A Good Target

“Who is there, then, to harm you if you are eager to do what is right?.... hold on to a good conscience, so that when people revile your good behavior in the Messiah they may be ashamed…” (I Peter 3:13, 16). 

In the late 1980s was a young, ten-foot, 950-pound female cetacean named “B.W.”. She was a Beluga Whale who dropped out of her school and had taken up residence in New Haven, Connecticut, Harbor, amusing herself and delighting the nearby humans in playful encounters. She nuzzled small boats, tickled swimmers and performed such self-taught tricks that many terrestrial mammals came to believe their marine relative possessed intelligence comparable to their own. B.W. was not, scientifically speaking, a great whale, but she was a very good one, a veritable Girl Scout. She was trustworthy, loyal, friendly, brave and perhaps even reverent. She was certainly harmless. She cruised the waters unarmed, she never demanded anything, she was a delight to all who watched her and enjoyed her. 

Why then did some unknown killer pump four .22 caliber bullets into the body of that young female whale cavorting in New Haven Harbor? What did the insensitive killer say as he repeatedly shot her? “You’ve had it, pal?” “Go ahead, make my day?” What insult avenged, what crime punished, what principle upheld? Whoever killed B.W. one fine day in May must have seen her as a symbol suitable for slaughter. At any rate, B.W. was perhaps too good, too intelligent and too trusting to survive in man’s jungle. The will to kill has never been stronger. The trick is to keep from becoming a target, which is the one B.W. did not learn. 

A lot of good, innocent people in this world haven’t learned it either. In fact, the good individuals seem to be the targets in society. Have you noticed that? From the cross upon which Jesus was affixed to the cross-hairs in the gunsight fixed on Martin Luther King, Jr. the actively good people in the world have been targets. This has always been the case. The Bible made note of it centuries ago. In the Old Testament the prophets were targeted; in the New Testament the Christians were marked for persecution. 

Ironic, isn’t it, that animal abuse was addressed 100 years before people abuse. Only recently has society begun to address seriously spouse abuse and child abuse. Still another kind of abuse we can all identify with is teasing or more extremely ragging or bullying. Teasing is a kind of refined version of sadism. It can happen anywhere: on school playgrounds; in family living rooms; in offices; on factory floors. There are always those who get some sort of gratification out of this kind of thing, but most who engage in it are small people who find an obscure importance in following some bully’s attack upon the weak or the different. If you’ve ever had a child bullied at school, you’ll know something of the sadness and sickness of it all. 

Yet none of these kinds of abuse are what our text is talking about. Battered wives, abused children, victims of teasing and bullying are all probably innocent – even good – people, to be sure. But their abuse is not necessarily caused by their own goodness. They are not suffering for righteousness sake. 

Peter addresses this problem of Christian abuse in his first epistle. He notes that the righteous are vulnerable to the forces of fear and evil; the people of God seem to go through life with a bull’s-eye on their chest. Peter doesn’t recommend retaliation; he doesn’t even counsel self-defense. Either of those two responses is to enter into the same fear that their attackers have. “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,” Peter says. “Do not fear with their fear,” one Bible commentator says is the original meaning of that phrase. “But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” Peter states, echoing the same thought Jesus expressed in the beatitude that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake will be blessed, “and keep your conscience clear.” Peter goes on, “so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (3:16). 

The saints of God are targets. And the Christian response to evil is to overcome it with good. Sin is a moral disease that attacks. To combat evil with evil is to increase its fury. As Jesus bore the persecution and affliction of the world, we, his followers, are to accept whatever abuse may be involved in identifying with that cause. 

The great hymnody of George Matteson, the blind poet of Edinburgh, was certainly not unconnected with his physical disability. The believer is an overcomer in that the very obstacles that were intended for defeat are the stepping stones to victory. Abuse issues in triumph, not defeat.