I inadvertently stirred up quite a theological controversy. I happened to, in a sense, agree with Donald Trump when he advised the Liberty University student body to “not let people take advantage of them.”
Instead, he said, “get even.”
Or, in its greater oratorical context, “Be tough. In the end – win.”
At least, that’s how I, and lots of other people, took it. I didn’t assume that “getting even” had to imply mal intent; I interpreted the phrase through my own evangelical worldview, and I understood that within the dog-eat-dog world of corporate America you have to be fiercely determined, and competitive, to be successful. I do not believe that success is a sin.
Of course, as a Bible-believing evangelical, I do not believe that Christians should treat people maliciously, take revenge or fight with others arbitrarily. I believe we should show extraordinary restraint. But, when someone asked me if I thought God would “get even” with people, I decided to make a nuanced, theological point: “God would, and he did, get even.”
In the end, God won.
They must have expected me to react the way some liberal reporters responded in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s speech.
The liberal press, which obviously couldn’t bear the thought of Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Donald Trump working together to halt the current assault on the American free enterprise system, immediately took to the Bible to try to drive a wedge between these patriotic allies. They wanted us evangelicals to go ahead and stay put (and quiet) in our nice little box.
After all, it’s much easier to take advantage of us that way.
Yet, I believe, it’s high time that Christians toughen up a bit. Christians shouldn’t be malicious, but they also shouldn’t let people run all over them.
Is it heretical to believe God is, and God wants us to be, tough?
Read the Bible.
It’s filled with God pursuing justice, settling scores with folks who messed with him, or who messed with his people, and – believe it or not - Jesus is “Exhibit A.”
The prevailing view of Jesus, mainly among liberal Christians, might be that he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed, fluffy little self-help teacher who spent lots of time tip-toeing through the lilies, doling out softly worded pieces of advice to children, and saying things like, “can’t we all get along.”
However, Jesus was no “patsy,” (as Trump might say) and being around him wasn’t always like being cuddled up in a nice, warm Snuggie ®.
Jesus was a tough character. The same Jesus who preached compassion is the same Jesus who publicly embarrassed his nemeses (the Pharisees) by calling them “a bunch of snakes” in front of a large crowd of people.
The same Jesus who said, in a particular and oft-misunderstood context, that we ought to “turn the other cheek” is the same Jesus who made a royal mess out of the temple by taking a whip to a bunch of moneychangers.
Does that sound like a cuddly Jesus who lets people run all over him?
Jesus didn’t float on down to planet earth like a deflating balloon. He dropped down like an atom bomb, and his very presence was a provocation.
Christians believe Jesus was perfect, and sinless, yet it seems like two images of Jesus emerge in the Bible.
One wonders if the real Jesus is the lover of lepers, or is it the tough-as-nails, Judean prophet with dirt under his fingernails “cleansing the temple?”
Equally contradictory is the advice King Solomon once gave in the Old Testament, “do NOT answer a fool lest you become like him” to which he immediately followed by saying, “DO answer a fool lest he take advantage of you.” (Proverbs 26:4-5).
What was Solomon’s point, and what can we learn from Jesus’ example?
We must be wise about “when” and “how” we react when someone has treated us unjustly, but we mustn’t be fearful of standing up for ourselves.
Of course, Christians shouldn’t treat people maliciously and they shouldn’t fight arbitrarily, but Christians – like Jesus – should pursue justice, and they should – like Jesus – not let people take advantage of them.
Jesus might have been meek, but he sure wasn’t weak. He had a steel spine; he spoke boldly and strongly. In the end he had lots of enemies who nailed him to a tree to shut him up.
Then, Christians believe, Jesus just raised himself from the dead – showing that he was in control of everything, anyhow.
I might just call that more than “getting even.”