I am an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture refers to it as the Gospel of peace (Romans 10:15, Ephesians 6:15). I am called, as are all believers, to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). God has made it clear to me that my purpose in life, through writing, preaching and teaching, is to create an environment in which people can grab hold of the grace God has for them each day. I blog regularly pursuing that purpose at www.ApprehendingGrace.com. While I am not a pastor, I preach about three times a month urging myself and others to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love their neighbor as they love themselves.
When I began to consider using lethal force to defend myself or a loved one against someone threatening to do severe bodily harm, headlines like this ran through my mind: “Assailant Killed by Local Minister.” I wasn’t very comfortable with that headline. Of course, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with any headline that said I had killed someone. The more I thought about it, the more I realized some of my friends who would have a whole lot more trouble with it than others. While I am generalizing, I’ve found that my “suburban” friends would be less accepting than my “country” friends. In the country (which I currently live on the outskirts of), protecting oneself and one’s property is much more accepted.
But I didn’t want to base my position on what my friends and others would think. I needed to answer this question for myself: “Is it OK for a Christian to use lethal force in self defense?”
If you choose to own guns for self defense, get training. We say that in nearly every blog about guns. What doesn’t get said as often is this: If you choose to own guns for self defense, be sure you are emotionally prepared to use them. Any hesitation caused by uncertainty when facing an assailant can give him an opportunity to do you great harm. Yes, you must hesitate to be absolutely sure of your target and what is beyond it, but you must not hesitate about the ethics of your action in that last moment. That means you must wrestle with it now, before you are in the situation. Experts agree: If you can’t shoot to kill, don’t carry a gun.
Questions to Consider
I’m going to ask some questions for you to consider and I’ll tell you the answers I’ve come up with. Please know that in no way am I casting judgment on you if your answer is different from mine. I’m just providing the questions as points for you to consider. Additionally, I’m consistently using a male pronoun to refer to the assailant. I am not saying that all assailants are men. I’m simply avoiding using the clumsy construction of he/she and him/her. So, on to the points to consider:
- Emotionally, can I shoot someone who is intent on harming me? Yes, I believe I can. If the situation is one of my life or his, I believe I have the instinct and will to live that allows and enables me to shoot an assailant. That may not be the answer all of you come up with. If your answer is “no,” let me ask a secondary question: Emotionally, can you shoot someone who is intent on harming your spouse, parents or children? Many who say they cannot save their own life say they can save other family members. If you can save your child’s life, can you voluntarily allow that child to grow up without you in their life? To choose not to save yourself can mean that your parents lose a child, your spouse becomes a widow/widower and your children lose a parent.
- Is protecting myself from death or bodily harm, consistent with my Christian faith? There are many ways to approach this question and this is by no means a full Biblical treatment of the subject. Let me start by asking some similar questions.
- Is it a sin for a policeman to kill someone who has a gun pointed at me? If the answer to that is “no,” – that is, a policeman can protect my life – how can it be a sin for me to protect my own life or the life of a loved one?
- Do I have a moral obligation to protect those whom God has placed under my protection, for example, my children? Again, if the answer to that is “yes,” how can it not be a sin for me to kill someone intent on killing them but a sin to kill someone intent on killing me?
When faced with a decision about whether or not to kill someone intent on taking my life, it’s important to frame the situation properly. I didn’t set up the situation – I didn’t decide that someone should die. Rather, I decided that I would not be a victim. In the normal course of life, that is not a sin. In the normal course of life, we are not called to die simply because someone wants to kill us. There may be times in our lives when we are called upon to sacrifice our life for the good of the Gospel. That is a different situation and assumes that God has called us to such a purpose.
Dealing with Difficult Scriptures
The following passage follows a heading that reads “Teaching About Revenge” in my New Living Translation of the Bible. The heading in my King James Version reads “He Exhorts us to Suffer Wrong.”
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)
One important thing to note at the onset is that Jesus isn’t dealing with the possibility of death in any of these situations.
- In verses 38 Jesus is referring to the Old Testament law, which was often practiced without grace and forgiveness. Yes, you have the right to take someone’s eye if they gouge yours out.
- But when being insulted (which is what verse 39 refers to – a slap on the cheek was an extreme insult in the culture), we’re to let that to roll off our backs. We’re not to retaliate against the evil person who insults us.
- Perhaps someone wants to sue you (verse 40). Let him – in fact, settle out of court by giving him more than he wants.
- In New Testament times, Roman soldiers had the right to force a Jew to carry their load for up to a mile. You can imagine that the Jews deeply resented this. Again, this passage falls under the topic of revenge or suffering wrong. Jesus tells them to accept the rule of law and go beyond what is required (verses 41-42).
Each of these situations deals with where our heart is – are we being appropriately loving and submissive. None of them deal with threat of bodily harm or death.
There is a lot of killing in the Bible, and much of it is at the expressed command of God. I am not implying that God is telling me or you or anyone else to kill someone. I am saying that God allows killing of the unrighteous. If someone has approached me threatening to kill or maim me, that person has chosen to be the unrighteous. I am not the one who has made a decision that someone would die today. Rather, I am deciding that I will do my best to live.
I believe that God has a call on everyone’s life. We each have a choice whether or not we will pursue God’s calling. I am pursuing it to the best of my ability and with His grace.
Am I Trusting God?
A final argument that I had to address – if I chose to carry a gun for self defense, was I truly trusting my life to God? I can absolutely say “yes.” A million different things can happen during a confrontation that can affect the outcome. (OK, maybe not a million. Perhaps only 27,000.) If God is using some assailant to end my life because my numbered days have been fulfilled, then having a gun on my belt won’t make a difference in the outcome. Similarly, my gun might jam or I might freeze and I may still make it out alive. But I believe that I have a responsibility to care for myself and my family to the best of my ability while trusting God with the outcomes. I trust God to provide for my needs yet I go to work every day to pay for food, clothing and shelter. I trust God for my life and health, yet I pay for health insurance and I visit a doctor when needed. I also wear heavy clothes in the winter and try to avoid tainted food.
Yes, I’m trusting God. And I have a gun within arm’s reach as I sit here writing. And I pray I never have to use it.