Recently, I attended anti-harassment training for work. As in years past, I left feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I see the need to legally protect people, especially those who are weak or socially disadvantaged. This is biblical (James 1:27; 2:5-7). On the other hand, I am concerned that 1) we are an increasingly offended society; 2) the reasons for offense seem to get more and more nuanced; 3) we have codified unforgiveness through our legal system.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says something quite shocking to our litigious sensibilities. He scolds the Corinthians for taking each other to court and asks, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Cor. 6:7). BE WRONGED?! BE CHEATED?! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING, PAUL?!?!
Paul is thinking of Jesus, who didn’t retaliate in response to injustice, who said, “Father, forgive them,” while hanging on a cross (1 Peter 2:23; Luke 23:34). It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t die today or some advocacy group (the Aramaic Civil Liberties Union?) would have stopped the cross from happening. Jesus would’ve made a haul in compensatory damages but we would all be hell-bound and dead in sin.
Now, I’m not saying it’s always wrong to take legal action. Even Paul took advantage of his legal rights at times (Acts 16:37-38; 22:25-29). But Christians at least need to stop and ask: Is this a time to stand up for my rights or lay them down? Is God calling me to resist evil or turn the other cheek? (Matt. 5:39). Is it a time to seek human justice or to entrust myself to Him who judges justly? (1 Peter 2:23).
We exist to manifest the life of Jesus, not to be right, not to win fights, not to “stick it to the man.” Sometimes, manifesting the life of Jesus means first being handed over to death for Jesus’s sake (2 Cor. 4:11). Do people deserve forgiveness when they’ve offended us? Did we deserve it when Jesus forgave us? Perhaps a little undeserved kindness–a kindness that even lacks self-regard–is just what is needed in a world that is always trying to get what it “deserves.”