Question #1495: Does the Bible teach us to turn the other cheek?

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Answer: First, “turning the other cheek” is understood by the average person to mean allowing one or more other people to harm oneself more than they already have.  With that in mind, the Bible does not teach that you should turn the other cheek.  As far as the actual meaning of “turning the other cheek,” there are plenty of books, websites, etc. that explain the actual meaning but we will provide a brief explanation.  The main idea is that, after one has been verbally and/or physically attacked, one is not to do the same to one’s attacker.

Of course, at any time, before, during, or after an attack one is responsible to defend themself.  Now, you are probably asking yourself, how can you “not do the same”; that is, how can you not hurt a person after they have hurt you and defend yourself at the same time?  The answer lies in the fact that retaliation (doing the same; that is, hurting a person after they have hurt you) and self-defense have different goals.

The goal of retaliation is the suffering of the other person.  The goal of self-defense is the absence of suffering of oneself.  Now, you might be thinking that when you defend yourself you might have to hurt the other person to ensure the absence of suffering of oneself.  That is true, which means that there might be a conflict between retaliation avoidance and self-defense, which means that you might not be able to do both.  What are you to do in such a situation?  In other words, what is the greater responsibility, retaliation avoidance or self-defense?

If it were just a matter of your well-being alone, you would be free to choose either way.  However, it is never a matter of your well-being alone.  Let us explain.  If you do not defend yourself, you are emboldening your attacker to harm other people.  You must never encourage anyone to harm other people.  Therefore:

Your greater responsibility is always self-defense, not retaliation avoidance.  You must defend yourself, even if it means hurting the other person in the same way that they have hurt you and/or hurting the other person in any other way.

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