I’m taking a break from the “End of the Age” series to revisit – you guessed it! – Christians and guns. The last time I addressed this, it generated quite a bit of commentary, and even inspired my buddy Jim Wetzel to begin an excellent series of WFW posts to search the scriptures on this topic. So my apologies to Jim. I’m really not trying to steal your thunder, my friend, but the issue has become like a burning fire, and I am weary of holding it in. (Jer 20:9)
What happened is that – finally, after I don’t know how many months or even years – I’ve found a new book that excites me. As often happens when God has been writing a particular point on my heart, after He knows I’ve “got it,” He leads me to a book that helps clarify and confirm the issue. Christians and violence is one of those issues, and this seems like the right time to revisit it, as there are some other things that have come to me since my last post on this subject. Even if you don’t agree, I hope you’ll hear me out.
The book I’ve been reading is titled The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church by Gregory A. Boyd. (And yes, Jim, it’s available for Kindle.) A couple caveats: While there is much in this book that I believe is biblically accurate, there is some that I don’t agree with. In addition, Mr. Boyd holds some unrelated views that are controversial and unorthodox, and this is by no means an endorsement of his theology. That said, he has a gift for teaching and challenging us to examine and probe our ways. (Lam 3:40)
Before I get into his book, there are a couple other related things that I want to share, so here we go.
1) There’s an old chorus that was popular when I first got saved that goes like this:
Some may trust in horses
some may trust in chariots
but we will trust in the name of the Lord
Anybody remember it? It was a catchy tune and we used to sing it with gusto. It’s based on Isaiah 31:1:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!
We all know that “going down to Egypt” is a common type in the Bible for turning to worldly methods instead of relying on God. As I meditated on this verse, it occurred to me that buying guns to protect ourselves or our families or our stuff is a form of “going down to Egypt.” Instead of truly looking to the Holy One of Israel and seeking the Lord to protect us, we’re buying horses and chariots. Woe to us.
2) Last week’s WFW included this passage:
If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Let’s suppose – even though it’s hard – that you think a Christian would be sinning if he purposefully killed someone, that he would be operating out of the flesh instead of the Spirit. Let’s further suppose – which should be a lot easier – that in the defense of self, family, or home, our first reaction to a home invader would be to grab a gun and blow that threat to smithereens.
Given this scripture, and Jesus’ instruction not to resist an evildoer, wouldn’t it make good Christian sense to get rid of our guns, to remove a source of temptation to sin? Killing someone, no matter how much the law or our flesh may justify it, is a final act. We can’t repent and make amends to a dead person.
3) Here’s another passage from the Sermon on the Mount, emphasis added:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
We often proclaim that we are salt and light to the world, but honestly? We don’t look much different than the world, and our impact on others is minimal. This is born out by a survey referenced in a recent Newsweek article titled The End of Christian America: “The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades.” That’s quite a drop, and I don’t see anything happening in the church in America that will reverse that trend.
We did have a recent example of salt and light, though, and the world noticed.
When Charles Roberts shot and killed five Amish girls in their one-room schoolhouse in October 2006 and then killed himself, members of the Amish community – even on the same day of the shootings – were speaking about forgiveness. They reached out to comfort Roberts’ family, many of them even attending his funeral.
The media, in unusual deference to the Amish, did not invade with their cameras. Instead, they produced multiple reports about the real story, the salt and light that did not demand justice or investigations to try to ease their pain. Reporters wrote about these unusual people who offered love and forgiveness, instead of retaliation and vengeance. These people were different, and the world noticed.
I don’t have the exact reference, as I’ve loaned the book out to a friend, but in the biography Rees Howells, Intercessor, by Norman Grubb – another book that has changed my life – early in his life Howells told God that he would believe if he could find someone who actually walked the Sermon on the Mount. God led him to that man, and his life was changed forever.
My point in this is that actually living the Sermon on the Mount makes us look radically different than the world. Turning the other cheek and blessing our enemies is completely in contrast to what the world does. It makes us imitators of Christ, which, after all, is what Christians are supposed to be.
4) What really helped clarify all this for me is a couple related passages from Boyd’s book referenced above, starting on page 162:
On the one hand, we who confess Jesus as Lord don’t want to say that Jesus and other New Testament authors are simply off their rockers in telling us not to resist evildoers, to repay evil with good, to love our enemies, and to pray for and bless people who mistreat us. If our confession of faith means anything, it means we have to take this teaching seriously. On the other hand, we have to admit that it’s hard to take this teaching seriously when it comes to extreme situations such as having to protect ourselves and our family from an intruder. Not only would most of us resist an evildoer in this situation, killing him if necessary, but most of us would see it as immoral if we didn’t use violence to resist such an evildoer.
After addressing a couple related points, Boyd continues:
But how might a person who cultivated a nonviolent, kingdom-of-God mindset and lifestyle on a daily basis respond differently to an attacker? How might a person who consistently lived in Christ-like love [Eph. 5:1-2] operate in this situation?
For one thing, such a person would have cultivated a kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence. Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any nonviolent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available. He would want to do good to his attacker. This wouldn’t be a matter of him trying to obey an irrational rule to “look for an alternative in extreme situations,” for in extreme situations no one is thinking about obeying rules! Rather, it would be in the Christlike nature of this person to see nonviolent alternatives if they were present. This person’s moment-by-moment discipleship in love would have given him a Christlike wisdom that a person whose mind was conformed to the pattern of the tit-for-tat world would not have [Rom. 12:2.] Perhaps they’d see that pleading with, startling, or distracting the attacker would be enough to save themselves and their family. Perhaps they’d discern a way to allow their family to escape harm by placing themselves in harm’s way.
Not only this, but this person’s day-by-day surrender to God would have cultivated a sensitivity to God’s Spirit that would enable him to discern God’s leading in the moment, something the “normal” kingdom-of-the-world person would be oblivious to. This Christlike person might be divinely led to say something or do something that would disarm the attacker emotionally, spiritually, or even physically.
For example, I heard of a case in which a godly woman was about to be sexually assaulted. Just as she was being pinned to the ground with a knife to her throat, out of nowhere she said to her attacker, “Your mother forgives you.” She had no conscious idea where the statement came from. What she didn’t know was that her attacker’s violent aggression toward women was rooted in a heinous thing he had done as a teenager to his now deceased mother. The statement shocked the man and quickly reduced him to a sobbing little boy.
The woman seized the opportunity to make an escape and call the police who quickly apprehended the man in the park where the attack took place. He was still there, sobbing. The man later credited the woman’s inspired statement with being instrumental in him eventually turning his life over to Christ. The point is that, in any given situation, God may see possibilities for nonviolent solutions that we cannot see, and a person who has learned to “live by the Spirit” is open to being led by God in these directions [Gal. 5:16,18].
Boyd goes on to confess that he’s not sure what he would do in such a situation, but adds:
What we must never do, however, is acquiesce to our worldly condition by rationalizing away Jesus’ clear kingdom prescriptions. We must rather strive every moment of our life to cultivate the kind of mind and heart that increasingly sees the rightness and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and thus would naturally respond to an extreme, threatening situation in a loving, nonviolent manner.
And so I, too, confess that in an extreme situation, I would probably react from my flesh and not my Spirit. I can only throw myself at the foot of the cross in repentance, asking that God transform me into the image of His Son, my Lord and Savior.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)