An Unequal and Opposite Reaction


D. A. Carson tells the story about Ruby, a little black girl in Louisiana in 1960, when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing in the United States. The Supreme Court had made a judgment regarding the desegregation and integration of schools in the Deep South. The implementation of this was not easy, with teachers refusing to teach in the integrated system, parents keeping their kids home, and those who went to school running a gauntlet of protesters. Ruby was the only black girl that showed up at her local school, and it took a squad of federal marshals to protect her as she went to school day after day. For a whole year, she was by herself in the classroom, taught by a Christian teacher who herself braved the mobs. 

Ruby’s situation garnered much national attention, including being the subject of a well-known Norman Rockwell painting.  The story also captured the interest and imagination of a Harvard University psychiatrist who wanted to know more about what this was doing to the little girl. He traveled to New Orleans, observing Ruby for some time, getting to know her parents, who were not well-educated, but who were wonderful Christians. As he observed Ruby on one particular day, he noticed that while she was running the gauntlet of protesters under protection, she stopped, and seemed to say something for a couple of minutes before entering the school. Afterward, the psychiatrist asked her, “Ruby, what were you saying to those angry people?” She replied, “Oh I wasn’t saying anything to them, I was talking to God.” He probed further, “Were you? What were you saying?” Looking him straight in the face, Ruby said, “Oh, my parents have always taught me to pray for my enemies.  This morning I left so quickly I forgot to do that.  So when I heard them screaming at me, I stopped and said, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”

To return cursing with blessing is the Christian way. The Apostles Peter and Paul taught the early church that they were to overcome evil with good (1 Peter 3:9; Rom. 12:17-21). Faced with the hatred of the world, and the bitterness of their enemies, Christians were to respond with an unequal and opposite reaction in showing love and forgiveness to their enemies. Christians were not to feed their anger, but their enemies (Rom. 12:20). This radical pattern and principle of returning good for evil was first taught and modeled by the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 6:27-29; 1 Peter 2:21-25). Christ’s example of forbearance and forgiveness in the face of Herod’s mockery, the Roman soldier’s cruelty, Pilate’s cowardice, the mob’s sneers, and the Jewish leaders’ betrayal is reason enough for the Christian to be good to those who are bad to them. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to seek to reproduce His life in your own, which includes blessing our enemies.

To love those who love you is not hard, any sinner can do that (Luke 6:32-34). But to love those who are unloving and unlovely, well, that is something only the gospel at work in a life can produce (Luke 6:35-36).  To return evil for good is satanic. To return good for good is human. But to return good for evil is divine.

Today, in an act of worship toward God, an act of witness toward the gospel, and an act of wellness toward ourselves, let us bless those who curse us, that we might know God’s blessing (1 Peter 3:9).