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How Should a Christian Respond to Hatred and Hostility?

Seeking to follow Christ will often lead to being wrongfully criticized and hated. Jesus said to His followers, “I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19). And the Bible says that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). So how are we to respond to hatred, hostility, and persecution when it’s directed at us?

Enduring wrongful hatred is something that God both requires and rewards. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And in Luke 6:22-23 He said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Christians should avoid unnecessary conflict (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; 14:19), but there will be times when conflict can’t be avoided (Matthew 10:34; 1 Peter 2:19-21; 3:13-17; 4:12-16). Jesus said that His followers would be hated and persecuted (Luke 21:17; John 15:18-21). Merely seeking truth and living by the light exposes darkness in the lives of others and incites hatred (John 15:22). An obedient life forces people in rebellion to face their sinfulness and need of redemption (Isaiah 30:9; John 9:39; Romans 2:8).

The Bible clearly articulates the proper Christian response to hostility. For example, when we are cursed, we are to return a blessing in return (Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14). When we are forced to do something we don’t want to do, we are to go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). If we “suffer for doing good” we are to “endure it” (1 Peter 2:20). These responses are hard to do, but they demonstrate that something supernatural is motivating us, something that transcends mere human nature (Matthew 5:46-47).1

When we return good for evil, we follow the example of Christ (1 Peter 2:20-23). Our enemies will be taken off guard, even stunned. They expect (and probably desire) an angry response. Our anger would be natural, and would confirm their sense of control. But a gentle response would be unnatural, even incomprehensible.

Jesus offers no guarantee that a humble response will soften our enemy’s heart. Although our enemy might be puzzled, a truly evil person may be angered further. He might renew his attacks with even more tenacity. But there is also a chance that our foe may be disarmed, intrigued, and drawn to faith.

It’s no wonder that the apostle Paul exhorted Christians to:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:16-20).

  1. One reason is that we seldom know for sure why we are being hated. It flatters us to believe that it is entirely a matter of being “persecuted for righteousness sake” (Matthew 5:10). But realistically, the good that we do is often mixed with selfishness, jealousy, pride, and self-protection. If we are honest, we realize that there are times when our enemies are rightly putting their finger on something ugly in us, and are angered by our sin.
    Still another reason we should be willing to be good to our enemies is that we ourselves have benefited from God’s grace and are indebted to God’s love (Matthew 18:23-35). God offered us mercy, even when we unfairly hated Him. We who have experienced the miracle of God’s unconditional love should be the first to strive for peace, resisting the impulse to condemn (Matthew 5:22; Romans 12:10). Back To Article
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Is Richard Dawkins’ Claim That Religious Faith Is the Main Cause of Violence Correct?

One of Richard Dawkins’ recurring themes is that religious faith is the primary cause of violence around the world. Mr. Dawkins is right when he says that religious faith is often manipulated for terribly evil ends. Jesus said that too, and on that point Christians should be in agreement with Mr. Dawkins. Further, I’m sure that a case can be made that the greater the claims for truth and righteousness a group or person makes, the more revolting is their hypocrisy. Perhaps this is what makes religious hypocrisy especially repugnant. But religious hypocrisy isn’t the only kind of hypocrisy, and religious faith isn’t the only kind of faith implicated in violence.

Richard Dawkins points to violence around the world that is justified with religious rationalizations, and says that it is wrong for children to be given identities such as Catholic, Muslim, and Hindu at a young age that result in their distrust and hatred of others with different religious/faith identities.

His implication seems to be that someone (presumably people who agree with him, assisted by governmental power) should stop religious indoctrination of children. This raises the question: What will replace religious training of the young? Children are inevitably going to develop identities and will have to have some kind of faith, even if it isn’t “religious.”

Would it be better if faith in a particular form of religion and the people who represent it (Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, etc.) were replaced with faith in a “universal” ideology such as Communism, or faith in one’s people or nation (Judaism, nationalism, etc.)? Probably not. The ideologies of Communism and Fascist/nationalist movements were major contributors to the two World Wars and other major and minor wars of the past century.

What about faith in something that transcends religion, ideology, ethnicity, and nationalism? Can we trust the corporate/economic system (let’s call it “mammon”—the worship of material wealth) that is currently invading and reshaping the world, obliterating cultures, peoples, and traditions, and making the poor spiritually and materially poorer while granting a small elite hitherto unimaginable riches and power?1 Degraded “mammonite” culture is proliferating like a bacterial infection by means of the Internet, mass media, and actual military and political aggression. In fact, it seems apparent to many that one of the greatest forces for destruction and evil in the world today is misguided faith in the corporate/economic beast that is reshaping the world to suit its needs.

Faith in mammon doesn’t seem to be a good idea either. How about faith in science and reason?

Unfortunately, as the political and social leaders of the past 300 years have discovered, science and reason are tools that can be used for good or evil, but they aren’t adequate objects of faith.

What’s left as a basis for faith?

  • Religion (faith in God) is out.
  • Nationalism is out.
  • Ideology is out.
  • The corporate/capitalist system is out.

It looks like Mr. Dawkins would have to say that we need to have faith that atheists like him would indoctrinate children wisely if government gave them the power to do so.

If Mr. Dawkins had this kind of power, we would discover sooner rather than later that he and others sharing his perspective are really no more trustworthy than the religionists, ideologues, and nationalists who have caused humanity so much suffering and heartache.

The ultimate cause of violence in the world is not religion, nationalism, ideology (including atheism), or even mammon. The primary cause of violence is evil that is deeply embedded in human nature, an evil deadliest when undetected or ignored. Hearts unaware of their own wickedness corrupt faith of any kind into evil and violence.

  1. In Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:9, Jesus personifies the Aramaic word for riches, making it the name for an idol/false god that people worship rather than the true God. Back To Article
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What Is the Underlying Cause of Violence?

The human race didn’t create itself, nor can it find fulfillment in itself. Human life is meaningful only in relationship to God (Deuteronomy 8:3; John 4:13-14; 6:32-35, 49-50). Originally, Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship with God in the Garden of Eden. When they chose the path of distrust and disobedience, they fell headlong into fear, loneliness, meaninglessness, and despair. They were exiled into a dangerous world where living became a struggle (Genesis 3:16-19, 22-24). Cain took his parents’ distrust and disobedience a step further by hating and killing the brother who sought to restore something of his parents’ lost relationship with God.

Bearing a mark ensuring that anyone who killed him would suffer vengeance seven times over, Cain founded the first city (Genesis 4:17) along with a social order that could be preserved only through fear of vengeance and retribution. It wasn’t long before Cain’s great-great-great grandson Lamech defiantly boasted that while God might avenge Cain’s murder seven times, he could personally avenge himself seventy-seven times (Genesis 4:23-24).1 Soon civilization was so corrupt and violent that God destroyed it in a flood, sparing only one just man and his family (Genesis 6:9-13)

But human violence didn’t end with the flood. The offspring of the patriarchs through whom God intended to establish His kingdom (Genesis 12:1-3) took possession of the Promised Land and established a city at Mount Zion. Although the bearers of the promise, they soon filled their own city with such violence that God brought judgment against them by means of even more violent nations (Ezekiel 7:23-27; Matthew 23:34-24:2).

Like Cain, the people of Noah’s day, and the Israelites, people of every generation are alienated from God. Without a connection of love and trust with the Creator, they are also alienated from each other and themselves. Yet rather than turning to God for affirmation and meaning, they seek it in social convention. Further, just as Cain hated Abel, people hate genuine prophets and honest men and choose leaders willing to nurture their illusions. The more their leaders flatter and mislead them, the more the people admire and honor them (1 Samuel 8:6-9).

Founded on falsehood, culture is deeply flawed, doomed to fail (Lamentations 2:14; Micah 3:11; Luke 6:39; Isaiah 30:10; Isaiah 56:10; Jeremiah 5:31), and satanic at its core (Ephesians 6:12). When consensus crumbles, disillusionment brings fear, isolation, suspicion, and rage. Just like Adam and Eve, we dread exposure of our “nakedness”—our pretense to purpose when we have no purpose, our pretense to strength when we have no strength, our pretense to peace when we have no peace, our pretense to love when we have no love. When the social contract fails, the violence of our hearts is unleashed in a desperate search for a scapegoat to blame.

Perhaps the scapegoat will be a politician or political party that was once viewed with adulation. Perhaps it will be an ethnic or religious minority. Perhaps it will be an “enemy” nation or alliance of nations.

Unwilling to accept responsibility and unwilling to turn to God, we unleash chaos. At this point, the dehumanizing, demoniacal madness of Saul (1 Samuel 18:10-11; 19:9-10; 20:33) and the dweller of the Gadarene tombs (Mark 5:1-5) becomes manifest. We objectify and kill fellow human beings like insects and vermin. Our “enemies” respond in kind.

Yet our greatest rage, like the rage of Cain, is roused when someone like Abel exposes our need for redemption.

  1. In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus apparently has Lamech’s boast in mind. In sharp contrast with a social order founded on vengeance and hatred, Jesus said that his disciples should forgive those who sin against them “seventy times seven.” Back To Article
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Should a Christian Pray for God’s Vengeance?

Jesus brought a deeper spiritual principle to bear upon the attitude of people towards revenge and retribution. In Matthew 5:38-42, He made three radical statements. First, He said that a person should turn the other cheek when someone strikes him. Second, He declared that His followers should give those who sue them more than they are asking. Third, He said that a person who is conscripted by a Roman officer to carry a load for one mile should offer to go two.

Does this mean that we cannot resist when somebody attacks us? Should we let everyone take advantage of us? This can’t be what Jesus meant. After all, Jesus denounced the Pharisees who attacked Him (Matthew 23) and objected when He was struck by one of the officers of the high priest (John 18:22). Further, He advised His disciples to take measures to defend themselves (Matthew 10:16), and He declared that they shouldn’t “meditate beforehand on what you will answer” to an enemy’s charges because He “will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14-15 NKJV). Similarly, the apostle Paul aggressively defended himself against his enemies on occasion (Acts 23:1-3), asserting his rights as a Roman citizen and making it clear to his attackers that there could be consequences if he were unlawfully harmed (Acts 25:14-27).

What Jesus asks of His followers is not passivity but surrender of the right to personal revenge. His three radical examples make His point about the attitude we should have toward those who wrong us. Rather than getting even, we should be willing to go to the opposite extreme. We need to be ready to humble ourselves for the kingdom of God. We need to understand that vengeance isn’t ours, but the Lord’s (Romans 12:19).

The natural human tendency has been to seek the emotional satisfaction of revenge for perceived injury (Genesis 4:8). Our instinctive response to any kind of injury is hatred and desire for vengeance. This is why Jesus made it so clear in His Sermon on the Mount that not only outward murder, but also inward hatred is subject to God’s judgment (Matthew 5:22-23). Consequently, the Old Testament Law placed limitations on vengeance (Exodus 21:23-25). Although the “eye for an eye” provision of the Mosaic Law has often been misunderstood as requiring vengeance, its actual purpose was to place limitations upon it. The law wouldn’t permit murder out of revenge for an insult or a minor injury. If an eye were put out, only an eye could be taken; if a tooth, only a tooth.

Jesus went much farther than the law, making it clear that He wasn’t merely calling for more limitations on vengeance. In Matthew 5:38-39, He implies that we must give up personal vengeance altogether. But as illustrated above by Jesus and Paul’s examples, there is a difference between confronting evil and seeking personal revenge. It is possible to confront evil with a desire for the redemption of its perpetrator. We can love a sinner while confronting his sin, but when we seek vengeance we are (always) motivated by hatred.

If Matthew 5:38-42 were taken literally at all times, we would have to let everyone take advantage of us. Turning the other cheek would become an encouragement for evil. This isn’t what Jesus had in mind. His vivid examples illustrate His disciples’ need to give up any sense of entitlement to personal revenge, to be purged of the motivation of personal vengeance. By asking them to “turn the other cheek,” Jesus meant that His disciples should be motivated by love and a desire for the redemption and forgiveness of offenders—even when opposing their actions.

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