An Eye for an Eye

A week ago Hamas captured Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit. Now the Israelis are saying they’ll assassinate the Palestinian Prime Minister if Shalit is not returned unharmed.

We moderns look at the OT “Eye for an Eye” and think “How barbaric!” Ignorant of history, we forget how much of an improvement it was over the normal way of doing things. If we were more self-aware we might even see it as an improvement over the current way of doing things. Once upon a time (and even today in some locales) if you put out my eye that justfied me in killing you. Or if you killed someone who belonged to me, then I was justified in wiping out your whole family or town. Offense was easily taken – and quickly echoed.

While one human is (in some sense) the same as another, a corporal is not the same as a prime minister. I suppose the Israelis are at the point of thinking they have no other point of leverage with the Palestinians. We all know the Palestinians have decided they have no point of leverage with the Israelis other than kidnapping and killing. Even so their threat sounds disproportionate.
People are wondering if a war is about to start. As far as I can tell they already have a war. Hamas speaks and acts like they are at war (though they don’t have a modern military to fight it). Fatah is the party of peace – except for its factions like the Al Aqsa Martyrs who seem to compete with Hamas in violence.

Jesus’ model went beyond even the restraint of “Eye for Eye.” Jesus taught that his followers should respond with forgiveness and love. In the first centuries of the Christian movement many Christians did exactly that. The learned, however, that it didn’t “work.” While non-violent, forgiving love swayed a few of their oppressors, many still were tortured and put to death. Christians eventually learned that violence – even if restrained and altruistic (some say redemptive) “worked” better than Jesus’ way.

I believe Jesus could have told them that. It was certainly true to his own experience that a loving and forgiving response to violence didn’t “work.” Our confusion isn’t over whether it “works” or not, but whether the ends we pursue – self-defense, enforcement of our rights, truth and justice – are the proper ends to pursue and whether one can pursue them in such a manner.

The New Testament teaches that God is our defender. Can we trust him?

The New Testament teaches that God will bring truth and justice. Can we trust him?

But maybe we don’t see it as an issue of trust. Maybe it’s a matter of trying to help God. After all, we reason, God gave us brains and wants us to use them. We know the ends God desires – truth, justice, peace. We know the most effective means to get them – exertion of our power. (Actually, we know that direct intervention by God is the most effective, but God is too slow.) So we act like Sarah who “helped” fulfill God’s promise of a son by offering Hagar to her husband.

Maybe God doesn’t need our help. Maybe he just wants our trust and obedience.

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