Rev. Brian M. Abshire
The increasing paganization of America has led to an epidemic of violence as rebellious men act consistently with their godless natures. Our legal system, once based on Biblical principles has now become thoroughly humanistic and no longer acts as a deterrent against crime. Americans are rightly fearful of becoming the victims of assault, robbery, rape and murder as the media constantly informs us of some latest horrendous tragedy befalling some poor unfortunate individual. Statistics show that the more one watches television, the more one fears being the victim of a violent crime and thus our PERCEPTION of the danger can be actually quite different from the reality of the danger. Never-the-less, the fear is real, the crimes are real and that fear influences every aspect of our lives.
In a large church in Los Angeles where I served as an intern for year, an elder mentioned at a home group meeting that one out of every ten women was raped in our community every year (and this was in a “nice” suburb). I questioned that statistic until two of the twenty women present admitted that they had been the victims of violent sexual assault in the parking lot of a nearby mall; the same mall my wife and I went to every Saturday!
The danger is there, but the proper Christian response is sometimes more difficult to discern. Should we just trust God and go about our lives as some suggest? Should we buy a gun? But if we do, are we not putting our children in danger? What about all those studies that show that having a gun in the house is MORE likely to lead to someone be murdered in that home? Can Christians lawfully resist evil with violence, even taking another person’s life if necessary to protect their own, or their families? Or should we just submit to being raped, beaten or murdered? After all, Jesus did not resist when He was unlawfully executed. The Apostles were nearly all martyred for their faith. Thousands of Christians went to horrible deaths in the Arenas of the Roman Empire and never lifted a finger in self-defense. Should we not do like-wise? Do we really want to become a bunch of gun toting, survivalist types wearing camouflage fatigues like the media portrays some “Christians” as? What’s a Christian to do?
The Bible and Violence
First, it is important to go back to the Scriptures and develop our theology from God’s own Word. Death, violent death, is part and parcel of this world because of God’s curse on Adam’s sin. God warned Adam that on the day he rebelled against God, death would enter the world. And therefore, violence in and of itself is not inherently evil, because God Himself as the sovereign King of Creation brings violent sanctions against wickedness. Lawful violence, is a judgment by God and one He uses consistently in Scripture to destroy the wicked. God destroyed the entire wicked world in the time of Noah by a flood. He commanded the Israelites to bring His death sentence against the Canaanites because of their wickedness. He sent the Philistines, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Persians and others to judge and punish Israel. God Himself will kill the soul by damning unrepentant sinners into hell for eternity.
Now some may argue that what is lawful for God to do is not necessarily lawful for man to do, and this position has a point. Life must be lived on God’s terms. God creates life and He alone determines the basis on which it can be taken. But the question is, does God ever delegate this right to take life to anyone or anything else in creation or does He reserve that right purely to Himself?
The answer of course is that God DOES command one institution, the State to act as His minister of vengeance (Rms 13:1ff). God delegates the power of the sword to the civil magistrate to execute certain kinds of wicked men for their crimes. Notice this please, not all sins are considered by God to be civil crimes. There are SOME sins that He reserves the right to punish to Himself. Unbelief is one of them. He does not give the State the right to execute someone for not believing in Him. But He does give the State the right to execute certain categories of criminals.
This is an important point. God delegates VENGENAGE to the State. The individual cannot and must not take vengeance into his own hands, but the State can and MUST do so as a minister of God. Life belongs to God and He requires the civil magistrate to take certain lives, under certain conditions when certain men commit certain crimes. For the state to fail in this duty is to fail the God who gave their authority in the first place. God does not give this authority to the family, and neither gives it to the church. The civil magistrate that does NOT execute certain criminals will bring God’s judgment on themselves and their citizens.
Think for a moment. The vast majority of violent crimes in America are committed by what are called “recidivists” or “career” criminals. These are wicked men who from a young age commit violent crime after violent crime, with “rap” sheets going back for decades. The police arrest a certain number of these criminals (usually plea bargaining their crimes down so as to ensure a conviction) and the courts then put them in prison for a number of years. Then, they are released, where they again rape, murder, burgle, etc., until a certain number are caught by the police and the whole merry-go-round starts all over again.
If just these recidivists were eliminated as a class, then violent crime in America would almost disappear. But modern men do not want to obey God’s Law. Man’s law seems much nicer, so much more gracious and forgiving than that harsh Old Testament Law of God. The poor criminal had poor potty training or a terrible life as a child and there are all sorts of reasons why he does all these bad things to so many people. Surely we ought to be more understanding! And so we let them commit crime after crime, never really caring for the victims and their families.
But if the State refuses to do its duty to execute violent criminals, does that mean the individual can? Are we calling for a group of vigilantes out for “street” justice and so take the law into our own hands? Of course not. The power of the sword belongs to the State, not the individual. And therefore, no matter how severe the provocation, we cannot win by also sinning against God’s law. The civil magistrate’s abdication of His god ordained role is NOT justification for us usurping that role.
Does that mean that we are helpless? Not at all. It just means that the average citizen is in even more danger than he would be under a just civil magistrate. And therefore, he had better be prepared for when wicked men come calling at his door. Remember this, any reasonable police officer will tell you that he CANNOT protect you from violence, only investigate and hopefully arrest the perpetrator. Maybe, his ability at finding criminals and the judicial system’s process of trying criminals will act as a deterrent to other criminals. But we already covered that problem didn’t we. Which brings us right back to the issue of:
The same law of God that authorizes the civil magistrate to bear the sword against unlawful violence also gives the individual the right of self-protection. Please though notice the difference between self-defense and vengeance. Self-defense protects one BEFORE a crime is committed while vengeance is the response AFTER a crime has been committed.
Self-defense is the lawful use of force (i.e., violence) against an attacker. The case law is found in Exodus 22:2-3 wherein the situation is given of a robber entering a home at night and the homeowner struggles and kills the man. In that case, the homeowner is NOT held liable for the man’s death (i.e., there is no “blood-guiltiness”). Now as in all of the Old Testament case laws, this is a judicial decision handed down by God to demonstrate a universal moral principle. As we meditate on this specific situation, we are to gain wisdom to know how to apply the same principle in other, related situations not specifically covered (Josh 1:8).
Clearly, this case law gives the homeowner the right to defend his own life and property. The man is at home, minding his own business, probably asleep, when he awakens to find an intruder trying to get into his house. He is authorized to STRIKE the man who is illegally entering his home. The blow kills the intruder but the homeowner is considered innocent of any wrongdoing. Part of this no doubt is due to the fact that at night, in the dark, things are confused. The man may also be shrugging off the effects of sleep. He may not have INTENDED to kill the intruder, but that was the result. However he is NOT guilty of murder for the bad guy was in a place he was not supposed to be, at a time when he had no justifiable reason for being there and with apparently evil motives (he is called a “thief”).
Furthermore, this case law illustrates that the homeowner cannot escape from the situation. He is home, probably in bed, and who knows what the bad guy is going to do. The man cannot just run away and leave his wife and children at the intruder’s mercy. This is not like running into a group of young punks on a street corner hurling insults at you. In that situation you can just walk away. But you are at home, and there is no place to go. Therefore, you are authorized by God to resist evil.
But also notice this; implicit in this case law is what the modern courts call “reasonable force.” The man is held innocent if the situation is at night, where he is at a disadvantage. But what happens if the situation happened during the day? Presumably, the man would have more control, and therefore would be less likely to ACCIDENTALLY kill the intruder. Hence, the homeowner is authorized by God to use force, but only the amount of force necessary to subdue the intruder. If the intruder is simply trespassing in places he has no business being, simply shouting at him, may make him go away. If the intruder is trying to steal from the homeowner, then he can be chased, caught, wrestled to the ground etc. If the intruder threatens the homeowner or his family with a club, knife, sword, handgun, whatever, HE has escalated the situation and therefore the homeowner is authorized by God to resist, even to the point of the other man’s death. However, you cannot kill a man simply because he crosses your front yard, or even because he broke into your house. You especially cannot kill him when he is running away.
Some will argue that all this is Old Testament and irrelevant for modern Christians. Time and space are too short to demonstrate just how foolish this hermeneutic is (God says “ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God and profitable… and that was written about the OLD TESTAMENT). However, just note this one fact. When Jesus was preparing His disciples to continue the ministry after His death, he told them to take along a sword (Luke 22:36). Furthermore, Jesus thought having a sword was SO important, that if a man didn’t have one, he should sell even his clothing to obtain one.
Now swords are mighty useless pieces of steel for most purposes. You can’t use them for camp knives (too long). They are totally inadequate for hunting (too short). Swords are good for one thing only, to kill people. And Jesus told His missionaries who were entrusted with evangelizing the ancient world that they were necessary parts of their ministerial equipment. Can you imagine any modern missionary board REQUIRING their new missionaries to obtain a firearm before going overseas? But that is what Jesus commanded.
Now Jesus was NOT sending the disciples out as mercenary soldiers. Their main task was to preach the Word, not become avengers of evil. The swords were for self-defense. Simply having one would be enough to make robbers think twice about attacking a lonely missionary on an isolated stretch of Roman road. Interesting, that firearms are used literally MILLIONS of times a year to prevent violent crime WIHOUT A SHOT BEING FIRED! Research is now appearing to justify concealed carry permits. When States allow their citizens to carry arms, they find that the crime rate goes way down. Criminals may be wicked but they are not fools. Why should they risk their lives attacking a person who MAY be armed. The cost of crime just went WAY up. Better to move to another state where private carry of firearms is feared and so the sheep are much easier to fleece.
However, convincing the politicians of this fact is difficult. They fear armed citizens because it threatens their power over our lives. So what if citizens die daily from violent crime! To admit they cannot protect you is to implicitly give up their right to CONTROL you. And controlling the people is the politician’s first and most important goal.
Some will also argue that Jesus said, “resist not evil” and that all a Christian can do is submit to a vicious criminal. But please examine the context here again in Matthew 5:38ff. First, Jesus NEVER taught against the Law (cf. Matt 5:19ff) and therefore we cannot think that He is contradicting himself just a few verses after saying that heaven and earth will pass away before the Law will. Instead, we ought to understand that whenever Jesus appeared to be overturning the Old Testament Law, He was in reality overturning Pharisaical interpretations of it. A whole body of literature had grown up around the Law that often negated what God Himself had required. It was these fallacious interpretations that Jesus repeatedly rebuked during His earthly ministry. Jesus was against man’s interpretations, replacing God’s inspired Law.
Secondly, the context here is NOT about things that endanger one’s life, but rather one’s dignity. The Pharisees had taken a basic principle of jurisprudence (an “eye for an eye”) and used it as the basis for personal ethic. They therefore confused the role of the State and the individual. The specific “evils” Jesus spoke about here are indignities, not dangers. A slap, a lawsuit, being forced to carry a Roman soldier’s baggage an extra mile, etc., are all wrong, sinful and painful emotionally to endure. But they do not put you or your family in real physical danger. Hence He was NOT contradicting the Old Testament principle of self-defense because He was NOT giving a new law, simply returning the old Law back to its original meaning. The State STILL has the power of the sword (Rms 13:1ff) and the individual STILL has the authority to protect himself and his family.
Conclusion: Some General Rules of Self-defense
Violence is NEVER desirable, just sometimes unavoidable. The godly man seeks, in so far as it depends on him, to live at peace with all men (Rms 12:18). We do not go looking for trouble, and in so far as we can, we walk away from it whenever possible. But God does give men the right to defend themselves against aggressors. However, defense is the operative word here. As individuals, we are not empowered by God to execute criminals just because they are criminals. To take the law into our own hands is to bring God’s judgment down on our own heads.
And even if our present judicial system does NOT do such a great job as God’s minister of vengeance against criminals, it WILL prosecute YOU if you unlawfully take someone’s life. The bad guys know how to work the system and besides, have nothing to lose anyway. You on the other hand, can lose your job, your family, your wealth, your reputation, etc. Even if you ARE eventually cleared of wrongful death and fully justified by the courts for your actions, you will likely still pay an enormous price both emotionally and financially to prove you were right.
Therefore before using lethal force against anyone, you must be prepared to prove in a court of law that you were in imminent and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grievous bodily harm. You must be able to demonstrate that the force you used was justified by the situation and that you had no other choice but to do as you did.
Thus it is wise to take several precautions. First, secure your home! Put good dead bolts on all entrances and consider buying security screens for doors and windows. Make your home too difficult for the bad guys to want to mess with. Criminals are lazy and though NO house is absolutely burglarproof, you can make it so uninviting that the bad guys consider invading your home too much like work.
Secondly, use good sense when outside your home. Walk as wise men, not fools. Stay away from unlit areas. Never let your wife or daughters go out at night alone. Don’t take “short-cuts” though bad neighborhoods. When outside your home, be aware of your surroundings, pay attention to people just idling in parking lots, and most importantly, stay alert. Maintain eye contact with suspicious people.
Thirdly, take Jesus words seriously. The firearm is the modern equivalent of a sword. Firearms are our right and heritage as a free people. If you do not have one, GET one! But also, take the time to become proficient with it and learn how to handle it safely. Practice with it regularly so that in a crisis situation you know what to do and how to do it. Store it securely and gun proof your children (see my essay on this).
What about all those statistics showing that even having a firearm in the house increases your change of being a victim of violence? Simply speaking, when is the last time your wife chased you around with a baseball bat trying to scramble your brains? Never happened? Why? Because you are Christians, and Christians do not act this way. Guns are not mysterious objects from Hell. No gun ever levitated itself off a nightstand and shot someone all by itself. Wicked men use guns for wicked ends. But wicked men also use knives, clubs, lamp-stands, frying pans and anything else they can get their hands on for their wicked ends. Guns do not cause violence, people cause violence and use guns as the means of carrying out their violent intents (however, if you HAVE been chased by your wife swinging a baseball bat, fear of violence from outside the home is NOT your first problem anyway).
Fourthly, if you carry a weapon outside your home, make every effort to obtain a concealed carry permit and comply with all regulations relating to it. But just because you are armed, does not mean that you are a cartoon superhero. Be as “wise as a serpent yet gentle as a dove.” If a problem arises, make the firearm your LAST resort rather than your first. Make EVERY attempt to defuse the situation. Try to walk away if at all possible. Don’t get into arguments or fights with people (Christians are forbidden from that ANYWAY) and certainly do not allow your pride to get you into a brawl (that’s where the “turn the other cheek” principle comes into play). Only pull your weapon IF you are in IMMINENT danger of grievous bodily harm or death. Remember, even if the courts do let you off (questionable, but all human justice is imperfect), you are still accountable before God and you will stand before Him one day.
Finally, remember whom you serve. You live for God’s glory not your own. Defending yourself and your family is your duty, but don’t go looking for trouble. Instead, try to be at peace with all men, be humble and seek what is best for others, even if it means some cost to your personal dignity. But if the chips are down, and the bad guy wants to hurt you or family, if you’ve done everything to walk away but the bad guy insists on his wickedness, then you may lawfully resist. Do so. Do it quickly and effectively. Aim for center mass, focus on the front sight and keep firing until he is down and stays down. If he dies, then his blood is on his own hands. And though you won’t get it, you deserve to be commended for an act of public service by helping clean the gene pool.