In my last post I proposed that, against the uniquely American theology of God, guns, and family, the Christian teaching of the New Testament doesn’t allow for self-defense at all. I started with arguments against defending property, which is the easier path, since we know Christianity is anti-materialist. But I want to expand on those thoughts to talk about why Christians also have no Biblically-mandated right to defend themselves or their family using lethal force.
First, let’s look at the idea of “safety” and “security” for a Christian. In contemporary America, some believers have turned Christianity into a Gospel of comfort and success. Again, this could not be further from “Biblically-based” Christianity. Jesus makes it clear that to be his disciple involves persecution:
“For they will hand you over to councils and flog you in the synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me… Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.” (Matthew 10:17-18; 21-22) This passage echoes the “little apocalypse” sections in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 24; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-17).
And when this persecution comes down on the disciples, Jesus does not tell them to take up arms and resist. In fact, he tells them to flee: “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next.” (Matthew 10:23). What a wuss that Jesus was. C’mon, sheeple!
If that’s not bad enough, we’re told we should love our persecutors and pray for our enemies: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. …Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:14-18).
But what about God’s wrath? Doesn’t it say somewhere there are violent consequences for those who go against God? Yes, it does. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Romans 12:19). And the same theme is repeated in 2 Peter: “And if he did not spare the ancient world…when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2: 5-9).
As much as it makes this liberal Christian cough and spit out his free trade organic coffee to read it, the Bible says God’s a selfish, angry deity and if there’s any violence to be done, he wants all that action for himself. These are passages I can’t stand, because I believe in a God of mercy and peace, but there they are. The scripture writers are clear, though, that no one should see themselves as the instrument of God’s wrath. We are to leave wrath or revenge to God alone.
So what about protecting the family? Again, Jesus’ teaching is always trying to reorient us from “here, now, me, mine” thinking toward a more radical vision of the Kingdom. Jesus “rejects” his own family by saying his true family is anyone who does the will of God. (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:20-34; Luke 8:19-21.) In a similar way, he calls out anyone who loves their family—or even their own lives—more than they love God: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 14:25-27).
Jesus radically reorients us from a limited biological view of family toward a spiritual view of family. And we must be willing to sacrifice everything for this “Kingdom vision” of family and community–even our own safety, and the safety of the ones we love. This is hard teaching. But the Bible comforts us that if we turn our whole selves and families over to God, we will not be left alone in facing the trouble of the world.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
For Christians, Christ is our “home defense platform.” This is what is meant by Christian freedom. Once I have let go of my life and my safety for the living out of God’s Kingdom, I am free from worrying about what the evil world can do to me. This is the peace that Christ promises—not the compromised peace of home security, but the “peace that passes understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)
One other passage that refers to responsibilities in the Christian family is Ephesians 5, in which it states that the husband is the spiritual head of the household (we’ll leave off for now addressing the issues this causes with a more liberating understanding of gender roles). But as spiritual head, he must be like Christ. That is, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Note, again, it does not say, “Husbands, arm yourselves and protect your wife.” In emulation of Christ, husbands must be willing to lay down their own lives for their wives and families. The responsibility is a matter of personal sacrifice and spiritual leadership, not home defense.
And what about this spiritual leadership? What kind of a spiritual effect does having a gun in the house have on a family? What lessons does it teach about trusting God and the Christian sense of freedom? Is it a contradiction to instruct your children to “love your neighbor as yourself” to “turn the other cheek,” and to “not return evil for evil,” but also to be armed with an efficient, accurate, killing machine? How deeply do we want our children to believe this Christianity thing? Is it to take root in their souls and cause them to be transformed into forces for God’s love in the world? Or do we tell them that “love your neighbor” stuff is fine for Sunday school, but in the real world you need to back that up with a gun.
In short, “God, guns, and family” theology is not “biblically-based Christianity.” It is time to recognize gun ownership for what it is: a personal preference for taking lethal action against the material dangers of the world, real or imagined. It is not a holy sacrament. This has serious implications, because as Christians, we are instructed to worry less about the one that can kill the body, and more about the one who can judge the soul. (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5).
I can write the responses even before they’re left in the comments section. “You mean to tell me if a rapist or murderer breaks into my house, I’m not supposed to fight back?”
I don’t know the answer to that question. I can only observe that people who own guns seem to constantly be gaming the “home invasion” scenario. I hardly ever think about it myself. Just as every gun enthusiast tells me they have been in a situation where a gun saved their lives, yet somehow I have lived forty-one years without a gun saving my life. It seems the gun subculture lives in a much more dangerous world than I do.
But I can tell you about one more Bible verse that explicitly talks about a thieves coming in the night: 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 2:
“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.”
So the question is, as Americans turn their homes into fortresses, buying up military-grade weapons and defending their families not with spiritual strength but with tactical force, which thief in the night are we preparing for? The one that can kill the body? Or the one that judges the soul?