There is a “like-for-like” rule in the world. Jesus acknowledged that when He said, You have heard it said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But Jesus came to teach us a different like-for-like, Heaven’s version. He begins its explanation in the Sermon on the Mount when He says: In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. But that is only the beginning. It takes the whole Gospel for us to grasp its full implication: The way we treat people is the way we treat God.
And because God is God, the logical consequence is inescapable. (This is how Kierkegaard states it,)
… the worldly, the bustling like for like is: as others do unto you, by all means take care that you also do likewise unto them. But the Christian like for like is: God will do unto you exactly as you do unto others.
If this sounds shocking to you, even “unchristian”, then the best thing to do is stop and go reread Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats…
Matthew 25:44-46 …Then shall *they* also answer saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungering, or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or ill, or in prison, and have not ministered to thee? Then shall he answer them saying, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as ye have not done it to one of these least, neither have ye done it to me.
And these shall go away into eternal punishment, and the righteous into life eternal.
It is with this parable in mind that Kierkegaard goes on further:
In the Christian sense, to love people is to love God, and to love God is to love people—what you do unto people, you do unto God, and therefore what you do unto people, God does unto you. If you are indignant with people who do you wrong, you actually are indignant with God, since ultimately it is still God who permits wrong to be done to you.
But if you gratefully accept the wrong from God’s hand “as a good and perfect gift,” (James 1:17) then you are not indignant with people either. If you refuse to forgive, then you actually want something else: you want to make God hardhearted so that he, too, would not forgive—how then could this hard-hearted God forgive you?
If you cannot bear people’s faults against you, how then should God be able to bear your sins against him? (Matthew 6:14,15)
No, like for like! God is actually himself this pure like for like, the pure rendition of how you yourself are: If there is anger in you, then God is anger in you; if there is leniency and mercifulness in you, then God is mercifulness in you. It is infinite loving that he will have anything to do with you at all and that no one, no one, so lovingly discovers the slightest love in you as God does. God’s relation to a human being is at every moment to infinitize what is in that human being at every moment.
Remember the example I gave in Part 1, of the immovable wall that reflects the ball right back to where it came from? Kierkegaard says it this way:
God just repeats everything you say and do to other people; he repeats it with the magnification of infinity. God repeats the words of grace or of judgment that you say about another; he says the same thing word for word about you; and these same words are for you grace and judgment.
How do we deal, then, with this world?
This is really the question. We know we are called to treat others the way we want to be treated, But we also know that, by and large, that is not the way of the world. And that means that we will get hurt. What do we do then? Kierkegaard’s answer is sobering:
In the Christian sense, you have nothing at all to do with what others do unto you—it does not concern you, it is a curiosity; an impertinence, a lack of good sense on your part to meddle in things that are absolutely no more your concern than if you were not present.
This is why the Sermon on the Mount begins by praising the poor in spirit, the destitute and powerless, those that mourn, and the meek and humble… the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness. For, who longs for what he already has? Those that hunger and thirst, know what they are missing, what has been denied them, what they desperately want. And if the people of this world have denied you justice, if they have taken everything away and beaten you down, then you have learned the lesson: the lesson that this world is not on our side.
This why the Sermon on the Mount goes on to tell us about turning the other cheek, about refusing to return evil for evil, about willingly carrying that undeserved burden for that extra mile. For none of those injustices matter… to us.
I know this can sound harsh, or worse yet, that I am saying we, as Christians, should be “doormats” that let other people walk all over us.
We don’t like sounding or being weak. This is why preachers often tell us that the definition of meekness is not weakness but rather “strength under control”. That sounds nicer, encouraging… except that when Jesus refers to the meek and humble in the Sermon on the Mount, He is echoing Psalm 37, where the meek and humble are precisely the powerless, those that have been oppressed in this world by the powerful. And God’s word to them is: Let Me take care of it.
You see, it all matters to Him.
Psalm 37:7-11 (NASB) Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land…
Does meek mean weak?
In this world? Yes, that is the way it will look… and feel. Jesus said it:
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all ye who labour and are burdened, and *I* will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Yes, there is rest for the weary in Jesus but, make no mistake, it is a yoke, it is a burden, exactly the same kind of burden He chose to bear.
When we choose to follow Him, we choose to follow the meek and lowly in heart, the One who allowed Himself to be beaten mercilessly by this world. Do we really expect to be treated differently?
1 Peter 2:20-23 (NASB) …But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.
Why did He do it? Why didn’t he fight back? Because He lived with God’s purpose in mind:
1 Peter 2:24-25 (NASB) and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
It is from this worldview that Kierkegaard tells us that what other people do to us is immaterial. The only thing that matters is salvation…
You have to do only with what you do unto others, or how you take what others do unto you… The direction is inward, essentially you have to do only with yourself before God. The Christian like for like belongs to this world of inwardness. It turns itself away – and will turn you away – from externality (but without taking you out of the world), will turn you upward or inward.
Upward: to keep our eyes on Him who is the author and perfecter of our Faith, who is at the right hand of glory and never ever ceases from watching over us, waiting for the coming day that He will vindicate all his beloved. Inward: to remember that until that day, we have His Presence in the temple of our hearts. He has chosen to make His dwelling place there. And from there He is more than able to give us every strength that we need to bear that yoke with Him every day.
The power and purpose of “weakness”
We need that strength because He put us here in this world for one purpose: the same purpose for which the Father sent Him. We can never forget that the One who sent us was the One whom the Father sent. And He was, from the beginning of time, the Eternal sacrifice, the Lamb of God… the only way there was to take away the sin of the world:
John 20:19-21 When therefore it was evening on that day, which was the first [day] of the week, and the doors shut where the disciples were, through fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and says to them, Peace [be] to you. And having said this, he shewed to them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced therefore, having seen the Lord. [Jesus] said therefore again to them, Peace [be] to you: as the Father sent me forth, I also send you.
Those scars will be there till the end of days. In fact, even if it is hard for our minds to comprehend, they have always been there. Which is why He is called:
Revelation 13:8 …the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
1 Peter 1:18-20 (NIV) For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Revelation 5:6 (NIV) Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
Revelation 17:14 …They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
Yes, Jesus is also called the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but He never will cease to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, because He is unchanging.
(All the quotes from Kierkegard are from his Works of Love, as translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, in Kierkegaard’s Writings, XVI, Volume 16, Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)