Two weeks ago I wrote about our ultimate hope being in the gospel and the person of Jesus, not in votes or earthly powers. Last week I wrote about practical hopes—silver linings for today held at the same time as our bright hopes for tomorrow.
One of the practical hopes I cited was resistance. I wrote:
To hope Christianly may in fact mean resistance. The Word tells us to resist evil. It tells us our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the powers and principalities.
How do we resist? How do we struggle?
Certainly in prayer, peace, witness, truth-telling, courage, commitment, forgiveness, and all the rest. In salting and lighting the world. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
And sometimes that means nonviolent resistance.
I wanted to write more about what it means for resistance to be an act of Christian hopefulness because the subject is relevant and because it’s a reality that has so much potential behind it—both for good and ill.
Inasmuch as the Church has a long history of failures, it also has a long, rich history of righteous resistance to the whims and corruptions of the years. In Trump’s America, the potential for necessary Christian resistance seems high.
This does not mean we resist all policies (surely there will be some good ones and some neutral ones, some to be championed and some to be endured), but whenever there are oppressive, unjust measures that discriminate, endanger, or demean our brothers and sisters, such measures can and should be met with resilient resistance.
What does resistance look like?
We know when to resist. We do it when the laws of men oppose the rule of God. Sexism, racism, xenophobia, death culture, brutality, oppression of the poor—such are the ready measures of earthly democratic politicians that stand against the heavenly reign.
We can imitate protagonists of scripture to recognize the time, place, and context for resistance. Esther knew the time to stand up and speak out. Daniel and his friends practiced a powerful, peaceful resistance. The prophets resisted the rods of kings and the apostles stood firm against the unjust legalisms of Pharisees and centurions.
Jesus, above all, led a life of perfect peace and perfect resistance. How did he resist? His whole life was a march through the streets. His very presence in the world was a Word against the authority of darkness. Jesus did not go along with the religiosity of the day, but incarnated righteousness and holiness. His life was truth, goodness, beauty. He spoke truth to power—mobs, scribes, tax collectors, Pharisees, governors. And that means he contradicted the political and religious powers of his age and of all ages.
Jesus resisted injustice with his words, with his will, with his decisions, and with his actions. So too may we.
Of course he did not resist all suffering. He endured the injustice of the cross. But even this led to the utter conquest of evil, the greatest act of resistance and ultimate revolution, an overthrow of the order of darkness in an act of perfect paradox.
In our resistance to the wicked tendencies of powers and principalities, we have the armor of God with which we can withstand the evil day. Belt of Truth. Breastplate of Righteousness. Feet of Peace. Shield of Faith. Helmet of Salvation. Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Practically, in our time and place, Christian resistance may mean standing in solidarity with refugees and immigrants who are threatened with expulsion and return to slums and warzones. It may mean standing up for life—of the unborn, of the prisoner, of the orphan and the fatherless. It may mean marching against wars and arms deals. It may mean refusing to adhere to sexist, racist, and discriminatory policies. It may mean committing to stewarding creation when the powers would destroy it. And it may mean disobeying unjust commands—to torture, kill, oppress, dismiss, deport, neglect, and silence—given by regimes that are not divine.
What does resistance not look like?
Christian resistance is not a resistance of weapons and violence. The only weapon we have is the Spirit, the Word, and we know that is not for killing men but for parrying the powers.
Our resistance may very well look like boycotts and marches, but it does not look like riots or looting.
It does not look like violent revolution.
There will be an addictive quality to resistance, one that itself must be resisted. For Christian resistance cannot be a whimsical and needless taking to the street. It can never be resistance for resistance’s sake. All our resistance must be led by the Spirit. If it is from us alone, it will fail, and it will harm us all.
And above all Christian resistance cannot be one of hate; it must be one of love. We do not counter wicked measures with wickedness of our own, but with aggressive love. If we do not love the people on the other side of our resistance, or those who stand on the sidelines, what we are doing may remain resistance, but it is not Christian resistance.
What about this?
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
What are we to make of this? Is it telling us resistance is wrong?
I don’t think so. At least, it depends what kind of resistance.
In this soundbite of wisdom—which has numerous interpretations—we see that we ought not return violence with violence. Persecution and suffering are unfortunate realities of the human condition, but it is not for us to seek vengeance. “It is the Lord’s to repay.” One of the most radically beautiful calls for followers of Christ is to love our enemies and not repay their harm.
That said, while we acknowledge that we are not supposed to resist an evil person, we must acknowledge with equal vigor that we are not meant to go along with an evil person. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek; he doesn’t tell us to condone, ignore, or take up with cheek-slapping.
What is the aim of our resistance?
The aim is to be more like Christ and to make the earth more like the kingdom.
The means may turn out to be protesting in the streets, signs, chants, dancing, art, music, and blogs. It will almost certainly turn out to be standing up when others sit down and speaking out when the disenfranchised and the underrepresented are censored. And ultimately it means being obedient to God even if that means disobedience to men.
Respect rulers and pray for authorities. Honor creation and its stewards.Be patient in affliction. Be loving. Be Christlike.
But know that resistance can be Christian. It can be our act of hope, the manifestion of our belief in redemption, reconciliation, shalom.
Onward again, ever-wielding the wild hope.