08/08/2014 10:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cheek Turning: Completely Impractical Words Jesus Spoke


(Credit:, used with permission)

Turning: "If someone strikes you," counseled Jesus, "turn the other cheek!" Completely impractical words, wouldn't you agree?

Who does this? You get sucker-punched on one side of the face and you're supposed to submissively turn the other cheek too? Give me a break! Such nonsense could never possibly work. Just ask the Israelis. Or the Palestinians. Right?

Maybe not. But maybe it does too. But then, how would anyone know? Has it ever really been tried?

Oh, sure, there are those of us who mistakenly think that turning the other cheek means running from conflict, or rolling over and taking abuse, or disappearing to a remote corner to lick our wounds.

I'm not talking about this, and neither is Jesus. However, I do know what it's like to do everything I can to please everybody, to fix everyone as well as every situation, and then, when I fail, which is almost always, running at the first sign of disagreement in order to avoid a negative reaction or, worse, rejection.

Instead, Jesus is talking here about real cheek turning, or a radical departure from the more common method of handling conflict between two people, two religions, or two peoples or nations.

Like the Israelis and Palestinians.

Like Christians and Muslims.

Like the Americans and, well, just about everybody else.

Jesus went on: "You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you, 'Is that going to get you anywhere?' Do not strike back at all!" (Matthew 5:38-42).

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Do Not Strike Back at All!

This is Jesus' strategy for resolving conflicts and ending violence, and his acknowledgment of the futility of seeking revenge. And, frankly, it's about the dumbest thing he ever said, isn't it?

Of course! Everybody knows his strategy would never work. It didn't work for  him, which probably explains why nobody bothers to try it, because the few who have -- Jesus, the Buddha, etc. -- either end up being attacked, as with the latter, or dead, as with the former.

Saint Augustine of Hippo knew this too, which is why he used his skillful brain to craft a clever alternative, the "just war" theory, which, for all practical purposes, has guided Western history down to the present.

Good thing he did. Otherwise the church would have had no way of completely disregarding Jesus' instruction.

But here's the question I cannot escape: How do we know cheek turning is impractical? Has anyone tried it lately?

If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Kick Ass in Response

I do not know the answer to my own question, but my guess is that few have.  "Kicking ass" is the cowardly but convenient way of responding to any conflict, and the favorite method of most Americans.

The church too.

Which explains why I always find it interesting when there are discussions among Christians or articles about "the Christian perspective on war." Isn't the Christian perspective on war "turn the other cheek"? Granted, there are probably many "church" perspectives on war. But I find it odd that there could be more than one Christian perspective when clearly Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek."

"Look," you say, "I'm a believer in Jesus, but when it comes to some of the things he taught, let's be honest: Sometimes his way just doesn't work. It's completely impractical and simply cannot be taken seriously."

Really? Are we not just seeking to dismiss and, therefore, disregard Jesus' way?

Hasn't the "just war" theory succeeded in just giving "believers" a way to disbelieve Jesus' teaching but still regard themselves as believers? After all, idealism does not work in a world full of Hitlers, Hirohitos, Hamases or Husseins.


If Someone Strikes You on the Right Cheek, Turn the Other Also?

I admit I'm a bit conflicted here. Call me simplistic. Label me an idealist. Dismiss me outright, if that makes it a little easier for you. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand how we Christians  can claim to be "saving" the world when some of the things the Savior said himself saints do not believe and so easily disregard.

What am I missing here?