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Passive Resistance


GeorgeW
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Today in church we read a passage from Romans 12 that included a number of very high-minded exhortations like, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” I was thinking, yeah, good, but then Paul concludes:

 

"No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." (Romans 12:20)

 

Whoa! Is Paul is urging passivity in dealing with our enemies in order to ensure their punishment and suffering?

 

MLK practiced passive resistance to evil. But, unless I am mistaken, the objective was justice for the persecuted, not the vengeance on the perpetrators of the injustice.

 

So, if there is, in fact, a difference in objective, should we bless those who persecute us in order to reverse persecution, in order to see that the persecutors suffer, or both?

 

Maybe, I am misunderstanding Paul, or MLK or both. Was Paul right but for the wrong reasons?

 

What are your thoughts?

 

George

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By "you will heap burning coals upon his head", perhaps Paul meant "make him think about the law of reciprocity" in the positive form, rather than "an eye for an eye". I think the image of "burning coal" was used by earlier prophets to describe speaking out for justice as a "burning coal" in the mouth, but I could be wrong.

 

Myron

 

Edited to add ... I looked it up and Paul does appear to be repeating earlier passages found in the Bible, but those seem to indicate what George suggests. A bit distressing.

Edited by minsocal
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By "you will heap burning coals upon his head", perhaps Paul meant "make him think about the law of reciprocity" in the positive form, rather than "an eye for an eye". I think the image of "burning coal" was used by earlier prophets to describe speaking out for justice as a "burning coal" in the mouth, but I could be wrong.

 

Myron

Yes, good point. A word search for 'burning coal" does come up in Psalm 140:

 

[9] Those who surround me lift up their head,

let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!

 

[10] Let burning coals fall upon them!

Let them be cast into pits, no more to rise!

 

This does not seem to be merely seeking justice for the persecuted.

 

George

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the law of reciprocity

Feeding the enemy I don't think is passive but the issue of reciprocity is interesting. A strategy of modified tit-tat is Christianity's strength I heard someone say.

 

Computer programmed game playing with evolving algorithms for prisoner dilemma

After 1000 tournaments even the tit for tat strategies had vanished in favor of benevolent tit for tat strategies. In another simulation benevolent tit for tat strategies reappeared after 100.000 tournaments and became more benevolent from generation to generation so as to approach an unconditional cooperation.

This wasn't always the result and If they continued to be 100% cooperative they were wiped out.

 

Just as Matthew 5:38 - 42:

You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.," but I say this to you, "Do not resist an evil doer. On the contrary, if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well, and if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him.

 

I am assuming that there is another reading of this passage

 

Take Care

 

Dutch
Edited by glintofpewter
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Doesn't mean what we think it means (See Walter Wink). I am assuming that there is another reading of this passage

Thanks for the link. Yes, apparently Wink doesn't think that Jesus' non-violent resistance (vs. passive resistance) is for the purpose of vengeance or a pragmatic tactic. He says:

 

"His was not merely a tactical or pragmatic nonviolence seized upon because nothing else would have worked against the Roman empire's near monopoly on violence. Rather, he saw nonviolence as a direct corollary of the nature of God and of the new reality emerging in the world from God."

 

Wink didn't mention Paul or the Psalmist. It is hard for me to see, in their statements, a motivation other bringing suffering on our enemies. But, Paul and Jesus may not be in perfect accord.

 

George

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Myron,

 

Should we argue for passive resistance on pragmatic grounds (i.e. the law of reciprocity) or as a moral principle that we should do good simply for the sake of doing good?

 

George

 

George,

 

I also found this:

 

Proverbs of Solomon NIV

 

1 These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.3 As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable. 4 Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith; 5 remove the wicked from the king's presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.6 Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among great men; 7 it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here," than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman. What you have seen with your eyes 8 do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?9 If you argue your case with a neighbor, do not betray another man's confidence, 10 or he who hears it may shame you and you will never lose your bad reputation. 11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.13 Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.14 Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give. 15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.16 If you find honey, eat just enough-- too much of it, and you will vomit.17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house-- too much of you, and he will hate you. 18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.19 Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble. 20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.23 As a north wind brings rain, so a sly tongue brings angry looks. 24 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.25 Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked. 27 It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor.28 Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

 

I think it is a two step process. It starts with the law of reciprocity as a model and then the action itself becomes the "reward". If someone reciprocates, so much the better.

 

Myron

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Myron,

 

If reciprocity is the point being made, why tell the audience that God will heap burning coals on their enemy's head in exchange for kindness? There seems to me to be both reward and punishment involved. Is this just added incentive? For doing good, one gets the satisfaction of knowing that their enemy suffers their comeuppance?

 

George

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George,

My understanding of the writing in context of my understanding of teachings in the NT is that returning kindness for evil is like burning coals on his head (mind). It creates a fire or extreme heat ( as a metaphor) in the receivers conscious mind that one cannot at the time understand but will. One will be unable to resist its heat. The heat of love which he cannot yet understand but burns in his mind (as a consuming thought) til it reaches a point he must face and repent which is the only thing that will quench that heat. ( The heat sort of indicative of increased brain activity always bringing one back to the questions of why or what is it in the other to not do as i do in returning evil for evil but rather good for evil. What is it in them that is so powerful they can resist doing as i?) Love of course.

 

Just my thoughts,

Joseph

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Joseph and Myron,

 

Maybe you guys are right and I am reading this too negatively. I suppose I should give Paul, Solomon and the Psalmist the benefit of the doubt and assume the better intent. This seems to have been a common saying among Jews of the time, but not one attributable to Jesus.

 

George

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Here's some commentary on the burning coals image.

 

Heaping Burning Coals? Hebraic Insights on Puzzling Passages by Lois Tverberg

 

has good thought and quotes the JewishEncyclopedia.com on Coal This is the last paragraph of that entry.

 

"The word "coal" is often used in a metaphorical sense: 2 Samuel 14: 7 speaks of the "quenching of the coal" of a man, meaning the complete annihilation of his issue; while in Proverbs 25:22 kindness bestowed upon an enemy is called "heaping coals of fire upon his head," since it tends to waken his deadened conscience and help him to realize his wrong. Ecclus. (Sirach) viii. 10 compares the smoldering and easily roused passion of the godless man to the coal that is easily lighted and breaks forth into flame."

 

 

Thought these would help.

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Good catch, George. I've had conflict over this one myself.

 

Besides the aparant conflict of doing good toward them for the purpose of inflicting vindictive suffering, it just plain doesn't work that way. I'm sure I'm not alone having seen far too many abusive people whose response to others trying to be kind and tolerant and forgiving was to become even more abusive toward even more people...it gave no incentive at all for them to 'repent 'or change.

 

Because it doesn't generally lead to any positve change or repentance, but rather their behavior getting worse, their victims are abused even worse, as well as ever more people are abused, made victims, as well. If anything is going to turn the conscious of a wicked person, it sure isn't going to be rewarding them with kindness in return.

 

Further, as the abuse toward others escalates and spreads, don't the pacifiers and enablers become accomplices to the resulting further abuse of yet more innocent victims, becoming violators themselves?

 

As noted, Ghandi and MLK used pacifism as a socio-political strategy toward bringing postive change in a systematically abusive social system, not to inflict revenge on perpetrators. And the positive action of that strategy was ever assumed to cause direct dhange through remorse in the abusers, but through pushing the rest of society to a breaking point in their passive tolerance, that would bring indirect pressure upon the abusers. Those old enough to remember the strife and violence of the Civil Rights movement in this country are also likely to remember the changes didn't come about through the actual abusers getting a conscience, but through excalating levels of ever more and more incidents of abuse to a point the majority of ordinary people that had considered themselves univolved, that it was none of their business to interfere in, and that found theirlives easier and more convenient to just look the other way, began to wake up and get a conscience, to start stepping up to say enough is enough! Or,if not their conscience, at least their own selfish preservation instincts as they realized the increasing violence was beginning to threaten their own safe, comfortable, peaceful existence.

 

Now, I have consdered there may be singular occasions one which passivity to evil, nice response to abusers, can be an effective tactic for other reasons. In a situation in which the harm and damages being done is limited, the actor's behavior inhibited, but which there's indication that to stand to to them and demand they stop or tone it down, could very well trigger dangerous escalation, at least until others could get safely away from the abuser.

I can give you first hand account from my 1st marriage to how compliant and submissive and sweet I could be, learning with signficant skill what it would take to make sure that big muscular arm and fist was going to smask a big hole through the sheetrock wall beside my head instead of my face. Knowing even that wasn't going to stop it from escalating, I fled into hiding for several years, until his attention had turned to a new wmoan. His 2nd wife, well, he made the mistake of marrying a woman from a family of law enforment officers, attorneys,and court judges. Very short, that marriage. His third wife wasn't so timid or tactful...her face was soon disfigured with mutiple skull concussions, broken nose snd jaw, cheekbones, and bones of the orbital arch around her eye.So passivity and kind response CAN be a short term, emergency response inan immediate crisis, it isn't effective long term protecting victims OR getting an abuse to get a conscience and change his/her ways.

 

Jenell

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There is a context in whiich there may be a matter of principle involved, in which in not responsing to evil with evil exhibits a determination to not be drawn down into another's low level behavior. This in a matter,say, when someone has insulted you, been openly publically rute to you, gossiped about and slandered you, and you choose to "take the high road", remain above the kind of behavior the other is demonstrating.

 

 

Jenell

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I think all this is simply a matter of power versus force. Power does not strike back and whose end is peace while the other is endless retaliation if not now then later. The power of Love (returning good for evil) as Dutch points out with the coals results in "complete annihilation of the issue" . Perhaps not instantly but over time, i think its end is sure. At least, it is what kindled my interest in God (Love).

 

Joseph

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Apparently, my initial reaction to Paul's "burning coals" metaphor was incorrect as some of you have suggested. I decided to look in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (a good academic source) to see if this was addressed. It was:

 

"Because the specific command “love your enemies” does not appear in Pauline letters, it is sometimes argued that Paul does not know this command. A closer study of his writings makes it evident that the substance of the teaching is there (Huber 1982; Sauer 1985). The center of Pauline teaching on this matter is found in his grounding all of the Christian commands in the affirmation that “God loved us while we were his enemies” ( Rom 5:10 ). In addition, Paul prescribes behavior towards those who persecute and those who curse along the same lines as Jesus does ( Rom 12:9–21 ; 1 Cor 4:12–13 ). All vengeance is to be avoided and all retaliation in kind rejected. From the Jewish wisdom tradition he cites Prov 25:21 and urges that Christians feed a hungry enemy and give him something to drink. The victory he foresees of good over evil through this course of action is expressed in the image of coals of fire; the image employed in the Proverb derived ultimately from Egypt (Klassen 1963a) and has no direct connection with a desire to increase vengeance upon the enemies (contra Stendahl 1962). Paul uses Jewish and perhaps some Hellenistic wisdom concepts of battle and victory here and his concept of vengeance is related more to divine sovereignty than to personal satisfaction."

 

My apologies to Paul.

 

George

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