Guns ‘n Moses, Part 2

Guns ‘n Moses, Part 2

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well…Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-40,42

Last week I stated that there are at least three sources of power over others, each of which can result in modified behaviors: power by force, power by surrender, and power by interdependency. Last week I reflected on power by force. This week I will consider power by surrender or submission. Neither of these terms is widely valued in cultures around the world. They are usually treated as synonymous with weakness and lack of control. In general, they are seen as desperate options of last resort, as when an army surrenders because its remaining soldiers are injured, have no food or ammunition, and/or are otherwise in a hopeless situation with no good alternatives. Surrender in war is a last-ditch effort to preserve whatever life remains in the surrendering army. It trusts that the fate awaiting after surrender cannot be worse than the current conditions.

Submission is equally distasteful. Just observe a conversation of independent-minded women during a discussion of Ephesians 5:22 or Titus 2:5. Both verses direct wives to be submissive to their husbands. Granted, I am taking liberties with the context and time-and-space culture of both verses to illustrate a point, but many women bristle at the thought of a God-ordained proclamation that women should be submissive to anyone, especially to their husbands. Particularly in the West, we do not like to willingly submit to anyone. It is often considered an admission of inferiority, lesser skill, lower intelligence, or a lack of power or influence. Of course, many of us submit daily to the directives of our employers. We do so willingly (if not always pleasantly) because our desire for the salary we receive in return for our submission overrides its distaste.

The power that comes from surrender or submission can be likened to the old saying, “No one ever kicks a dead dog.” At the point where there is no resistance, the kicking stops. This is the source of power Jesus describes in the epigraph from Matthew, that “…if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give them your cloak as well…” When we have no attachment to our things, no one can steal them from us because we don’t consider them ours in the first place. The valued parts of our lives are elsewhere. Jesus advised, “Make purses for yourself that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[1] If our heart is not attached to the material possessions that someone might want to steal or destroy, power flows to us because the other’s desires and intentions, no matter how evil or destructive, cannot touch what is important to us.

This is fine for coats, cloaks, and other possessions, but how does it apply to nations invading nations? Here is a perhaps naïve and certainly oversimplified example to illustrate the possibility. In the 20th Century, Switzerland declared itself as neutral in both world wars. Even though they were in the middle of Europe with fighting on all sides, they were not invaded or destroyed. They were not a threat to anyone. They were committed to non-resistance should another country invade them, and no one did, at least not in the destructive and brutal ways other countries were invaded. Had Germany, Italy, or Russia decided to capture Switzerland, presumably they could have taken over the land, buildings, and government. They never could, however, have overtaken the hearts, minds, and culture of the Swiss. There were no military resources to capture and use in other battles. The invading forces could have conscripted Swiss citizens into their armies, but they could not make them fight. This detachment from the material aspects of their existence gave the Swiss a measure of power over potential invaders because there was little to gain for others choosing to launch a violent invasion. This is, at least hypothetically, how power by submission or surrender is attained. It modifies the behavior of others because it offers no resistance and provides no threat.

I am by no means suggesting that submission could have stopped Hitler or that it would stop Putin in Ukraine today. While I want to believe it is true, I do not know. I also do not know if I could agree to such a non-resistance strategy if it were my home and homeland being threatened. I do know, however, that Jesus preached and practiced non-violent resistance and detachment. I believe we are encouraged to wrestle with how non-violent power can be applied to our modern-day dilemmas.

[1] Luke 12:33-34.

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