C.S. Lewis on Turning the Other Cheek


We’ve all heard people propound on Matthew 5:38-40. Here, from his The Weight of Glory, we see Uncle Jack’s view of the matter:

There are three ways of taking the command to turn the other cheek. One is the Pacifist interpretation; it means what it says and imposes a duty of nonresistance on all men in all circumstances. Another is the minimising interpretation; it does not mean what it says but is merely an orientally hyperbolical way of saying that you should put up with a lot and be placable. Both you and I agree in rejecting this view. The conflict is therefore between the Pacifist interpretation and a third one which I am now going to propound. I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told. . . . . That is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me by my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. No quarter whatever is given to the voice within us which says, “He’s done it to me, so I’ll do the same to him.”

The lunatic-fringe will always be with us. Lewis mentioned two of their views, then he propounded (obviously, I kinda like that word) his own interpretation which you read, above. Today, though, Evangelical Christians often propound (tee hee hee) a third interpretation; turn the other cheek unless the assault threatens yourself, your family, or your property. In other words, “Shoot now, ask questions later.”

I guess I missed that particular Scripture passage. If anyone can tell me where it’s found in the Bible, please leave a comment.

Lewis’ moderate interpretation of withholding retaliation makes a lot of sense, even though that’s not what Jesus said. What he did say is, “Do not resist the evildoer, but to him who slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” I don’t see hyperbole here, but a statement consistent with Jesus’ previous beatitudes, and most specifically, vss. 10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And in verses 43-44 he said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

That opens even a fourth interpretation; we are not to resist those who persecute us—by slapping or any other means—but to imitate Jesus, who submitted to the worst the Romans, and their Jewish lackeys, could do to him (1 Peter 2:23). “Evildoer” includes criminals of all stripes (pun intended) without regard to their reason for attacking you. Does that mean that you must let them have their way with you and your family? Worse things can happen, such as disobeying God’s clear commands. I think the essential idea here is that we must mind our motives; if we strike, or strike back, out of rancor, we sin. Yet, God’s grace is greater even than that. Don’t you think our best response to others’ violence is to return to them the grace with which God deals with us?

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3 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis on Turning the Other Cheek

    • Thanks for the repeated affirmation, Andy. I’d love to get this stuff to Christian leaders, although I doubt it would change anyone’s mind. I’m considering writing one about non-profit corporation status for churches. They submit to incorporation to placate the “givers” whom they think will quit giving if they don’t get a tax break. I think we should all give cash to the church, and let the IRS go suck eggs. They’re nothing but egg-sucking, feral dogs anyway. Ben Carson wants to switch to a flat-rate taxation system, where there are no schedules, deductions or loopholes. The socialists don’t like that idea, however, as it wouldn’t penalize the most productive among us for having more than the “proletariat.”

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