Posted by: sean | December 15, 2008

The Third Option

The Third Option: Creative Alternatives to Violence or Cowardliness

Christians are people of faith–the ones who trust in God and walk by the spirit not only in times of ease and comfort but also in times when there seems to be no way out. As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we look to him for guidance–not only his words but also how he handled himself in the situations of his day. In fact, Jesus was often caught in situations where there seemed to be only two options and both of them would be deleterious. When our Lord found himself in these situations he depended on God and somehow discovered “the third option” in situations where there seemed to be only two.

For example, when he was asked if taxes should be paid to Caesar, only two options seemed to be available: (1) say “yes,” (2) or say “no.” However, if he replied in the affirmative he would have lost his credibility with the people and came out as a supporter of Roman oppression, something a faithful Jew could never do. If he said “no,” he would have been immediately reported to the authorities as an insurrectionist. So what did Jesus do? He listened to the voice of God in his moment of need and brilliantly neutralized the situation by saying “Render under Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” This is but one example of several we could point to in order to demonstrate how Jesus navigated through intense difficult and sometimes scary situations by depending on God for wisdom and choosing the third option.

Easily, the hardest question posed to Christians who believe in loving their enemies is, “What would you do if an intruder came into your house intent on doing harm to your children?” Typically the options presented are either to use violence or stand by and do nothing. However, two assumptions lie obscured just beneath the surface in this hypothetical. Assumption #1 is that there is no God. Assumption #2 is that there are only two options: (1) use violence or (2) do nothing. Obviously, Assumption #1 is bogus, there is a God, and if we glance through the pages of Scripture we see that God not only exists but delights in delivering his people from impossible situations when they resolve to trust in him not matter what the consequences. Assumption #2–that there are only two options is related to Assumption #1, but when we look at Jesus’ life and consider a few of the “impossible” circumstances he lived through we can see that he regularly walked by the Spirit to follow the third option–God’s wisdom in the situation. The third option is the one God sees from his vantage point but we would never think of on our own.

Here is another example of Jesus finding the third option in an extremely volatile situation. The night he was arrested, as he was being taken into custody Peter the impetuous apostle in a moment of boldness unsheathed his sword and swung at the nearest person. We should note that Peter was a fishermen not a soldier and this fact is embarrassingly confirmed by his aim. He cut the man’s ear off. No one actually tries to cut someones ear off in battle. Peter must have been going for the neck. Even so, if we pause the situation right here, what are Jesus’ options? Choice A: do nothing and allow Peter and possibly others to be killed or arrested. Choice B: let out the Braveheart war cry and start fighting. What does Jesus do? He chooses the third option: he picks up the man’s ear, and like Mr. Potato head, sticks it back on. That little action neutralized the whole incident and allowed the disciples to get away safely. Now who among us would have suggested that course of action? But, that’s just it, God’s wisdom is often paradoxical and abnormal. Do we have faith to trust in him like Jesus did?

We need to break our faith commitment to violence on the one side and cowardliness on the other. Once we resolve to neither take revenge ourselves nor run away we are at once free. We suddenly find ourselves open to hear God in the time of need. Perhaps God will lead us to say a word, sing a song, engage the person physically, call the police, restrain the intruder while our family escapes, or a million other possibilities…but we will never know so long as we limit ourselves and short-circuit God by keeping a gun under the pillow.

Should it look different when an intruder attacks a pagan’s house than when he attacks the house of a follower of Jesus?



  1. Wonderful article, scripturally sound and SO helpful for this Christ-follower! Thank you!

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