How do you typically respond when someone causes you pain? One of Jesus’ most universally recognized phrases is His instruction to “turn the other cheek.” Yet this is probably one of the hardest -- if not the hardest -- command for His believers to follow. When people hurt us, our human reflex is to retreat and avoid any further suffering at their hands. But Jesus tells us to go against our very nature and continue offering ourselves to these people, even if that means we get burned again. Why does He ask us to do something that, to us, seems so unfair?
I struggle with this dilemma just as much as the next person, but God is gradually teaching me to pause in these situations rather than respond with my knee-jerk reactions. He has shown me that I can proactively deflect my pain by asking Him certain questions.
The first question we should ask Jesus to try to embrace this teaching is: How can we pray for someone who has hurt us?
Immediately after Jesus preached to turn the other cheek, He went on to tell us that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). We’re all flawed. Whether a person hurts you intentionally or unintentionally, keep in mind they are a child of God, and He created them and loves them just as much as He loves you. But He holds His followers to a higher standard. He tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
When we find salvation in Christ, we are expected to put off our old ways because we have become new creations (verse 17). That means that it’s up to us to be the example of God’s unconditional love in scenarios when we’ve been unfairly wronged.
Easier said than done, I know. That’s why it’s so important to talk through these situations with God and create a dialogue with Him, asking Him how we can best show love in each individual circumstance.
The second helpful question we can all ask, which will better align ourselves with God’s thinking, is: Lord, how can you use my pain in this situation for my own good?
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). Let’s take God at His word and truly believe He can use ANYTHING to help mold us into the people He created us to be. When we can get to a point in our faith where we actually THANK God for painful situations, He can truly use us for amazing things.
This all began to click for me one day when I heard a sermon by Pastor Alex Seeley about suffering. She spoke about Joseph in the Bible and pointed out that he never would have fulfilled his God-given destiny had his brothers not sold him into slavery. I was obviously familiar with Joseph’s story, but had never thought about it in this context -- and suddenly something dawned on me and a quote from Jesus came to mind: “Pray for those who persecute you.” This revelation brought me to another question -- but this was one I had to ask myself: Would I ever think to pray for certain people had they not come against me?
The answer is, probably not. I think most of us focus primarily on praying for our loved ones and our own personal interests when we bring requests to God. But how often do we truly spend time praying for those who hurt us? Moreover, do we stop to think if those particular people have anyone in their lives praying for them? Perhaps they do, but one can never have too many prayers made on their behalf.
Mother Teresa once said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” So you see, Jesus doesn’t ask us to turn the other cheek just because it’s the right or “holy” thing to do. He asks this of us because He knows our hearts will only be truly satisfied when we put His will above all things. We can’t live in peace when we harbor anger or resentment in our hearts. His teaching for us to love others despite being wronged is actually a testament to how much He loves us and wants the best for us.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).