In an age of international terror, it is natural to have the instinct of self-preservation. In the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino (along with many others), we are all reminded just how unsafe our world is. And as our nation debates our responses to refugees and Muslims, we often find ourselves torn between the desire to be safe and the desire to be compassionate. As we proceed in this tug-of-war between safety and compassion, it does no good to ignore the danger. Some will say that there is nothing to fear from Syrian refugees or from the religion of Islam. They say that all religions have equal value, and therefore an extreme version of tolerance must rule our lives. As believers, we don’t believe this.
We believe that salvation is only through Jesus, and that any religion or worldview – including Islam – that teaches otherwise is false.
Furthermore, a number of religions and ideologies certainly lend themselves to violence. There are real threats to our safety in the world. The danger cannot be dismissed without us purposefully shutting our eyes. So, what do we do? Are believers called to ignore our own safety? No, we are not. At the same time, the debate forces us to ask ourselves what the bigger threat is. Is the bigger threat that we would be harmed by violent people, or is the bigger threat that we would turn away people who are in need physically, materially, or spiritually? While it may seem like a strange connection, my attention was drawn to 1 Corinthians 6, where the apostle Paul speaks to believers about lawsuits against one another. It turns out that believers in Corinth were taking each other to court over their disputes. Paul strongly rebukes them for this, saying that they should settle their disputes in the context of the church instead of taking their cases before unbelievers. What strikes me most about Paul’s words to the Corinthians, however, are found in verses 7-8: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.” Paul’s striking words tell the Corinthians that they should prefer to be cheated than to be the ones cheating. They should prefer to be wronged then to be the ones wronging others.
This perspective that Paul espouses is not isolated to lawsuits. It strikes at the core of Christian conduct. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. Jesus would rather die than take down His murderers. Believers are called to forgive rather than take revenge. And – in this specific case – believers are called to be wronged rather than wronging others in an effort to defend their own rights.
There is no doubt that it is frightening to think about being oppressed. For believers, however, even more frightening than being oppressed, is being oppressors. While we want neither, Jesus leads us to prefer oppression against us to oppression that protects us.
Jesus calls us to love our enemies with full knowledge that we may receive cursing in response to our blessing. We may be taken advantage of while we are being generous. We may be endangered while we are giving aid. While the war on terror and the refugee question cannot be settled by sound bytes, those of us who are believers must let Jesus inform our attitude and our perspective.
The world does not need to see Christians boldly standing up for their own rights and their own safety. The world needs to see Christians who, like Jesus, would rather be wronged and cheated – and even oppressed – than become people who benefit at the expense of others.