Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Bible, Guns, And Peacemaking

Gun violence, Christian pacifism, peace making, The Bible
I have never had an interest in guns. I've never found them impressive, attractive or anything like that. I have never owned a gun, and I have no plans on ever owning a gun. And yet for many Christians, being a patriotic gun owner is synonymous with being a Christian. And I think this view is troubling for a number of reasons.

 Guns, violence, and patriotism all seem to be very interconnected in some Christian circles, so that is what I want to respond to as a whole.  But first let me say that if I were not a Christian, I think the arguments encouraging gun ownership would be very compelling. However, it is my Christian faith that leads me to believe what I do about guns. So, let me offer some reasons why I am not a gun enthusiast, first by giving a framework for it:

I think that the Bible is very clear on the intrinsic value of human life. It is very grievous to me that we live in a culture that disregards the incredible weight and value of a human life, and sees life as so easily dispensable. (We get our thrills from shooting, stabbing, and killing people in video games, or watching people get killed in film and TV.) I firmly believe that God created each and every person with the image of God, marking them as unique, significant, and incredibly valuable (Gen. 1:26). We as human beings reflect the divine image, and in destroying and killing other humans, we mar the very image of God. In fact, when you look at the first few chapters of Genesis, it is clear that God intended human beings to enjoy full, rich, abundant life. Violence, murder, and death were a result of sin's entrance into the world (Gen. 4).

Given the great value of human life, it is not our right to take it away. Indeed, God is the giver and sustainer of life, and He should be the only one to decide who lives and who dies. One of the fascinating stories about David, is that he is given the opportunity to kill Saul (the crazy guy who is trying to kill him)...twice! And he does not take it. In fact, he adamantly refuses to take it, even though he believes he is meant to be the rightful king and not Saul, he still recognizes that God will end Saul's at the right time and it is not up to him to take it. David says, "Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? The Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die...As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord value my life and deliver me from all trouble."

Finally, whenever we consider the paradigm for how we ought to live our lives we always must look at Jesus (not Ben Franklin, Chuck Norris, or anyone else). And Jesus' life and ministry were radically shaped by enormous love and peace, not violence. This is sometimes called the upside down kingdom, and it is what we as Christians are invited to participate in. Just consider some of Christ's sayings:

"My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36)

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)

"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. 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 5:38,39, 43, 44)

When you consider the life of Jesus, if anyone had the right to use force it was Him. And if anyone could have used powerful, militant force to conquer the Romans, it was Him. But Jesus did not do that. He did not conquer with violence, but He conquered with love, and ultimately by laying down His own life . The apostles did the same. They never fought back, or participated in violence. Rather, they modeled their own lives after Christ and sacrificed their lives. As Paul writes in Romans, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil." Similarly, in 1 Peter 3:9 says, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing."

So, I think you see this very strong theme in the New Testament of radical love and peacemaking exemplified by Jesus, and carried out by his early disciples. In fact, when you look at early church history, Justo Gonzalez points out that these early Christian converts could not reconcile being soldiers in the military while also being a Christian. They felt so strongly about Christ's call to peace that Christians either chose not to become fighting soldiers, or  left the army altogether after they began following Jesus. And I think we should not ignore that...

So how does all this connect to guns?

Guns are incredibly powerful weapons that should not be entrusted to sinful/broken people and that it includes every one of us. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people right?"...maybe, but guns do sure make it a whole lot easier for people to kill people. Consider if a  mentally underdeveloped small child prone to fits of anger was handed a powerful, deadly weapon who then kills someone, and then we respond, "The weapon didn't kill the person, the small child did." Sure, but we don't say the weapon had nothing to do with it, rather we would do everything we could to make sure such weapons wouldn't make it into the hands of such a child. Certainly it is morally irresponsible to entrust strong, deadly weapons to small, misbehaving children. Are we all that different? Isn't that how the Bible frequently describes us? Just consider how much damage a gun can do? With one stroke of the finger, it can literally end a human life. That's a very scary thought, and I don't know if human beings should be entrusted with that kind of deadly power. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things" Jesus said, "For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, theft, false witness, slander."

Now the counter-response is, "Oh, you think guns kill people, so we should get rid of guns. Well kitchen knives kill people too, so should we get rid of knives, and so do cars, etc."

But I think that this is a very weak objection. There should be no comparison between a gun and a knife or a gun and a car. Knives and cars are tools used for specific primary purposes, and have much more beneficial purposes given their intent. On the other hand, guns are intentionally made as weapons for the purpose of destroying (which I don't think is a beneficial purpose), and are far more powerful and far more easy to use than knife or a car. So, I don't think there is a strong comparison there. 

The other frequent scenario that I hear is, "So what if an attacker breaks into your home, and is going to go after your wife and kids, wouldn't you protect your family?" And the answer is, Yes, of course, I would do all I could. But the problem is that the situation is so hypothetical and so unpredictable. We all can say what we think we would do in a situation like that, but the circumstances and factors involved are so incredibly unpredictable, who knows what all would happen? Nevertheless, my aim would still not be to kill anyone, and here's an anecdote explaining why: there were missionaries in South America who were being speared to death, and they had guns but they didn't use them to shoot at the people, because they knew that they were ready to be with God if they died. But these natives who were attacking them were not. In the same way, an intruder attacking my family is probably not ready to go to heaven, so why would I kill him, and send him to hell, when my death would lead to being with God? On the Christian view, death and suffering are not to something to try to escape or be afraid of but to be embraced, and God is a sovereign God who numbers the days we have in this present world. 

One final anecdote that demonstrates the unpredictability of these situations and that God is sovereign over them: in his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, Greg Boyd tells the story of a Christian woman who was about to be assaulted with a knife to her throat, and in that moment it was brought to her to say to her attacker, "Your mother forgives you." Immediately, the man withdrew and began crying heavily. This gave the woman the opportunity to find safety, and the man was detained.

I think this type of story reveals that God is good, and God is sovereign, and in scary, unpredictable circumstances, we depend on God, all the more.

All of this to say, I would not own a gun, and would certainly not intend to kill anyone with a gun.

As John Piper says, "Those who live by the gun will die by the gun."


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