In my book Undone by Majesty and Mystery, I try to wrestle with some of the harder things that we deal with as Christians. I'm a questioning sort of soul and often have trouble taking things at face value. As a result, I'm forced to work through things mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to move ahead in my faith.
An example of the kind of thing I have to wrestle with is how Jesus often turns Old Testament ideas on their head. Take this passage for example:
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Exodus 21:22-25 ESV
If you are familiar with Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” these verses bring to mind what he said:
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
So what do we do with that? Why does Jesus say something different than the Old Testament law says? This is how I've wrestled through it:
Keep in mind that in Exodus, God was establishing a nation. Because a nation is composed of many individuals with varying moral compasses, it must have laws or there will be chaos. Some of Israel’s people were anxious to please God and some were not; therefore, the law was necessary to govern people’s tendency to sin. At the time this law was given, it was very merciful. Many other nations simply executed their people for any offense.
However, Jesus was not establishing a nation but a kingdom. This kingdom does not consist of those who were physically born into it. Instead, it is a volunteer kingdom—only those who want to be in it are allowed. So the standard is much higher – the goal of this kingdom is not just to exist without maiming each other, but to love each other sacrificially.
One final note on Jesus’ words. He is not advocating putting up with abuse in families or other relationships. He is talking to those who love the idea of an “eye for an eye” and can’t wait to use the law to get revenge.
So what does all this mean for my life? It causes me to reflect on the people in my life and consider how God may be calling me to love a difficult person in a sacrificial way. And that is what Christ does better than anyone.