My family spent Christmas night in the company of a wonderful group of Christians in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. We sang. We studied. We prayed. We renewed old acquaintances and made new ones. It was a wonderful Wednesday evening and a fitting cap to the day’s festivities.
Another body of saints gathered five miles down the road four days later. While communing around the table of the Lord, a visitor rose up and began firing on the members. Several of them rose up in response with guns of their own, and one of them fired at and killed the assailant. Not having been there and not knowing the brethren, I could not say for sure — but I expect they would say it was the worst Sunday of their lives.
Since then, the times being what they are, parties on various parts of the political spectrum have tried to exploit this tragedy for their own purposes. “Never let a good crisis go to waste” and all that. But instead of taking sides on the various aspects of this discussion, I would like to point out how self-serving and circular these sorts of arguments tend to be.
First, I believe a person has a right to defend innocent life against the threats of evildoers, up to and including the point of taking a life. If life is worth protecting after the fact (Genesis 9:5-6), then it stands to reason it is also worth protecting before the fact. Some people are compelled to “shoot to wound” in desperate circumstances; some insist that “shoot to kill” is the only reasonable option. I am not about to take sides on that issue. I’m not at all sure what I would do; I am certainly not going to bind on others what they must do.
That said, it is worth noting that there is virtually nothing in the Bible about the topic of self-defense. And there are plenty of opportunities. Paul defended himself through non-violent means from time to time — in Philippi, for example (Acts 16:37). But his physical responses when he was physically threatened will forever remain a mystery. Did he throw rocks back in Lystra (Acts 14:19)? Did he go passively when driven out of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:50)? It is impossible to determine from the text.
And perhaps that is the point. We are emphasizing whether we have a “right” to respond to force with force. And that is a discussion worth having, to be sure. But that is not the emphasis in the Bible at all. Instead, as with virtually every circumstance we encounter, we are urged to examine our own faith and character. Do we look to heaven as Stephen did (Acts 7:55-56)? Do we seek and find joy before God delivers us — indeed, before we find out whether He will deliver us at all (Philippians 1:18-20)? Do we see ill treatment from the people of the world as an opportunity to connect with the faithful (Matthew 5:12) and indeed to “share the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12-13)?
As is always the case with a day spent in Satan’s world, whether it be a good one or a bad one, we will use the circumstances of life either to draw closer to God or to pull further away from Him. You may or may not be more inclined to carry a handgun, either to the church building or as an everyday habit, because of the news we hear from time to time. Churches may or may not be more inclined to install extra security measures. But — and I must emphasize this strongly — these matters have nothing to do with our walk with Christ! The text could not be more clear on this subject. “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:4). “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 5:12). “Do not fear those who kill the body” (Matthew 10:28).
Here are the questions we should be asking ourselves, whether or not we are asking the other ones:
· Am I less friendly toward strangers?
· Am I becoming hateful toward broad swaths of humanity?
· Do I take delight in the death of a sinner?
We have a perfect defense against the weapons of Satan (Ephesians 6:15). Let’s not abandon it in pursuit of a defense against the weapons of his minions.