SHOULD we really obey Jesus’ commands concerning non-resistance? If we see someone about to kill a child, are we to just stand there and let him do it? If ISIS is wreaking havoc in our community, should we refuse to join the army to stop them? These are the hard questions relating to complying with Jesus’ teaching that we are not to resist evil people.
I would like to post the thoughts of Leo Tolstoi on this very issue. I have omitted some parts and have indicated this with three dots …
How, then, is a man to act when he sees that obvious harm will result from following the law of love and the law of non-resistance? In the example that is always cited, how is a man to act when a robber in his sight kills or injures a child, and when the child cannot be saved otherwise than by killing the robber?
It is generally assumed that, when they cite such an example, there can be no other answer to the question than that the robber ought to be killed in order to save the child…
It is assumed that it is necessary to kill the robber in order to save the child, but we need only stop and think on what ground a man should act thus, be he a Christian or a non-Christian, to convince ourselves that such an act can have no rational foundations… Why should a non-Christian, who does not recognize God and the meaning of life in the fulfillment of His will, kill the robber in defending the child? Someone certainly dies if he kills the robber, but he does not know for certain until the very last moment whether the robber will kill the child or not. There is also this irregularity: who has decided that the life of the child is more valuable and better than the life of the robber?
If a non-Christian does not recognize God, and does not consider the meaning of life to consist in the fulfillment of God’s will, then the consideration as to what is more profitable for him and for all men – the continuation of the robber’s life or that of the child – is only a calculation that guides the choice of his acts. But to decide this, he must know what will become of the child who he saves, and what would become of the robber if he did not kill him. But he cannot know that. And so, if he is a non-Christian, he has no rational foundation for saving the child through the death of the robber.
But if a man is a Christian, and so recognizes God and sees the meaning of life in the fulfillment of His will, he has still less cause to depart from the law given him by God, no matter what terrible robber may attack any innocent and beautiful child. He may implore the robber, may place his body between the robber and his victim, but there is one thing he cannot do: he cannot consciously depart from the law of God, the fulfillment of which gives meaning to his life.
Fais ce que doit, advienne que pourra (Do what is right and let come what may) is an expression of profound wisdom. Each of us knows unquestionably what he ought to do, but none of us knows or can know what will happen. Thus we are brought to the same conclusion, not only because we must do what is right, but also because we know what is right, and do not know at all what will come and result from our acts. The Christian teaching is a teaching as to what we must do for the fulfillment of the will of Him who sent us into the world. But the reflections as to what consequences we assume to result
from certain acts of men not only have nothing in common with Christianity, but are that very delusion which destroys Christianity. No one has yet seen the imaginary robber with the imaginary child, and all the horrors, which fill history and contemporary events, have been produced only because men imagine that they can know the consequences of the possible acts…
It was this false justification of violence that Christ arraigned. He showed that, since every act of violence could be justified (as actually happens when two enemies do violence to one another and both consider their violence justifiable), and there is no chance of verifying the justice of either cause, it is
necessary to disbelieve any justifications of violence, and it is never necessary to make use of such justifications.
It would seem that men who profess Christianity would have to unveil this deception carefully, because one of the chief manifestations of Christianity consists in the unveiling of this deception. But the very opposite has happened. Men to whom violence was advantageous, and who did not want to give up these advantages, took upon themselves the exclusive propaganda of Christianity. These men asserted that, since there are cases in which the non-application of violence produces more evil than its application (the imaginary robber who kills the child), we must not fully accept Christ’s teaching about non-resistance to evil. They advanced the notion that that we may depart from His teaching in the defense of our lives and of those of other men, in the defense of our country, in the protection of society from madmen and malefactors, and in many other cases. But the decision of the question as to when Christ’s teaching ought to be set aside was left to those very men who made use of violence. Thus, Christ’s teaching about nonresistance to evil turned out to be set aside completely. What is worse than all that, those very men whom Christ arraigned began to consider themselves the exclusive preachers and expounders of His teaching. But “the light shines in the dark,” and the false preachers of Christianity are again arraigned by His teaching.
The question is not whether it will be good or bad for human society to follow the law of love and the resulting law of non-resistance, but whether you – a being who lives today and is dying by degrees every moment – will now, this very minute, fully do the will of Him who sent you and clearly expressed it in tradition and in your reason and heart, or whether you want to act contrary to this will. As soon as the question is put in this form, there will be but one answer: I want at once, this very minute, without any delay, without waiting for anyone, and withoutconsidering the seeming consequences, to fulfill with all my strength what I alone am indubitably commanded to do by Him who sent me into the world. In no case, and under no condition, will I or can I do what is contrary to it, because in this lies the only possibility of my living a rational life that lifts me above my otherwise wretched condition.
By Leo Tolstoi from His Letter to Ernest Howard Crosby on Non-Resistance, January 12, 1896