Here is perhaps the most revolutionary of the Spiritual works of mercy. It is the one tied most directly to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. To decide to bear wrongs patiently is nothing less than to declare a revolution and to wage a very paradoxical counteroffensive against this world and its economy of anger.
There is a cycle of violence and retribution in which the devil seeks to engage us. The cycle begins with one person harming or slighting another, perhaps tempted to do so by the devil or by the world or flesh, manipulated by him. And then, the harm having been worked, the victim retaliates and escalates. The salvos go back and forth with increasing fervor, often including others as well. Meanwhile, Satan observes from the wings with delight as he reaps a bountiful harvest of anger, fear, bitterness, violence, and poisonous personal and social venom. Through such cycles, he is able to bring down friendships, families, cultures, and nations. Indeed, world wars can set much of the planet ablaze.
This is Satan’s economy. Its currency is hatred and its coinage is revenge. He would have us develop diverse portfolios of grievances and fears, and fill our coffers with memories of past wrongs stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years. So clever are Satan’s marketers that those who are consumers and suppliers think their vengeance is righteous—even holy. And so the economy of Satan grows and grows, fueled by vengeance, bankrolled by grievances.
Into this economy, this cycle of violence and retribution, the Christian who bears wrongs patiently engages in the revolutionary act of saying, even if on a small scale, “the cycle of violence, anger, and retribution ends with me.” It is like throwing a wrench into the gears of Satan’s economy. Even if it is just the bearing of very small wrongs, it slows the machine of hatred and retribution, and causes the economy of Satan to grind more slowly. The person who does this engages in a revolutionary act, a paradoxical act of sabotage.
It is the same paradox we see on the Cross, where Christ won by bearing patiently and bravely the venom, hatred, and violence of this world to the end. He bore it, not opening His mouth, not retaliating, not hating, but loving and enduring unto the end. The Cross is a huge wrench cast into the gears of Satan’s economy. Every Christian who bears wrongs patiently increases the size of that Cross by the fact that Christ unites our sufferings to His.
Note the logic of this revolution: darkness cannot drive our darkness, only light can do that; hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that; pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that. And thus Jesus, and every Christian who bears wrongs patiently, drives out darkness by light, hatred by love, and pride by humility. It is nothing short of a revolution, a cry of civil disobedience in a regime that demands escalation and further retribution.
Is such a stance to be absolute? Must we bear every wrong patiently? No. There are times when we must defend ourselves and others, when the only way to repel the grave harm caused by a serious injustice is to disable it and remove it. There are times when we must refuse to cooperate in evil, even if it means suffering arrest or even the loss of life. There are also times when we must actively resist evil and stand in its way. But in all this, retaliation must not be our goal. Rather our goal must be justice, established in love and respect, with a desire to end the cycle, not merely to continue it as the victor. Evil is to be resisted and robbed of further prey. If I seek to conquer and destroy evil, too easily I can become the very evil I seek to destroy. Even as I declare my victory, the evil still lives to strike again, but now it lives in my own heart.
The cycle must end. The Christian who bears wrongs patiently says, in effect, “It ends with me.” I will take the blow (like my savior on the Cross) but I will not return it. This does not make me spineless, but rather courageous and crafty. Jesus once said, To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also (Mat 5:39).
Many interpret this passage as weakness. It is not. It is revolutionary and strong. In effect, the one who turns the other cheek looks the perpetrator in the eye. He does not flee in fear. Rather, he refuses to enter into the world of the perpetrator, into the economy of hatred, by escalating the hatred. No, he stands his ground, neither fleeing in fear nor losing by becoming like his enemy and retaliating. He remains himself, drawing his dignity not from the praise of men, but from the Lord. Is he weak? Was Jesus weak on the Cross or strong?
Yes, bearing wrongs patiently can seem irksome to us. Perhaps we think we are compromising with evil. This is only true if we compromise by doing evil. That must be resisted and to those who would seek to force us to comply we can only respectfully respond, “I cannot comply.” But in the end, to bear wrongs patiently is to declare a revolution against Satan’s regime, to break the cycle of his economy and say, “The cycle of violence and revenge ends with me.” It robs Satan of prey, of dividends.
Throw a little revolution. Never cooperate with evil, but where possible, bear wrongs patiently. It is like putting sand in the gears; Satan loses a little something every time.
Here is the death scene from The Passion of the Christ. Note that at the end, Satan seems to know he has lost, that he has been denied his true desire. He seems to realize that the Cross, like a wrench, has been thrown into the gears of his hateful economy.