no philosopher; and I have no foundation in statistics. I think most reasonably educated readers should understand the general scope of the article, but I am unsure whether everyone would find the issue itself significant for them.

          As you point out, the issue is theoretical; but it is a challenge against Christianity (or any specific religion) so it must be addressed. I am glad you are addressing it.

          My responses to the article itself are in the article comments.


        • sheila0405 says:

          I read your blog post. It was easy enough for even a math challenged person like me! Very interesting and I recommend it to all the readers here.


  5. Marc says:

    When I consider the basis of the threats to our way of life that we led us to commit to world war sixty years before the attacks of 9/11/01, I think we have been had. Islam is a far greater threat to us than the Imperial Japanese or German Nazis ever were. Yet instead of destroying the locus of Islam in Mecca and Medina and taking down the Saudi regime and making reparations of their oil resources, Bush and Cheney sucked up to the Saudis who financed the 9/11 attack, and sent our armed forces into harms way in Iraq so Georgy boy could settle accounts with Saddam. That Obama bows down to the Saudi monarch shows that we have been sold out by both of our political parties. If we were truly one nation under God, we would have had the same righteous indignation toward Islam, that we had for the Imperial Japanese, the Nazis, and the Communists. With our ever more corrupt way of life that mocks nature’s God and murders the unborn, we are headed for the ash heap of history and the end of this age.


    • sheila0405 says:

      You would attack Mecca? And Medina, and the Saudis? Not sure I’d ever endorse any of those actions. I was against the war in Iraq. I wasn’t happy about the war in Afghanistan, but I believed we would successfully defeat the terrorists and those who trained them, and get out in triumph. Not so. War is a terrible thing, and we need to think long and hard before we start one. Or, be involved in one, as in Libya, which really was a civil war. Quadaffi is out, but is Libya better off because of that? It seems whenever one bad guy is tossed aside, there are a million more willing to take his place.


    • Thank you for your comment Marc.

      I agree it was a bad idea to invade Iraq; I think Bush and his advisors were much too eager to go to war with our enemies, but I don’t think we should attack Mecca and Medina either.

      We shouldn’t fight the Saudis or anyone else, but attacking Mecca and Medina is the same as attacking all of Islam. While there are Islamic elements that hate us, this is not true of all Muslims.


      • Marc says:

        Tim – Only 10 percent of the Japanese, German, and Russian populations were supporters of the party line, yet we committed to total war against the Japanese and Germans, and a 50 year cold war against the Russians to protect our way of life. The Cold War model is probably the best approach to Islam. Isolate them and do not do business with them or let them into our countries. Perhaps their evil tyranny would collapse like the communists. However, we would have to give up our addiction to their oil first, and fire all the politicians who have sold out to the Saudis and others. Clearly a better course than total war.


        • I understand your passion, but I cannot agree to such a hard line against all Muslims. There are different ‘schools’ of Muslims, and most Muslims are not our enemies. The problem is with those who are radicalized.

          Muslims have as much right to live in our countries as anyone else.


          • michaeleeast says:

            I agree Tim. The spectrum of Muslim belief is as broad as that of Christianity.
            Sufism for example has much in common with Progressive Christianity.
            And they have been targeted by radical Muslims as well.


    • Chas says:

      Why is there such a fear of Islam? It can only be that they control a significant proportion of the world’s oil and so the West thinks that they can ultimately call the shots. In practice, the seeds of destruction are already within Islam, in the schism between Sunnis and Shia. This is fueling many of the conflicts in the Middle East, and it can be seen at its strongest at present in Syria and Iraq. In Syria, and in some Gulf states, the controlling families are in one sect, and the majority of the population in the other, which is a recipe for disorder.


  6. sheila0405 says:

    Tim, thanks for your concern about the smashed statues. It really is heartbreaking, and expensive, too. I hope our parish’s insurance covers it. We had to replace our air conditioning unit this past summer when a close lightning strike caused it to “arc” (I’m not an electrician, so I didn’t really understand), and it was completely burnt out. And now, this.

    Our parish is comprised of many Hispanics from Mexico, the Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico. A large percentage of those are undocumented, and this time of year is hard for them. No crops to pick, not much construction, so not many jobs. Our collection each weekend is about a thousand dollars less than we need to keep going. People think Catholic churches are rich, but not ours. It just grieves me to see how someone can devastate a church with a hammer. But, as I stated, all I can do is pray for the salvation of those who perpetrated this on us.


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