Christian Responsibility vs. Christian Suffering

Guns. Guns for everyone or no guns at all? This is the hot button issue at the moment and I see Christians on both sides of the fence. The increasingly frequent mass shootings continue to fan the flames of political debate, but have taken me down a different strand of thinking: Christian civic responsibility vs. Christian suffering.

As Christians we are to be lovers of justice. We are to stand up for the weak and the needy. Micah 6:8 could not say it more succinctly: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Jesus says in Matthew 22:39 that after loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind--the greatest commandment is--to "Love your neighbor as yourself." This sets the stage for what I will call Christian civic responsibility. As Christians we are called to look after our neighbor, and to not look the other way when evil comes. So in light of this responsibility, if a mass shooter is coming down my neighborhood and I have the means to stop him, it would be the Christian thing to put an end to the evil.

We see Christian civic responsibility displayed in the life of the great Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A nonviolent pacifist for much of his life, Bonhoeffer realized that as a Christian he could not stand by to watch the Third Reich continue their marauding evil. He was eventually executed for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler.   

On the other side, persecution is a reality for the Christian. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that if someone strikes you on the cheek we are to give him the other cheek as well. This is generally not the best self defense tactic. Jesus also says radical things (as He does a lot) such as, "love your enemies" and, "bless those who curse you." Paul warns in Romans 13 against resisting the God appointed government and Jesus promises in Matthew 10 much hatred and persecution for His name's sake--making no reference whatsoever to fighting back. In the end of Philippians 1, Paul says that it has been granted that we should not only believe in Christ but also "suffer for his sake." Just from simple observation we do not see the apostles, martyrs, or early Christians going down with their "guns blazing." They rather seemed content to die for the cause of Christ, knowing that great will be their reward in heaven.


So, in a complicated world with complicated problems and blurred lines all over the place, when are we as Christians to be the loving neighbor and fight, and when are we to lay down our guns and be taken for Christ? Can we be good fathers, neighbors, and citizens if we do not take up the responsibility to defend and protect those around us? Can we be good Christians if we are characterized by violence and resistance?

Debates have been on going for centuries and there is no simplistic answer. It seems to me that the cases where violence is a legitimate Christian response are exceedingly rare in comparison to the peaceful and suffering-filled life Christians are called to live. Even still, there is a pretty clear distinction between suffering for the cause of Christ and a mass shooter rampaging the community. There is a difference from an armed robbery occurring while your family is sleeping in their bedrooms, and the government taking you in for "hate speech." That distinction has to be made. I also believe that much of this discussion falls to matters of conscience and personal conviction, as we all must individually grapple with these issues.

I will make one observation: in both situations, the Christian protecting his neighbor and the Christian being jailed and beaten for his faith--the Christian is sacrificing his personal needs for something greater. The Christian fighter pilot bombing ISIS is putting himself at risk for the cause of others; and the Christian suffering in an Iranian prison has put himself at risk for the gospel of Christ. Though vastly different situations, both of the Christians have died to themselves; and the last time I checked, that is what all Christians are called to do.

One things is for sure: Let's not die fighting on the hill of self protection. We each lost ourselves a while ago when we were redeemed. Let's die on the hill of something bigger: the gospel and others. 



"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." --Matthew 16:25


Please post your thoughts below. This is a challenging topic that I expect varied responses from--so let's wrestle through this together.
   

Comments

  1. Daniel, you laid out a fairly convincing case for the scriptural "turn the other cheek" viewpoint. After all, it is in the Bible. However; let's look at the other side.

    There are numerous scriptures dealing with weapons and self defense. Even the imagery of weapon use and it's skill is found in scripture. Furthermore it is often portrayed as a positive thing. The Lord's might is something good, and the Scriptures are a sword (Eph.6:17). It is a sword that comes out of the mouth of Christ (Rev1:16)

    Possession of weapons is never discouraged in Scripture. In fact, in 1Sam 13:19, it is negatively reported that no spears or swords were found in Israel because of the Philistines.

    Skill and ability to use weapons is positively portrayed in Psalm 144:1 and Psalm 18:34.

    We have accounts of David using weapons skillfully (with God's help) against bears and lions. Here he was not using weapons in a military application but in personal use. These weapons were not kids slingshots like I played with as a child. They are powerful enough to kill a bear and lion. I am talking about something as powerful as the 40 caliber Smith and Wesson I own. Not some dinky 22 or BB gun. Enough said, David had immense killing power in his hands.

    One might say that he was just protecting sheep. True but aren't humans worth even more protection than sheep?

    I'm not making a claim that ownership of weaponry for the purpose of self-defense is required of the believer. It is not required, but I am making the claim that it is permitted by Scripture.

    Read Luke 22:35-39. In this account Jesus had just had communion with his disciples and are about to go to prayer in the garden. Jesus tells them to sell garments and buy a sword. Granted, this passage raises a number of questions but there are some concrete observations we can make.

    1. Jesus expected the disciples to have swords or at least acquire them.
    2. Jesus instructed them to carry them at least from the city to the garden.
    3. Among 11 disciples they did come up with 2 swords.

    One can conclude that weapons were carried in the presence of Jesus. Even to a communion and a prayer meeting. (Imagine that). Thus we do know they possessed and carried weapons, and that Jesus knew and was O.K. with it. Also, Jesus spoke of some time, present or future, when disciples would need to acquire personal weapons.

    For me, I believe that the Scriptures do give me the liberty to defend my personal safety, home, and family. I have a concealed carry permit honored in 32 states and have the training on how to use a weapon. I have come to this conclusion after much prayer, scriptural study, and thought. Plus, my heart has peace about it.

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    2. Dick,

      Great thoughts! I think you did a good job of nuancing the careful balance we need to take when talking about self defense.

      I definitely agree with you that it seems that Jesus is not against having weapons for self protection and that it is our duty as Christians to prevent evil. And if that involves killing one to prevent to death of many, especially loved ones, then absolutely.

      However, I don't think that the Luke 22 passage is about self defense. You made a good point that Jesus must have allowed them to have weapons with them all the way up to His arrest. This is true. But holistically, I think that Jesus was looking at spiritual warfare.

      If He wasn't,
      1. why would Jesus say 2 swords are enough among 11 men?
      2. If it were for self defense, wouldn't all 11 need swords?

      - And why would Jesus rebuke their use of swords later after he told them to buy some?

      If we look at it from the sense that Jesus was talking about a spiritual sword it makes more sense. Contextually, this is more accurate since the passage is sandwiched between Jesus' focusing on the spiritual things while the disciples have an earthly minded focus. (See Luke 22:24-30, 22:39-46). Therefore it wouldn't be far fetched to think this is another example of the disciples thinking carnally and Jesus is trying to get them to understand to bigger picture going on. (The cross, redemption, upcoming spiritual warfare, and His victory over sin, death, and the devil)

      Now, when Jesus was saying "it is enough" he must have been implying "enough of this talk of swords" (Again, His mind was on the spiritual realm and the disciples were on earthly thoughts). (Gill, Matthew Henry's commentary, Dr. Bocks' Luke commentary all agree with this interpretation)

      There are other places in scripture where "it is enough" is used similarly to this interpretation (Gen. 45:28, 1 Kings 19:4, 1 Chron. 21:15)

      Lastly, not to post too much here, but you'll note that Jesus' thoughts were on fulfilling the Isaiah 53 passage. As he quotes Isiah 53:12. That verse gives us the image of Jesus' victory in battle with the spoils of victory.

      I've been studying this passage quite a bit over the last few days and thinking through these things with Daniel. I actually wrote a blog post about this in more detail if you're interested. Anyway, let me know what you think.

      God Bless!

      Josh

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  2. I like your thoughts Daniel. I do think it is interesting you made the comparison between a Christian pilot and a Christian jailed in Iran for their religious beliefs. These, to me, seem to be much different. I guess you can say they are both "suffering". The reality is that it is proven, just look at the number of civilian casualties in any conflict, that missiles, bombs etc.. do not always met their intended target. If you were to be that pilot, statistically, you most likely will kill an innocent civilian. I am not really sure how you would deal with that.
    -Ben Sauers

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Ben. I guess what I was trying to get at is that there is an element of sacrifice and "losing yourself" in both of those situations. Not to say that everything that involves sacrifice is inherently Christian--but all Christian endeavors should have that characteristic.

      As to civilian casualties in war, that is maybe a whole different can of worms. But you point is well taken. Things like this are not cut and dry, and that is why it is good to talk about them.

      If you are asking me of the morality of risking civilian casualties in war--I would obviously say that we should not risk any! But we do not live in a world that is that simple. I think maybe about WWII and the bombings of Berlin as one such situation. Obviously the Allied forces did not want to kill innocent lives, but they did not have that luxury. At what point is the evil so ravenous that collateral damage can be tolerated? I am not sure (probably a pretty terrible evil) and frankly I am glad that I do not have to make those decisions.

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  3. Here is more thoughts on this. Copy of a letter I wrote to the local paper after the school shooting in Connecticut some time ago:

    I am reminded of former President Ronald Reagan's often used quote "there you go again" with the new uproar for more gun control laws after the killing of 20 children and 6 adults by a mass murderer in a Connecticut elementary school.

    Connecticut already has some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation only surpassed by California, yet these murders took place. In fact, these murders took place in a so called "gun free zone". In doing a little research, I discovered that practically all of these types of shootings in the past 20 years took place in "gun free zones". Could it be that "gun free zones" actually do exactly the opposite and are an attraction for killers of this kind? I wager to say that if a faculty member would have had a gun at that Connecticut school, some if not many of those lives would have been saved.

    When my wife and I visited Israel in 1995, we looked at the armed guards on public and school buses with a bit of consternation. However; inquiries revealed that, implementing these armed guards virtually stopped terrorist attacks on school buses.

    If the liberals firmly believe that more gun laws and gun free zones are the answer, than let them label their own property with a "gun free zone" sign. As for me, I think I will go out today and put up a sign in my yard that says, Protected by Smith and Wesson.

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  4. I agree with Mr Nevala. Maryland is a state with "gun free zone". People who want to cause harm will see that as an advantage. God is not going to hold any believer responsible for protecting his or her own family. This is a decision you will need to make when you get married next year. You will take vows to honor, protect your wife. If that means laying down your life for her as Christ did for the church then you are called to do that as a husband. Defending your home, wife, children and family is a God given responsibility. I do not believe that if you are ever faced (and I pray not) with the decision of your families lives verses an attacker, assailant or terrorist that God is going to condemn you for choosing your family. It would be wrong to assume that by doing nothing because you are a Christian would be the better Christian thing to do. Let's take for instance the shooter that was in the college a few months ago asking students if they were Christians and if they said "yes", he was executing them. What would you do if you were in that line and had a legal gun on you? Stand there because you were being asked about your beliefs stand there and do nothing because it's a good upright Christian thing to do to die for being a Christian and pronouncing your faith? I do not believe God is that kind of God whom will look at you protecting other Christians and condemn your actions by shooting and killing a human. It's what's in your heart that God looks at. If you had to protect by shooting, do so by loving thy neighbor. Sometimes as Christians we can overthink things and condemnation. Remember, God IS a loving God. Im very glad that my husband is protecting us at home with firearms. I just wish Maryland was a carry conceal state!! Hugs :)

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    1. Good thoughts Mrs. Altvater! I am definitely believe guns are important for self defense and you raise good points about God being gracious for us with tricky situations like this. I think for me the biggest question is: am I protecting myself or others? If someone aggressively comes for me alone for my faith--I would hope that God would give me the courage to show restraint and take the persecution in His name. But when others are entrusted in our care--that is when Christian responsibility comes come in (in my forming opinion). A lot of these situations are cases by case, but you are right--be prayerful and discerning. God is gracious!

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