Handguns and Heaven Readiness

John Piper on the recent Supreme Court ruling on handguns:

What do the supreme court ruling on guns and the martyrdom of missionaries have to do with each other?

Noël and I watched Beyond Gates of Splendor, the documentary version of End of the Spear, the story of the martyrdom of Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint in Ecuador in 1956. That same day we heard that the Supreme Court decided in favor of the right of Americans to keep firearms at home for self-defense.

Here’s the connection. The missionaries had guns when they were speared to death. One of them shot the gun into the air, it appears, as he was killed, rather than shooting the natives. They had agreed to do this. The reason was simple and staggeringly Christlike:

The natives are not ready for heaven. We are.

I suspect the same could be said for almost anyone who breaks into my house. There are other reasons why I have never owned a firearm and do not have one in my house. But that reason moves me deeply. I hope you don’t use your economic stimulus check to buy a gun. Better to find some missionaries like this and support them.


71 thoughts on “Handguns and Heaven Readiness”

  1. I suggest you use your stimulus check to buy a dog that barks. Believe me, it’s way better than having a gun in your night stand.

  2. I respectfully disagree with some of your logic here.
    Setting aside self defense when it is related to being persecuted for following Christ seems to be a sound biblical principle.
    Protecting you life and the lives of your family from evil people trying to enter you home is quite a different story. And, to not try and help an innocent third party being attacked would likely be a sin of ommission.
    We know that Peter was chastised for trying to behead a soldier at Christ’s arrest. It was not part of Christ’s plan. I’m guessing a sword is something not easily hidden from on omniscient Creator yet He apparently didn’t mind that Peter was carrying it. Hmmm.

  3. I believe there can be a difference between how one personally acts in a time of self defense or defense of others and the promotion of the ideal of self defense in a society. So while I would encourage people to own a gun (which helps to lower the chances of actually needing one, ironically enough), I would also be loath to use one in most situations.

  4. Papa Steve,

    Thanks for your comment. First of all, though, it isn’t my logic, it’s Piper’s. However, I fully agree with it, so I suppose that’s a moot point. That said, there are at least four problems with your statement:

    First, I’m not sure how you could justify this statement biblically: “Protecting your life and the lives of your family from evil people trying to enter you home is quite a different story.” Jesus didn’t say, “Do not resist the one who is evil…if he’s being evil to you because of your faith.” It was an unqualified statement. You cannot find Jesus condoning violent resistance in any circumstance.

    Second, I agree that we should try to help people who are the victims of attack. But are there not other ways to help them than violent resistance? What makes you jump to this conclusion?

    Third, your reading of Peter’s chastisement for violent resistance doesn’t square with the actual narrative of what happened. Jesus says to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” True, in this case he is speaking about what Peter has done. But his statement does not appear to be situation specific. It appears to be a timeless truth (“For all who take the sword…”).

    Fourth, your assumption that Jesus didn’t mind that Peter was carrying a sword is an argument from silence. There are other points in Jesus’ ministry where he appears to have limited knowledge (“Who touched me…”). Could he not have been aware of Peter’s weapon here? And nowhere does he condone Peter carrying it. The only statement he has on the matter is when Jesus tells Peter not to use it ever.

  5. Darius,

    First, why would you own a handgun if you weren’t going to use it? How does owning a handgun prevent intrusion into your home if you are not going to use it? I’ve never understood this logic.

    Second, is “I would be loath to use one in most situations” patterned on Christ? Is there any circumstance in which you think Christ would sanction deadly force against an enemy? I think you would be hard-pressed to find any such thing in his life or teachings.

    Third, why a gun? Why a death-dealing weapon? If people are so concerned about security, why not a well-locked house, a security system, and a big, well-trained dog that an intruder sees when he approaches your back door?

    The only honest answers I’ve ever heard to these questions are, “A gun is cheaper and easier than a security system and a guard dog.” I just don’t think that’s going to cut it.

  6. Give me some time to thoughtfully respond to your feedback.
    Just to be sure I understand you, are you saying that it’s wrong for Christians to serve as police officers or in the military? Our violent actions against Adolph Hitler was sin? Was it sin for Abraham Lincoln to engage in the American Civil War? Were our Christian forefathers guilty before God for signing the Declaration of Independence?
    Both the Old and New Testaments acknowledge a government’s perogative to use deadly force. Can Christian’s not be part of that government? If not, what happens when people are self-goverened as in America? Where we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people? Let me know your thoughts on this.

    And, to your second objection, “no”, probably not a lot of options. Let’s get specific. While out hiking in the woods, you walk up on 4 guys holding down a girl. Two are trying to have their way with her and two are standing guard. No one around, no cell service, and no time for help even if there was cell service. They tell you to move on and mind your own business. You yell and tell them to stop. The two standing guard start moving towards you . . one with a knife and one with a club. Now they have an eye for your wife as well.
    Your comment about “living by the sword” needs to be qualified by the rest of Scripture. I take it to mean those who live a life bent on a violent nature will likely be met with violence. We see examples of soldiers becoming Christians and not exhorted to give up their soldiering ways. We actually see Paul giving the example of a loyal soldier.
    You state I can’t find an example of Jesus condoning violence. But you later state I’m using an argument of silence. Ummm?

    Sorry to be so terse on this. But I just think your dead wrong on this one. (Pun intended 🙂 ) We need to be men of peace, men of honor, men of integrity, and men of wisdom. That is what we need to be known for. But also need to be MEN. We are called to help the helpless and confront evil. It’s our calling as image bearers. When God placed Adam in the garden He told him to cultivate it and “keep” it. That word, “keep” carries the idea of guarding and protecting. Guarding and protecting is part of who men are as image bearers

  7. as always i will offer my very helpful comments.

    I’m sorry, but the law requires a five-day waiting period. We’ve got to run a background check.

    Five days? But I’m mad now! I’d kill you if I had my gun.

    Yeah, well you don’t.

  8. papasteve, you forgot men of justice. 🙂

    “There are other points in Jesus’ ministry where he appears to have limited knowledge (”Who touched me…”). ”

    Bryan, is this really a case of Jesus not knowing who touched him or more that He wanted the woman to admit it and come forward (or some other reason)? After all, He knew the thoughts of men around Him, but He didn’t know who snuck up and touched Him? Just a small point, but one I wanted to clarify.

    “First, why would you own a handgun if you weren’t going to use it? How does owning a handgun prevent intrusion into your home if you are not going to use it? I’ve never understood this logic.”

    I would be willing to use it in certain circumstances. What I meant by owning a gun lowering the likelihood of using it was in regards to when you have an armed citizenry, you generally have less crime because the criminals don’t know who might have a gun and who doesn’t. If you live in Britain, for example, you are likely to have your home robbed multiple times because no one has guns (except the criminals).

    “Second, is “I would be loath to use one in most situations” patterned on Christ? Is there any circumstance in which you think Christ would sanction deadly force against an enemy? I think you would be hard-pressed to find any such thing in his life or teachings.”

    I believe papasteve answered this one pretty well. Jesus (or the apostles) never said one negative word (to my knowledge) about military service, which is inherently violent. In fact, the most faithful man in the NT (according to Jesus) was a soldier.

    “Third, why a gun? Why a death-dealing weapon? If people are so concerned about security, why not a well-locked house, a security system, and a big, well-trained dog that an intruder sees when he approaches your back door?”

    Those other options are great too, but a gun is the final line of defense. And why does it have to be “death-dealing?” One properly trained with guns can put a burglar down on his face with a quick shot to the leg.

    But as papasteve mentioned with his example, all this is pointless except where the rubber meets the road. What do you believe a Christian is supposed to do in the situation above? Violence doesn’t have to be the only option, but it has to be an option, in my opinion. It doesn’t even have to be deadly violence, just enough to mete out some justice and/or stop an evil act.

  9. Darius and PapaSteve.

    The illustration about walking in the woods is great but if you pull out a gun be prepared to get arrested, booked, and possibly spend some time in jail. Especially if you are in a national park. You will go to jail. If you shoot one of them, be prepared to go to jail. Or at least spend about $10,000-$25,000 in legal fees. You were not a reluctant participant. You had the chance to run away. And then call for help. Having a gun DOES NOT make you a soldier or a police officer. Sorry.

    I have really wrestled with this and I still do. I don’t feel all that safe in my house. A woman was mugged a block down form me getting out of her car. My friend Peter’s house was burglarized and then they came back and stole his car. While he was home!


    Don’t forget, it is against the law to shoot someone. Period. Even in the leg. A prosecutor would say why did you only shoot him in the leg? Were you not so afraid of him that you only had to shoot him in the leg? You’re a big guy why’d you shoot him in the first place why not call 911 and wrestle him to the ground?

    IF you HAVE TO shoot someone. You’d better know what you are about to get yourself into and you’d better make it count.

  10. Actually, it’s not against the law to shoot someone. Where do you get that idea? If you shoot someone in the leg in self defense or in defense of another, that is not illegal. However, you better be willing to defend yourself in court to prove that if needed. So you might be right, one might have to spend thousands of dollars to prove his innocence. But assuming you had the evidence in your favor, shooting those guys in the woods would be perfectly legal (much less moral).

  11. Darius,

    What? I’ll give you a chance to take back what you just said. It is 100% against the law to shoot someone. If someone breaks into your home and you have no other choice but to shoot them to protect your life, when the cops show up, you are going to jail. Period. Why? Because it is against the law to shoot somebody. Now properly defending yourself in court is another topic. But the fact is someone was shot, you did the shooting, you are going to get arrested. Maybe they don’t press charges. That is another topic, but you are getting arrested.

    I have my permit to carry. I’ve taken the classes. I’ve spoken to detectives. Shooting somebody is against the law. Breaking the law and being found not guilty of it are two very different things.

    Don’t forget civil problems as well. You may have just killed somebody’s dad, brother, husband, baby-daddy, that could get very expensive.

    I respect your brain but you are wrong on this one my friend.

  12. The real Jesse S,
    Thanks for the comments and feedback. I think this a good conversation. I hope that B.C. McWhite does not feel we’re hijacking his post.

    Let me address a few of your comments:

    You said,
    The illustration about walking in the woods is great but if you pull out a gun be prepared to get arrested, booked, and possibly spend some time in jail. (Steve: Nope, I have a Concealed Handgun Permit) Especially if you are in a national park. (Steve: That’s why I said “woods” generically. I do however, think that the law is being change, or has changed, regarding CHL holders carrying in a National Park. But, not relevant for the point of the illustration) You will go to jail. If you shoot one of them, be prepared to go to jail. Or at least spend about $10,000-$25,000 in legal fees. (Steve: This is the tragic part and why it would be a last resort. Being involved in a shooting of any type would be devestating. But, unfortunatly, it doesn’t get me off the hook of doing what’s right) You were not a reluctant participant. You had the chance to run away. And then call for help. (In most states the law has been changed, stating that one no longer has to flee if they have a legal right to be where they are. And even if it has not changed yet, it’s discussing options solely for your own protection. You are within your rights to try and protect another. Even if I wasn’t in my legal rights I would anyway . . .it’s the moral thing to do.) Having a gun DOES NOT make you a soldier or a police officer. Sorry. (Steve: No, but being a trained CHL holder does make me a trained, legally armed citizen. I’ll save the rest of my comments for the OP. He’s the one that said that Jesus’ comments were universal in application. I need to understand then, how that applies to a Christian soldier or police officer, or government official who has the power to envoke violence.)

    I have really wrestled with this and I still do. I don’t feel all that safe in my house. A woman was mugged a block down form me getting out of her car. My friend Peter’s house was burglarized and then they came back and stole his car. While he was home!


    Don’t forget, it is against the law to shoot someone. Period. (Steve: You have bad information. In Texas, I think that there are seven shooting offenses in the State Penal Code – I may be off by one or two.) Even in the leg. A prosecutor would say why did you only shoot him in the leg? Were you not so afraid of him that you only had to shoot him in the leg? You’re a big guy why’d you shoot him in the first place why not call 911 and wrestle him to the ground?

    IF you HAVE TO shoot someone. You’d better know what you are about to get yourself into and you’d better make it count. (Steve: I couldn’t agree more. I hope I never, ever have to. In the early 80’s I was a deputy sheriff. I had doubts about being one because I did not want to be put in the situation of having to take a life. As terrible as it would be it wouldn’t be as bad as having to attend my child’s funeral, or witness the death of an innocent third party, because I chose to not equip myself to confront evil.)

  13. Are you reading what you’re posting? I read it and it doesn’t say anywhere that it is legal. It says that there is a defense for it. I can tell you some ways to defend your way against a speeding ticket and you will more than likely get off. I doesn’t mean that your speeding was legal. It simply means you properly defended yourself against prosecution for an illegal act which you committed.

    Legal is the key word here.

  14. Papasteve.


    Remember we don’t live in Texas. We live in Minnesota. One of the most liberal states in the U.S.

    Show me something that says it is LEGAL. Something that says you won’t be arrested. Then I’ll agree.

    Are you married? Do you have kids? Would you take the chance of going to jail for shooting somebody in the woods and put your family through the pain of being with out dad/husband? Just asking.

    I think I’d do everything I could, this side of shooting someone. If you shoot one, you’d better shoot them all.

  15. BCM:

    We’re both fathers of young children. Do you expect me to believe you’d stand by and let me fatally injure Owen if (in some horrible hypothetical scenario) your last alternative was to potentially fatally injure me in an attempt to stop me?

    I don’t buy it, dude. Sorry. You’d whack me over the head as hard as you could with those tree-trunk arms and whatever heavy object happened to be at hand (shoot, yer fists are probably big enough to take my head off).

    [Owen, since his first word was three syllables, may be a sufficiently gifted orator to talk me out of my egregious crime.]

    More to the point, here’s where the whole “natives aren’t ready for heaven, we are” thing breaks down. The situation they were in was more clear — a bunch of Christians on one side and a bunch of (presumably) non-Christians on the other.

    What do you do when the victim isn’t Christian? Oughtn’t they have the same opportunity to come to faith that you want to extend to the attackers? In that situation, you’re forced to make a decision, and I think the Gospel clearly favors the victim. (And, how would you know where the victim stands with regard to salvation, anyway?)

    There’s another aspect of this that is being missed. Maybe it’s too subtle to matter, but ….

    The intent in shooting someone is never to kill them. (Sit still, Jesse, I know yer already typing.) The intent is to stop them from the harm they are doing or are about to do. If you fatally injure them; that is a tragic consequence. But it certainly is not the goal, even when employing a weapon as potentially destructive as a handgun.

    I think Christ demonstrated in crystal clear language that intent matters.

    All that said, I’m with my wife: Get a loud dog. I sleep better knowing Lucy’s got one eye on the door.

    Last thought: Why did the one missionary have the gun?

    BMR, with apologies to Owen, who rocks.

  16. Jesse, if you were to kill one (or all) of the guys in the woods, a prosecutor would likely not charge you with anything (assuming that the evidence and the woman’s testimony showed that you had no other options available to you to keep the woman from being raped). It is a separate issue of having a gun in a national park, but for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that you took one of the bad guys’ guns.

    Papasteve makes a good point… even IF shooting someone in defense of another is illegal, I would still do it because it is MORAL. Which gets us back to Bryan’s original point… is shooting someone (especially fatally) in defense of another or defense of oneself morally defensible as a Christian? In defense of others… absolutely. In defense of myself… not so sure about that one. That’s where the situation comes into play. If someone is about to kill me and only me, I probably shouldn’t resist him (at least not kill him). But if he’s breaking into a/my home and is going to harm others (such as my family), the dude is going to get my full wrath.

  17. BMR,

    I agree 100%. Owen rocks.

    I like your last question. I have one more. Are you only a martyr when murdered because of your faith? Can you be a martyr if you are the victim of a drive by shooting? Maybe the natives speared him before he shot again? I doubt it but I guess you never know. I think our instincts tell us to survive. It takes quite a presence of mind to override that instinct.

    And a dog is good for barking but most of them are not going to defend our homes. I’ve never heard of a dog licking someone into submission. Although ‘bou is an exceptional open field tackler.

  18. In the words of the beloved roid-freak.

    “Go ahead and shoot. My arms are more powerful than your guns.”

    Keith Millard

  19. We have lots of guns in our house, under lock and key, kept far from the bullets… and I will continue to support them being there, because, somewhere, deep in my heart, I know that the deer are *ready* for heaven.
    Sorry. Couldn’t resist. My hubby is a hunter. And I have a knack for totally missing the point.
    God bless-

  20. Thr real Jess S.,
    From Chapter 9 of the Texas State Penal code:
    In it you’ll find that one is justified in using deadly force in protecting oneself or a third party and that there is no duty to retreat.
    I do want t make it clear that there are situations I would not take a life even when the State of Texas says I can. . .such as to protect one’s property. Taking a life is a terrible thing. I would not wish that on anybody. But standing by and watching an innocent life be snuffed out because I did not want to confront evil is a fate worse than death.

    § 9.32. DEADLY FORCE IN DEFENSE OF PERSON. (a) A person
    is justified in using deadly force against another:
    (1) if the actor would be justified in using force
    against the other under Section 9.31; and
    (2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably
    believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
    (A) to protect the actor against the other’s use
    or attempted use of unlawful deadly force; or
    (B) to prevent[0] the other’s imminent commission of
    aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual
    assault, robbery[0], or aggravated robbery[0].
    (b) The actor’s belief under Subsection (a)(2) that the
    deadly force was immediately necessary as described by that
    subdivision is presumed to be reasonable if the actor:
    (1) knew or had reason to believe that the person
    against whom the deadly force was used:
    (A) unlawfully and with force entered, or was
    attempting to enter unlawfully and with force, the actor’s occupied
    habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment;
    (B) unlawfully and with force removed, or was
    attempting to remove unlawfully and with force, the actor from the
    actor’s habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment; or
    (C) was committing or attempting to commit an
    offense described by Subsection (a)(2)(B);
    (2) did not provoke the person against whom the force
    was used; and
    (3) was not otherwise engaged in criminal activity,
    other than a Class C misdemeanor that is a violation of a law or
    ordinance regulating traffic at the time the force was used.
    (c) A person who has a right to be present at the location
    where the deadly force is used, who has not provoked the person
    against whom the deadly force is used, and who is not engaged in
    criminal activity at the time the deadly force is used is not
    required to retreat before using deadly force as described by this
    (d) For purposes of Subsection (a)(2), in determining
    whether an actor described by Subsection (c) reasonably believed
    that the use of deadly force was necessary, a finder of fact may not
    consider whether the actor failed to retreat.

    Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, § 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974.
    Amended by Acts 1983, 68th Leg., p. 5316, ch. 977, § 5, eff.
    Sept. 1, 1983; Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, § 1.01, eff. Sept.
    1, 1994; Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 235, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995.

    Amended by:
    Acts 2007, 80th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1, § 3, eff. September 1,

    § 9.33. DEFENSE OF THIRD PERSON. A person is justified
    in using force or deadly force against another to protect a third
    person if:
    (1) under the circumstances as the actor reasonably
    believes them to be, the actor would be justified under Section 9.31
    or 9.32 in using force or deadly force to protect himself against
    the unlawful force or unlawful deadly force he reasonably believes
    to be threatening the third person he seeks to protect; and
    (2) the actor reasonably believes that his
    intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person.

    Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, § 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974.
    Amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, § 1.01, eff. Sept. 1,

  21. And here are Minnesota’s laws, to be even more precise…

    Subdivision 1. When authorized. Except as otherwise provided in subdivision 2, reasonable
    force may be used upon or toward the person of another without the other’s consent when the
    following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist:

    (3) when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the
    person; or
    (4) when used by any person in lawful possession of real or personal property, or by
    another assisting the person in lawful possession, in resisting a trespass upon or other unlawful
    interference with such property;

    The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when
    necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the
    actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in
    the actor’s place of abode.

  22. Jesse, I posted Minnesota’s laws as well, but they got caught by the spam filter I guess. Needless to say, it is most certainly legal to use force (i.e. shoot someone) for many or all of the same reasons mentioned in Texas’ laws.

  23. well, if it’s legal we should do it…often. i live in nearly, canada and i think you have to own a minimum of 8 guns and have already shot 3 people before you are able to get a drivers license.

    titus 3 (especially verse 9)

    bryan – i am eating doritos and they are gooooood.

  24. Vince,

    Scoop up your Mac N Cheese with the doritos.

    And Amen on Titus 3:9

    Somebody shoot me to prove Darius wrong.

  25. Vince,
    Read the posts. Posting the legal information was at the request of another poster. And, your insinuations of the attitudes of others here who disagree with you is in poor taste and not reflective of how people have tried to portray their views on the matter here.

  26. I have to agree with papasteve here, the comment was disingenuous and completely missed the point of the discussion between Jesse, Steve, and myself. Granted, said discussion was also missing the point of Bryan’s original post, but we were getting back to that. Jesse had injected a tangent discussion regarding the law of this land, and Steve and I were addressing his comments.

  27. papasteve and Darius – point taken. i will back out of your discussion.

    bryan – the doritos were very good last night but i don’t know that i needed them. what dorito flavor do you like best? they have come out with some strange flavors recently. whatever happen to just traditional doritos and cool ranch? dang it.

  28. For what it’s worth ($0.00) I agree with Darius’ and Papasteve’s arguments. The freedom to keep and bear arms has deep roots in English common law and there are really three purposes:

    1. Defense of self and others
    2. Taking of game
    3. Prevention of tyranny

    None of which compromise my Christianity. (there’s a bald statement)

    All of which are necessary even (especially?) in the 21st century.

  29. Darius,
    Thanks, your post is a perfect transition back to the main focus of the thread.
    The original post was presenting a case for (in my words) a form a pacifism. . .that Christians had no business in owning or using guns. My question back was how does that apply to a Christian’s involvement in law enforcement, war, or a government official that has the authority to invoke violence. I have not heard back on that. It’s an important question. Some would say that a Christian has no business in any of those roles. I would disagree with them but I would say that they are at least trying to be consistent in their views. But if one acknowledges that it would be okay, or even right and good, then one is acknowledging that we do operate in different roles in society. For the record, I think that the missionaries were wrong to display and fire a gun in their situation. In the role of a missionary this was wrong. They have made it very hard for the missionaries that will come behind them.
    But in the role of a law enforcement official, or a soldier, even an American citizen, a father, or a husband, I have the duty to confront evil that comes my way and to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Am I to leave that role to only non-Christians because I can’t deal in violence? Isn’t that putting others in harms way, others that may not be “ready for heaven”, on my behalf?
    Here’s why I think that this is an important, timely discussion. As stated earlier, in the garden, pre-fall, Adam was charged to “keep” what had been entrusted to him. The idea of “keep” encompasses the ideas of guarding and protecting. Adam’s failure in this was at the very core of his personal “fall”. Eve turned and gave the fruit to her husband, who was with her. He was there the whole time and he did not “keep” the garden or his wife. He did not confront evil . . a task assigned to him by his Creator and a role that is at the very core of who he was as an Image bearer . .and a role that has been marred by the fall.
    Meekness is strength under control. We are to be men of peace, patience and wisdom but we are also to be men of strength, courage, and valor. And as Darius pointed out, men of justice.
    If one wants to pull out of society, as some have, and be a total pacifist, fine. But if a Christian is going to participate in society then it’s wrong to expect those “not ready to heaven” to come to our aid and fight our wars.

  30. I’d like to butt in on the Doritos discussion…

    best new flavor = Sweet Chili.

    Oh man that stuff is bomb. runner up would be the new flavor with the green bag, which is unfortunately now off the shelves of gas stations in my town.

  31. stevegoold –
    i’m glad to see someone has joined the conversation! i’ve never had the sweet chili flavor. that sounds interesting. i’m curious about the “green bag” you mention. what is it?! i won’t be able to sleep until i know.

  32. really! i’ve not heard of those. i don’t know what i think of that idea. maybe bryan will post about that next…if bryan really exists. 38 comments and no bryan…if that is his real name.

  33. Wow. I exit the blogosphere for a day and a war breaks out. See, this is why none of you should own guns. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

    Seriously, though, most of what I’m reading is deeply grieving to me, mainly because of the utter lack of serious biblical thought throughout. The vast majority of this conversation has centered on what is “practical,” “realistic,” and expedient rather than on what the scriptures teach. I am not opposed to asking the “practical” and “realistic” and “expedient” questions, but I am deeply troubled that they always seem to leap frog ahead of the biblical questions.

    As of yet, from what I can tell, no one has answered the “Jesus question.” Without question, the clearest statement in the scriptures concerning violence is Matt. 5:38-48. Everyone here seems to have skipped over that difficult statement to the practical matters. You can always tell when someone wants out of a difficult ethical question: They always raise the most difficult case they can think of (rape, endangerment of children, etc.) as though it were the exception that disproves the rule and that there are no good answers to those questions.

    I want to know why so many of you do not seem to believe that Jesus really meant exactly what he said. This seems to be the heart of the issue.

    Don’t try to corner Jesus (i.e. “He didn’t seem to mind Peter carrying a sword – Please; “He didn’t tell the centurion to leave the army” – Seriously, that’s your argument?!). Don’t put words in his mouth or thoughts in his head. Don’t argue from silence. Just explain to me why you are allowing exceptions to what is otherwise very clear and does not seem to allow exceptions. In my experience, once that question gets answered, most everything else falls into place.

    Another grievance I have is the way you guys went to the law. What does the law have to do with ethics? Yes, of course, we’re supposed to obey the law, but following the laws erected by sinful men in no ways insures that we are walking in obedience. Vince’s reference to Titus 3:9 was singularly unhelpful on an issue that needs to get discussed, but at least he was trying to move toward Scripture on this question. I wish he would have quoted from 1 Cor. 6:12: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful.” In other words, what is lawful is not necessarily biblically ethical. The law has almost nothing to do with this question.

    Finally, I am grieved by the lack of evidence in this discussion of a worldview that truly has a sovereign God at the center of it. The sort of God who would see to it that things would work themselves out if we were willing to do what Jesus says. If Jesus says, “Don’t resist. Don’t retaliate,” do we not believe that God’s will would be done if we obeyed what he says?

    To use one of your examples: If you were to come upon a person being raped in a park what would you do? It grieves me, in light of what Jesus said, that the only thing we can think of is violence. What about praying (fast)? What about stepping in and trying to cover the victim, taking blows and knives to your back if the aggressors won’t relent? What about shouting, “You are made in God’s image and Jesus is your Lord and you are sinning against him and you are better than this!” while you cover the victim? Or, “I am a follower of Christ and I will not fight you. You can kill me but you will be lost forever.” Is God not sovereign? Can he not use this? Didn’t it work for MLK, Jr.? Didn’t it work for Gandhi (nonresistance, of course, not invoking Christ)? Why do we have such a small view of God that we think the only answer is to say, “Jesus was just wrong in this case, so I need to knock these guys out or shoot them in the leg – I hope I don’t hit an artery and kill him?”

    I think we have a very shallow and small view of God and that is killing our imagination about what he can do.

    Nonresistance doesn’t make sense to most people. But the logic of the Kingdom of God isn’t the logic of this world. The logic of this world is “retaliation ends violence.” Has this REALLY ever proven true?! It never has. Violence perpetuates violence. Only mercy and love disarm.

    As for me (since you all seem to be most concerned about “what I would do”), if someone were being raped and I saw it, I hope I would do all the things I mentioned above. If I needed to push one of the attackers to get to the victim to cover her, fine, but I wouldn’t try to fight them. I would pray like crazy and say as many things as I possibly could to convict their consciences.

    If Owen was about to be attacked, I would do anything I could to cover him and take the blows on my own back. That sounds like Jesus to me. And I don’t think that makes me or Jesus any less of “men.”

    I can’t STAND this modern evangelical bull about what a “man” is. As though Wild at Heart and Mark Driscoll and his MMA-loving fan base are our models rather than Jesus. The EASY thing to do is to fight. Anyone can fight. I see whiny little brats on the playground fight when someone wrongs them. That’s easy.

    What’s hard; what’s truly manly is to swallow Matthew 5:38-48 and take a cross without complaining about our “rights” and what’s “legal.” Like Jesus did. Like Peter did. Like Jim Eliot did.

  34. Oh, and original Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch are the only way to go. All the rest are just pretenders.

  35. Is it really the EASY thing to do to fight a bunch of guys attacking another innocent person? Personally, the easy thing is to run away and pray while someone else fights for the victim. Perhaps you’re right, Jesus would want us to do what you’re saying. But I don’t think that it’s harder, it’s easier.

    That said, I think we’re talking about two different things: self defense versus defense of others. Legally speaking (I know, it’s beside the point, but bear with me), both are okay. Morally speaking, again, both are legit. WWJD-speaking, I only believe that the latter is okay. Physically defending oneself doesn’t seem to be an option (at least in the NT and at least when discussing persecution of faith, but probably in all instances of persecution). But defense of another… Bryan, do you know of any Scripture that tells us to NOT defend another innocent person? The verses you have mentioned imply personal attack on one’s own person, never toward a third party. I think a distinction must be made between the two. As BMR and papasteve have rightly argued, how is it Christ-like to care more for the physical/spiritual well-being of an attacker than that of the victim?

    And I don’t believe defense of others is a matter of a small God vs. Big God. It reminds me of the parable of the guy who was sitting on the top of his roof in a flood waiting for God to rescue him. First a boat and then a helicopter come along to help him, but he tells them that he’s fine, God is going to save him. The flood gets worse and he drowns and goes to heaven, where he asks God “why didn’t you save me?” God replies, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter, didn’t I?” If put in a situation like that above (rape in the woods) or even something less extreme, like an old man being pushed around by punks on a street corner or a kid being picked on at school, if all we were to do was pray and wait for God to rescue that person or convict the souls of the bad guys, wouldn’t that be ignoring the possibility (even likelihood) that God put you in that place to save the person? We don’t do this in the rest of our lives (sit and pray while a person drowns, for example), so why would we do it in defense of another (unless specifically called to do so in Scripture, which I have yet to see)?

    As for the legal aspect of this debate… I don’t think anyone brought it up until Jesse mentioned it, which we then addressed as a side issue. I personally don’t care two hoots about the legality of something, but is it Christ-like and morally upright. If the state tells me that I can’t do something, but it is what I must do to be obedient to God, I do it. If the state tells me I can do something but it is against my call as a Christian, I don’t do it. For example, the Air Force academy has put strong restrictions on “proselytizing” or sharing the gospel. If I was a Christian there, I would have to ignore that if I felt called to tell someone the Good News.

  36. Heeeeeeyyyyyy Mookie,

    I just watched the film The Mission last night. Have you seen it? It is based on a true story about Jesuit priests in 1750s South America working with the Guarani tribe. Their lives and homes were being threatened by the Spanish and Portuguese interests. Some of the priests and Indian converts chose violence to defend their homes while others didn’t. It is a fascinating, inspiring, saddening, beautiful film. It came out in 1986 and won lots of awards for cinematography, etc. At the end of the film it quotes John 1:5-“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Just an interesting film, based on a true account, in light this recent discussion on Christians and violence.

    p.s. Forget Dorito’s. Have you tried Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits?! Oh my word. I can’t go back to just the boring Original now….they have changed the world of crackers forever.

  37. I don’t want any of this to be taken as (or in) a contentious spirit.

    Have we established that Matt 5:38-48 is speaking about violence in a life threatening self defense situation?

    Part of my argument would be that what is being addressed here is personal insult. You embarrass me, I’ll get you back, I’ll slap your face in public; an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. This was actually a perversion of the Law (eye for eye; tooth for tooth) which was intended to limit the damages an offended person was due. Make the punishment fit the crime so to speak. Christ followers are to bear insult without seeking revenge.

    There may be an argument that these verses do apply to life threatening situations, but I think that argument needs to be made, not assumed.

    There are passages which speak directly to self defense situations:
    Ex 22:2 — For thieves in the home, there is no blodguiltiness
    Neh 4:13+ — the builders armed themselves
    Luke 22:36 — Jesus recommends (commands?) buying a sword.

    Making proper use of proper tools for proper ends is perhaps a means of Grace.

  38. Micah 6:8… “He has told you, O man, what is good;and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

    We are to DO justice, not just promote it with our lips or pray it with our spirits. Also, it is interesting that God did NOT say “Justice is mine” but “Vengeance is mine” (unless those words mean the same in Hebrew). Justice entails fighting for the rights/safety of another, while vengeance is fighting for your own rights. Furthermore, vengeance is necessarily AFTER wrongdoing has already occurred, which means that it isn’t done to stop further evil, but just to repay that which has been done. Justice can be meted out as wrongdoing is occuring.

    “Have we established that Matt 5:38-48 is speaking about violence in a life threatening self defense situation?”

    That’s an interesting question, James. While it doesn’t explicitly mention life-threatening violence (slapping is pretty mild in comparison), it does seem to imply that the level of violence TO ONESELF is beside the point. After all, when Jesus said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and did just that, it was specifically his own murderers for whom he prayed. Furthermore, “those who persecute you” would have been taken to mean someone like Saul, who wasn’t just heaping insults on Christians, but was also killing them. Again, this could be taken as only applying to faith-based persecution, but when taken in context with the previous paragraph on personal affronts, it doesn’t seem likely.

    Again, however, to get back to my main point… the whole passage never discusses anything but personal attacks; never once mentioning what to do when someone else is being mistreated (I would guess because it was obvious that one must defend the innocent). 10 times in those two paragraphs Jesus used the word “you” as the object of the enemy’s action. Not once did He mention an attack of a third party.

    That brings me back to the original post from Piper. I agree with him that it was good and Christ-like for the missionaries to not defend themselves. And I would apply that to use of force to defend ONLY oneself or property. I cannot apply that, however, to defense of other innocent persons. So that is why I have no problem with people owning guns, if they only plan on using them for hunting or defense of another.

  39. If only we had no laws, no borders, no urges to protect ourselves from inflicted harm from another etc. we would most likely be living in a world of CHAOS for the next few hundred years or more.

    However, God could turn that chaos into peace with true firm believers. He would soften the hardened hearts (extremists, guerillas, warlords…) and possibly turn their compasses towards him at a neverbefore seen rate. I believe God has this power.

    On the other hand, it is hard for me to trust in man. It is so hard to see and believe that a terrorist so deeply rooted by faith into another extreme religion will drop his weapons and turn to Christ. But I guess it is not for me to dole out trust to other men, it is for me to have trust in God and that he can do anything including the weathering of the mountain of Islam.

    just a thought.

    I like the triangle shape they give to doritos…like no other!

  40. Darius said,
    “After all, when Jesus said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and did just that, it was specifically his own murderers for whom he prayed.”

    Is all personal attack “persecution”? I believe we are commanded to obey Christ to the point of death. No question about dying for the Faith.

    But is someone who breaks into my house in the middle of the night with intent to do me and my family harm “persecuting” me for my faith?

    Is there any room for a distinction?

  41. Bryan,

    I regret the confidence with which you proclaim the superiority of traditional Doritos flavors. Have you even tried Sweet Chili? I bet you haven’t…


    “Salsa Verde” is the flavor in said green bag. So delicious. Also, do you remember the early 90’s flavor “Monterey Jack Cheese”? Possibly the best ever.


    Doritos “Collision” flavors are a disappointment to me because I always like one flavor much more than the other, and so the bag ends up being half-delicious and half-bummer (meshing the two flavors into one really isn’t an option for me because my style has always been to eat one chip at a time).

  42. Good point, Steve. I kinda do the same, eating only one of the two (though sometimes the two flavors are too similar and I don’t know which one I’m eating).

  43. “Is all personal attack “persecution”? I believe we are commanded to obey Christ to the point of death. No question about dying for the Faith.

    But is someone who breaks into my house in the middle of the night with intent to do me and my family harm “persecuting” me for my faith?”

    No to both questions, but I don’t think Christ left us that distinction. The “love those who persecute you” seems to imply faith-based persecution (though perhaps Bryan could enlighten us as to the meaning of the original word). But the previous paragraph about giving to someone who asks for your cloak (property) sounds like Jesus was addressing theft. So, if you have someone break into your home to ONLY steal stuff or harm you, I’m not sure that there is Biblical warrant to defend yourself, maybe not even to call the police (at least not immediately). Instead, use that opportunity to share the gospel with him while filling his sack with your material goods (not easy, and by no means our default setting). But if that person breaks in with the intent of first harming your family prior to any theft, then I don’t find anything in Scripture that tells us to hold our peace (if flight is not an option). I suppose a Christian husband and wife could make a pact similar to that of the missionaries where they said that no matter what happened, they would not harm (especially fatally) someone doing harm to their spouse. I can’t imagine anyone actually fulfilling that pact though.

  44. “Is all personal attack “persecution”? I believe we are commanded to obey Christ to the point of death. No question about dying for the Faith.

    But is someone who breaks into my house in the middle of the night with intent to do me and my family harm “persecuting” me for my faith?”

    These are excellent questions . .and I agree with your answers. You illustrate better than I have my points about us having different roles. And again, the minute we say the above applies to any situation for a Christian, we have to answer that question about our involvement i the rest of society, re: being in law enforcement, a soldier, etc.

    I want to through a new wrench into the conversation. It seems this group has narrowed it’s biblical quotations to Jesus in the Gospel narratives. There are a few things we need to keep in mind when doing that:
    1. This is historical narrative that is recording the conversations that Jesus had with specific people. One must be carfeul in concluding that every conversation applies to all people in all times.
    2. Unless the applicaton, or intended audience is specifically mentioned in the text, we need to consult the whole counsel of Scripture in applying historical narrative. It needs to be put in context.
    3. The Gospel narratives took place during the Old Covenant. We need to carfully study and discern when Jesus is looking forward to the Church age, and when He is helping the culture of the day understand what it really means to be righteous under the Old Covenant.

    If we say that all Jesus has done and said universally applies to all people for all times then we need to remember that it was the preincarnate Christ who came to kill Moses for his disobedience, Who killed the armies of Sennacherib, and Who will come back on a white horse with a two edged sword in His mouth to smite the nations with a word.
    No, I’m not saying that those actions give us license. They don’t. That’s my point. We need to be Jesus’ words in context.

  45. bryan – i am sorry that you found my titus 3:9 comment unhelpful. it was directed toward the state laws and not the other cordial conversation that was taking place.

    i have stayed out of the conversation because i tend to agree with what you wrote in your comment above and i don’t think many commenters were discussing this with scripture as the foundation. i think we tend to focus way too much on political and governmental things and slide the bible in to support it. i know myself well enough to know that i would jump right into a conversation like this and begin defending MY position with MY opinions. my tendency to do that is wrong – especially if i say that the Word of God is my final authority.

    i get so tired of this kind of argument – “well, we live in a different age now so it’s difficult to use biblical arguments today and so because of that let’s fill in some blanks here and there in the name of Jesus.” oscar meyer!

    by the way, WDWJE? (what dorito would Jesus eat).

  46. Wow, in my earler glance of this page it had truncated many of the replies. I just now have seen them all and read Bryan’s response to all of this. You guys apparantly all know each other and I now feel like a party crasher. My apologies for intruding where perhaps I don’t belong.
    Bryan, I take it you’re a pastor, correct? I must say in reading your latest response it is I who am grieved as well . . .though I won’t use that as an excuse for cursing.
    I’m grieved because it’s clear you didn’t thouroughly read through these posts before responding and some of your response misrepresented both the spirit and the words in some of this discussion. For the most part I took most of this in the spirit of iron sharpening iron and was appreciative of the dialogue.
    Since you used John Piper to illustrate your view of a biblical perspective I assumed it would be okay for me to point out my perspective on a biblical truth commented on by Mark Driscoll. My apologies.
    And yes, I believe what Jesus said. But if what He said in Matthew 5:38 is as “clear” as you say, then why am I not also doing things such as plucking out my eye, cutting off my arm, and presenting offerings at an altar. When your church gets sued are you going to instantly find out what the person wants, roll over, and double it? That’s what Jesus said!
    I have no desire to find what’s practical and then find scripture that fits my views. And you implying that some here have done that was wrong. You were judging motives.
    Peace to all . . .I look forward to meeting you on the other side when we’ll laugh about all this. Oh, and Salsa Verde is the best flavor.

  47. papasteve,

    You are more than welcome here. Please feel free to join the conversation anytime. This blog is not exclusive to people who know me personally.

    Did I curse anyone? I don’t think I did. If I did, I apologize.


    I actually have tried all of those flavors. None of them compare to the originals – and by the originals I mean Cool Ranch and the original Nacho Cheese flavor, not this new and “improved” version. Don’t ever question my devotion to Doritos, sucka. The 30 extra pounds I carry around attest to my devotion.

    All the rest,

    It seems to me that this conversation is going nowhere productive. You guys have raised some valid points and have helped refine some thoughts, and for that I am thankful. James’ reference to Luke 22:36 is particularly interesting. Nevertheless, I think we are at an impasse. I doubt there is much I could say to change your mind at this point, and I no longer have much to add to what I’ve said, so I think I’ll bow out and do some pondering of my own position(s). You guys are (obviously) welcome to continue hashing things out, and I’ll jump back in if I have anything new to say.

    Thanks for the charitable and interesting conversation, fellas.

  48. Wow, I got in a bit late on this discussion…still, I’ll add my two cents:
    I don’t own a gun, and most likely never will. I don’t necessarily have a stance against guns, however, I know several people who have had horrible accidents with guns…and to be honest, that’s enough to convince me that I don’t need one (I’m a pretty clumsy person). Plus, I live in Plymouth, which isn’t necessarily a hotbed for violent crime.

    Anyway, my struggle with the common evangelical position (on a lot of issues, but especially the gun issue) is that it too readily aligns itself with the Republican party line and, as Derek Webb so eloquently reminds us, Jesus was not “a white, middle class republican.” And so if our brand of Christianity easily upholds the white, middle class status quo, then I would venture to guess that something is wrong with our understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

    There are two things that stand out to me as I read the gospels
    1. Following Jesus (imitation, not just admiration) means living against the grain of culture is virtually every way. We are called, as Peter suggests, to understand ourselves as resident aliens on earth. We should be known for the peculiar, sacrificial love we show…and we should follow this command of Christ to every logical end.
    2. We have NO rights. Nothing is ours. Everything we have is a gift that we don’t deserve. We are horribly rotten apart from the saving work of Christ, and so any idea of protecting or safeguarding OUR property seems a bit pretentious. We have no property, at least in the sense that the world defines it. Nothing is ours, everything is Christ’s.

    Thanks for everything everyone has written. I have been thinking about the issue all day and still am finding it hard to completely land on one end of the issue or another.

    p.s. Hebrew Vengeance – Naqam
    Justice – Mishpat

  49. Thanks all for letting me join your discussion. In parting company I thought I’d post a read I just finished from John Piper’s web site, http://www.desiringgod.org
    Sorry, it’s a little long. I thought is was balanced and I learned from it. It didn’t answer all the questions posed here but it did answer many of them . . .and I thought it gave a good explanation of understanding the sermon on the mount . .at least much better than my attempt above. Peace to all.

    The attacks of September 11 and the resulting war against terrorism have brought to the front once again the question of the Christian view of war. The question is particularly complex because it is hard to see how war can be consistent with the biblical emphasis upon forgiveness and forebearance and love. This emphasis is perhaps most pointed in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says:

    You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:39-44)

    Does Jesus’ teaching that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies mean that it is always wrong to go to war? Should the world have turned the other cheek to Hitler and tried to love him into surrender? When Osama Ben Laden ordered the attack on the World Trade Center, should the U.S. have responded by sending him the Sears Tower as well? Or does Jesus allow a place for both loving our enemies and yet, in certain situations, using force to restrain life-threatening wickedness?

    What follows are some of the primary reasons we believe that it is right for the military (and Christians who are a part of the military) to engage in wars that have just cause–namely, self-defense, the restraint of life-threatening evil, and the punishment of nations and individuals who have committed unjust acts of war against one’s country. This is called the just war theory. We will close by seeking to explain how this fits with the command to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and not resist him who is evil.

    Pacifism is harmful
    To let someone murder when it is in your power to stop them is completely contrary to our moral sentiments. If a Hitler is on the move and seeking to bind the world in tyranny and destroy entire ethnic groups, it would seem very clearly wrong not to oppose him with force (which sometimes is the only effective method). It is true that war itself is harmful and tragic; but pacifism would result in even more harm to the world because it would give wicked people virtually free reign. We of course must be open to letting the Bible transform our moral sentiments, but this observation should at least cause us to pause and reflect more deeply before concluding that Jesus is intending to teach pacifism.

    Consistent pacifism would have to eliminate the police, not just the military
    In fact, if we were to conclude that governments should always turn the other cheek and never resist evil, then we would be logically committing ourselves to getting rid of not only the armed forces, but also the police force and criminal justice system. For police officers arrest criminals, using force against them if necessary, and put them in jail. That is not turning the other cheek. Does Jesus intend his command to turn the other cheek to apply to the police? Surely not as their primary way of responding to evil. God does not want evil to run about in our society unchecked (cf. in the OT the numerous civil laws and in the NT Romans 13, to be discussed below). If one accepts the legitimacy of police using force in some instances, there can be no objection to the military using force in some instances, either.

    Luke 3:14 allows military service
    It is significant that John the Baptist did not tell the soldiers to leave the military when they asked him what it meant to repent: “And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages'” (Luke 3:14). Since it is, therefore, possible to live a godly life and yet be in the military, it must be because engaging in war is not always sinful.

    John 18:36 acknowledges the right of the sword to earthly kingdoms
    In this passage, Jesus says: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” When Jesus says that if his kingdom were of this world his servants would be fighting, he implies that it is right for kingdoms of this world to fight when the cause is just and circumstances require it. As Christians, we are citizens of “two kingdoms”–our country on earth, and heaven. Jesus shows us that it is never right to fight for the sake of his spiritual kingdom, but that it is right to fight on behalf of earthly kingdoms (when necessary to counter evil and destruction).

    Romans 13:3-4 grants governments the right to use force to restrain and punish evil
    Paul writes: “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”

    Here Paul affirms the government’s right to use force in two ways. First, he says that it “does not bear the sword for nothing.” Second, he states that government is a “minister of God” when it executes vengeance against evildoers.

    Governments, of course, do not have the right to use force for any purpose whatsoever. They do not have the right to use force in order to lord it over their citizens and impose unnecessary restraints upon freedom. There are two purposes for which this text says the government is justified in using force: the restraint of evil and the punishment of evil. The purpose of force is not just to prevent further evil from happening, but to punish evil acts by bringing the perpetrators to justice. Government is acting as a “minister of God” when it serves as “an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”

    Does the right of the sword in this text extend to the case of war? The immediate context does have in mind the use of physical force in regard to a government’s own citizens. But by extension this also implies that if one nation commits an act of war against another nation, the offended nation has the right to engage in self-defense and to avenge the wrong. Would it be consistent to say that a nation has a right to restrain and punish evil committed against it by its own citizens, but not to restrain and punish evil committed against it by another nation? The mere fact that the civil offense was committed by another country does not remove their accountability to the country they attacked.

    1 Peter 2:13-4 confirms the teaching of Romans 13:3-4
    In 1 Peter 2:13-14, we are taught: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Once again, the right of governments to punish evil is affirmed.

    Is it right for a Christian to fight in a war?
    Since the Scriptures teach that it is right for a nation to engage in a just war, it follows that it is therefore right for a Christian to fight in such a war. Some have argued that non-Christians may fight in wars but believers may not, but this distinction is not found in Scripture. Scripture teaches that it is not sin for a government to engage in a just war, and there is therefore nothing that forbids Christian from being involved in just wars.

    Church and state must be distinguished
    It is very important, however, to remember here the distinction between church and state. The Christian fights in a war not as an ambassador of the church or on behalf of the church, but as an ambassador of his country. The church is not to use violence (John 18:36), but the government at times may (John 18:36; Romans 13:3-4; etc.). So the Christian fights not as an agent of the church, but as an agent of the government of his country. Both are ultimately under the authority of God, but each has a distinct role.

    What about turning the other cheek?
    What, now, are we to make of Jesus’ radical commands in Matthew 5:39-41? “Do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two.” How does this fit with what we have seen above?

    First, we need to clarify what the problem is not. The problem is not that Jesus appears to be telling us to lie down and let evil overtake us. That is clearly not what he is saying. Instead, he is telling us what it looks like “not [to] be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). We have all seen the wisdom of Jesus’ words here in our everyday lives. Much of the time, the most effective way to overcome evil is by not resisting. If someone says a mean word, it is far more effective to respond with kindness than with another mean word in return. If someone tries wrongly to cut you off on the freeway, it is usually best just to let them do it. If we would learn these principles, our lives would be much more peaceful and, ironically, we would be vindicated more often.

    So the problem is not that it looks as though Jesus is telling us to let evil steam-roll over us. The problem is that it looks like Jesus is telling us that the only way we should ever seek to overcome evil is by letting it go and responding with kindness. It looks as though he leaves no place for using force in resisting evil.

    Part of the answer to this difficulty lies in understanding the hyperbolic nature of much of the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t think that Jesus is telling us never to respond to evil with force (such as in self-defense) or always to literally turn the other cheek when we are slapped any more than his command later in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:6 means that we should only pray when we are completely alone or his command in 5:29 means that some should literally gouge out their eyes. Jesus himself drove the thieves away from the temple with a whip (John 2:15) and Paul at times insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 25:11; cf. also the interesting instance of 16:35-40). Jesus is using hyperbole to illustrate what our primary disposition and attitude should be, not to say that we should literally give in to every attempt to do evil against us. That is part of the answer.

    The main part of the answer, however, lies in remembering that Jesus is speaking primarily to individuals. He is not mainly addressing governments here, but is primarily speaking at the personal level. This text, then, shows that an individual’s primary response to evil should be to “turn the other cheek,” while the other texts we have seen (e.g., Romans 13:3-4) show that government’s God-given responsibility is to punish those who commit civil crimes (murder, terrorism, acts of war, etc.). While it is sometimes appropriate even for individuals to use self-defense, it is never appropriate for individuals to seek to punish others. But it is right, however, for governments both to take measures of self-defense and to execute retribution.

    There are, in other words, various “spheres” of life. God has willed that some spheres include responsibilities that are not necessarily included in other spheres. Personally, it would be wrong for us to execute retribution on people who harm us. But passages like Romans 13:3-4 and John 18:36 show that Jesus is not denying governments the right to execute retribution on evildoers. Therefore, when a Christian is under the authority of the government and authorized to fight in a just war on the nation’s behalf, it is appropriate for him to fight. For he is not fighting as a private individual, but as a representative of the government to which God has given the power of the sword.

    In doing so, a Christian soldier should strive to love one’s opponents in war as people, remembering that he opposes them as agents of the opposing government/system, not as private individuals. When at war, we need to look at people in the opposing army/terrorist group at two levels–the private, and governmental/public. Because of the private level, the soldier should pray for and love the opposing soldiers. And because of the public level, the soldier fights against them–not as private individuals, but as public representatives of the system and evil that is being opposed. That distinction, I am sure, would be hard to maintain in battle. Neither would it remove the pain and difficulty of being involved in fighting against other human beings. But it is perhaps a faint reflection of how the personal and governmental spheres overlap and involve one another while still remaining distinct.

    Further Resources

    John Piper, “Terrorism, Justice, and Loving Our Enemies”

    Robert Clouse, ed., War: Four Christian Views.

    John Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, chapter 13, “The Christian and War”

    Norman Geisler,Christian Ethics, chapter 12, “War”


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  50. That was an excellent addition to this conversation, papasteve, but for the sake of space, perhaps it would be good for Bryan to add the link as an update to the bottom of his post and remove it from the comments area.

    “To let someone murder when it is in your power to stop them is completely contrary to our moral sentiments.”

    That is a great quote. Piper also seems to make a case for self defense, which is on more shaky ground Biblically, I believe. But then again, like he says, there is room for the leading of the Holy Spirit. Viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a sort of New Testament version of Proverbs (an extremely hyperbolic book) is an interesting idea, and not one without some merit.

  51. I think you have a good point Amanda, and makes me wonder about what was meant by the commandment to not kill/murder. I always understood it as murder in any case was wrong and killing was ok, as in the case of taking the life in the name of justice. Is this right?

    Let alone killing and taking of peoples lives for protection, would Jesus think it would be right to incarcerate a person for doing wrong? Not trying to compare killing and sending someone to jail in any way, but would Jesus be for controlling a persons entire life between four walls of concrete and steel?

    Is it any more right or wrong for man to judge who deserves the death penalty vs. life in prison?

    I personally think it is ok, because I see the benefits of enforcing a set of rules and laws for a society, but does Jesus think its beneficial for man to make up rules and laws amongst ourselves that may not be at all biblical or what Jesus would do?

  52. I think we can all learn from this excerpt from The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II, Episode 3 – “The Monkey’s Paw”…

    …Lisa wishes for world peace with the best intentions. All countries declare peace and are eager to destroy all weapons by throwing them into a giant furnace. Military personnel and Police forces take up jobs baking cookies and all nuclear weapons are disposed of. Before long, Kang and Kodos realize the human race is “ripe for the plucking” and enslave the Earth armed only with a slingshot and a club. Kang then crowns himself king of Earth. The people angrily blame the Simpsons, wishing they were dead. Determined to make a wish that cannot be twisted, Homer demands a turkey sandwich which, to his horror, turns out to be a little dry. As Homer throws the paw in the trash can, Ned Flanders asks if he can have it. Homer gladly hands the paw over to Flanders, hoping to see his neighbor’s wishes backfire as well. Ned wishes for the invading aliens to depart, which is accomplished by Moe chasing the aliens away with a board harbouring a nail. As they retreat, the aliens proclaim that one day humans will make bigger boards with bigger nails and eventually destroy themselves with their own power…

  53. I’ve stayed out of this one until now…

    Well played Tiffany, very well played. Any Simpsons quoting woman (or man) is a hero in my book. “Your superior intellect is no match for our puny weapons!”

    As for me, I will support the right to bear arms and the right to arm bears, but I don’t have any plans to own such a weapon. My sentiments probably fall pretty close to the Piper quote that started this whole thread.

    As for Doritos, I like the really old original PLAIN Doritos. I can buy them when I visit my Mom in Missouri, but I have not seen them anywhere else. Why is that? Cool Ranch is best among flavors I can normally buy.

  54. Can you still get just plain cool ranch anymore? Didn’t it become something like “new cooler ranch” or perhaps now “newest coolest ranch” or “cool ranch infinity?”

    I have an idea. Lets pass a law that the only ammunition that can be shot from a gun could be doritos. I’ll email my senator immediately.

  55. no steve, you’re missing the whole point – we’d shoot doritos at each other so we could eat them AND have fun all at the same time. Kind of like at Benihana where they flip the one last shrimp at you to see if you can catch it in your mouth….oh nevermind. I guess we’ll just have to go back to bullets again. Party pooper.

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