Once not long ago I had an appointment with somebody in my office; the only time I could see him was an hour before the martial arts class, so I was dressed in my karate uniform. When he found out how long I had been training and teaching others and what my rank was, he asked, “So could you kill somebody?”
I answered, “Just about anyone can kill somebody. It is better to be in a state where aggression of any kind cannot overcome you—when you can endure and survive an attack without causing harm in return, and even work toward healing your attacker.”
When I was growing up, advertisements for martial arts classes often showed a picture of a little guy at the beach getting sand kicked in his face by some pugnacious lummox. The headline for the ad read something like, “TIRED OF GETTING PUSHED AROUND?” The ad promised that those who trained at so-and-so school would quickly be able to respond to violence with even stronger violence.
Isn’t it usually the case that people who use violence are weak in some way? Emotionally, spiritually, relationally, etc.? More often, it is the strong who can endure injustice and even violence and come through okay. When Jesus was arrested, a large group of armed soldiers came to apprehend one man in the presence of eleven men who were fishermen and other non-soldierly types. Yet they were afraid, and came with swords, cudgels, and torches to cover their fear. When Peter swung his sword (impetuous as always but also pretty courageous), Jesus rebuked him and said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)
Sometimes I think about what it would have been like to see that happen! I don’t know how many a legion is, but it’s got to be a lot. It would have been really cool to see twelve of them appearing to drive off the arresting party. Of course, that would have meant no crucifixion and therefore no redemption, and that would have been bad.
Sometimes letting oneself be assailed, treated unjustly, and the like is a necessary part of ministering, teaching, and loving. It is within the will of God. Many times one or few stood alone for the sake of fidelity to God: Elijah against the 850 prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), Paul bearing witness to Jesus before Felix and Agrippa in Caesarea (Acts 23-26), Athanasius “against the world” holding forth for orthodoxy against powerful and popular but erroneous belief, Hilary likewise boldly standing up for orthodoxy alone in a council of waverers and opponents, Francis and Catherine of Siena walking away from their earthly-minded families for the sake of utter dedication to Jesus, Teresa of Avila maintaining the course for a return to basic Christian living in the face of opposition from her comfortable superiors. There are many, many others.
Numbers and popularity apparently mean very little to God. Only rarely, if ever, has he depended on numbers to win a battle. Usually, it’s the contrary. We are called simply to believe in him, trust in him, hold fast, and when called to do so uphold the truth. This is strength, the only strength that matters and is reliable.