Turn the other cheek – What does it matter? Is it really the best way?

Has this saying of Jesus ever confused you? It literally means that if someone has hit us on the left cheek, we should instinctively (meaning heart response) offer them the other cheek to hit if they wish, not in an attitude of resentment, but in love. This seems crazy, right? Why wouldn’t you defend yourself?

The way of the world is definitely not to look the other way. When I moved from my parents’ house to shared accommodation when I was 21 years old, I moved into a house with two other young people my age, both “friends.” I mean because I had a lot of respect for one of these guys, I had my doubts for the other, but we always spent a lot of time together. I soon discovered that my distrust of this guy was well founded: he was a biblical “lazy”, always giving up his responsibility to provide his share, or do his chores, and worse still, he caused fights. Turning the other cheek would never work in this situation.

However, turning the other cheek, granting grace to the other person, which is an “unmerited favor”, was the life edict of the legendary writer Leo Tolstoy. Here was a man who struggled his entire life to find the meaning of that. He is genuinely someone who ‘went to hell and back’ to find him.[1] Being committed to fundamental pacifism on the basis of Christ’s words ironically made him a Christian anarchist, because the Church supported the State and the State went to war, Tolstoy came into conflict with the Church to the point of his own excommunication her. It seemed Tolstoy lived “turn the other cheek” as best he could. In the back of Schopenhauer’s[2] Influence lived the rest of his life, by choice, in abject poverty. He always had the firm conviction that the message of the Sermon on the Mount could be lived literally, an understanding that perhaps led to a rather tortuous life in the end.

Frankish people always have critics, and Tolstoy was no exception. In the mid-1940s, Eric Arthur Blair, also known as George Orwell, wrote of Tolstoy’s philosophy: “If you turn the other cheek, you will receive a stronger blow than the one you received with the first. This doesn’t always happen, but it is to be expected, and you shouldn’t complain if it happens. “[3] Orwell suggested in his essay, Lear, Tolstoy and the fool, that Tolstoy’s philosophy was defective in that “The distinction that really matters is not between violence and non-violence, but between having and not having an appetite for power,”[4] hinting that pacifists, like Tolstoy, could easily be power mongers. While I suppose this could be true, I find it difficult to follow the “why” logic. An additional quote from Orwell probably demonstrates his penchant for proof the power of justice, as seen in whom Orwell considered “saints”, is not so fair:

Creeds such as pacifism and anarchism, which seem on the surface to imply a total renunciation of power, rather encourage this habit of mind. For if you have embraced a creed that seems to be free from the ordinary filth of politics, a creed from which you yourself cannot hope to gain any material advantage, surely that proves you are right? And the more he’s right, the more natural it is for everyone else to be bullied into thinking the same way. “[5]

The point of this, when it comes to turning the other cheekIs that where you draw the line? Ironically, Tolstoy may have been guilty of not applying pacifism when in conflict with the church. Anarchism is, in itself, a struggle against the “powers”. Perhaps what Jesus urges his disciples to do is engage in pacifism for themselves (don’t defend yourself) but be the defender for the weakest member in Tolstoy’s situation, for the oppressed and defenseless victims of war, of whom there are many. In this context, it can be shown that Tolstoy was actually fulfilling God’s will, as he also did many of his times, standing against the powersfor example anarchism of darkness.

Theologian Helmut Thielicke sees that on a worldly level it is impossible to find the logic to turn the other cheek. He says, if you share accommodation, and the other person does not wash their dishes and leaves your work messy, you are obliged to treat them the same way and leave your dishes for them, right? This is so that they can appreciate for themselves what what The treatment feels like … however, on a higher ‘heavenly’ level, it is possible to turn the other cheek in acknowledging the spiritual truth that everyone deserves grace: Christ died for the wicked. This is a cheeky respect that goes with each person you know and relate to; it is seeing them through the eyes of God.

Furthermore, Thielicke says that no one is beyond the sonship of God, and that it is the “gift of Grace that gives me new eyes, so that with these new eyes I can see something divine in others. “[6] And we [are to] help by putting us under God’s mercy and [allow that to] irradiate others so that this unhappy world can be disinfected. “[7]

It’s about seeing the need in others who might offend and intimidate you. It’s about seeing your fear and returning love through mercy, based on God’s grace.

It helps open the offender to the freedom of “why did he treat me so kindly when I did something despicable to him?” In a sense, it is a miraculous response to a miraculous action. It recognizes that what implies that someone turns to God, without regretting less, is a “revaluation of values.”[8] That has happened to anyone who really turns the other cheek, in love, without fear.

It is the miracle of grace alone that allows the authenticity of the process to occur. Turning the other cheek is simply a better way. It is a better way because if the person who hits us or offends us or not is insignificant. In fact, it is in gratitude to Orwell’s quote that we should expect people to respond, but in ourselves we remain steadfast in our (or God’s) stance of love and grace.

You see, we must see the son of God in them; the child who has been bought for love and who has received the gift of life, whether they choose it or not. Seeing this miracle of turning the other cheek into action is the very vision of Jesus himself, with a look that could say, “You can’t make me love you less, no matter what you do.”

Do you think it’s possible?

© Steve J. Wickham, 2008. All rights reserved worldwide.

[1] Mr. Eaton, The Path That Leads to Life, The Radical Challenge to the Sermon on the Mount Church, (Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, Great Britain, 1999), p. 95.

[2] Tolstoy’s life changed forever after reading the following: But this same need for involuntary suffering (on the part of the poor) for eternal salvation is also expressed in that statement of the Savior (“Matthew 19:24”): “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. ” Therefore, those who were very seriously interested in their eternal salvation chose voluntary poverty when fate had denied them this and they were born into wealth. Thus Sakyamuni Buddha was born as a prince, but voluntarily joined the mendicant’s staff; and Francisco de Asís, the founder of the mendicant orders, who, as a young man at a dance, where the daughters of all the notables sat together, was asked: “Francisco, won’t you soon make your choice among these beauties?” and who replied: “I have made a much more beautiful decision!” “Who?” “La poverta”: after which he abandoned everything shortly after and wandered the earth as a beggar.
Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, Flight. II, §170.

[3] G. Orwell, “Lear, Tolstoy and the fool”, Polemic No.7, Great Britain, London (March 1947). Available:

[4] Orwell, Op. Cit.

[5] Orwell, Op. Cit.

[6] H. Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again: Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, translated by JW Doberstein (Fortress Press, Philadelphia), p. 74-5.

[7] H. Thielicke, Ibid., P. 74-5.

[8] H. Thielicke, Op cit., P. 77.

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