“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
Christianity often is a challenge to Christians. Just consider the words above from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (12:14). For those who claim religion is a crutch, try supporting yourself on those words. See if they make life easier in some way.
How many blessings have American Christians composed for their current enemies?
How many Christian politicians would dare compose such blessings?
How many Christians would vote for those who did?
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;
for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
What was St. Paul thinking when he wrote the words above? Are we to allow ourselves to be persecuted? What does it mean to treat with nobility those who do evil to us?
Are we to let Hitlers and Stalins and bin Ladens run rampant on the earth? Murdering millions including children?
Certainly these teachings are not crutches for the weak. They are rather hurdles and traps that give us little comfort in our decisions. They do not support ideas of humans demanding retribution or revenge.
Christians will have to look elsewhere for that morality. St. Paul allows for Christian martyrdom – the imitation of Christ, voluntary suffering – not Islamic fundamentalist “martrydom” which murders innocents and children. There is no justice based on “an eye for an eye” here. No just war theory. No “holy” war. There is an ethic here and a logic which is not a human demand for justice. It is based in the logic of the Cross and of the Crucified God.
St. Paul sees in Christ God’s love which is unfathomable deep. This is not human justice, but divine love.
Can we trust God to exact justice and retribution on enemies? Are we willing to hand such justice over to Him and accept whatever He chooses to do?
No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them;
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink;
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Christ taught us to give food and drink to the least of His brothers and sisters. St. Paul says we should do the same to our enemies.
This is no crutch for believers to lean on. It is a challenge to the very ground on which we stand. We are not to heap fiery coals upon the heads of our enemies, but rather food and drink. Or reversing the thought we are to heap food and drink on them. Such love according to St. Paul will be experienced by them as being burned alive.
Replace armies with generous foreign aid to repay our enemies? Will believers believe this will really work?
St. Paul’s words in Romans 12:14-21 do not make believers comfortable, do not make life more palatable for Christians, do not prop us up by making life easier.
They no doubt for some place burning coals on our own heads. How many biblical literalists want these words of St. Paul posted in every courthouse or read by military chaplains to the troops or pronounced by our presidents in response to terrorist attacks?
Scriptures often do comfort the afflicted, but they also afflict the comfortable.
If we take St. Paul’s words in Romans 12 to heart, who are the sinners and who are the righteous? Agreeing to be a Christian, taking up the cross of Christ is not for the faint of heart, nor for those with weak knees, nor for the spineless.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
(My note: normally, 3 mornings each week I do Matins during which we read the Scripture assigned for the day according to the Orthodox lectionary. Following the reading of the Scripture, we have a few minutes of silent meditation. Romans 12 was the Epistle for today, and what I wrote above is the meditation I had while contemplating the words of St. Paul.)