From my background as both native Montanan and inheritor of some Amish and Mennonite pacifist views, I’d like to make a case in defense of self-defense in this first post in a two-part series.
What case can be made for owning firearms? What response do we give those on the Left who are openly questioning why private citizens need semi-automatic handguns, high-capacity magazines, or “assault rifles”? Do we indeed have an alienable right to and need for self-defense?
My frame of reference may be skewed, but that’s for the best.
Being from Montana, a state well known for hunters, ranchers, and rugged individualists, seemingly everyone I know owns guns, whether for self-defense, hunting, or just plinking at targets for fun. So it should come as no surprise when the anti-gun rhetoric of people from liberal states and cities, or the conciliatory wishy-washiness of people in the moderate states and cities, strikes me as outlandish.
To give them credit, perhaps these folks calling for tougher gun laws have never met a responsible gun owner, haven’t spent much time around firearms themselves, and are unaccustomed to anyone besides criminals and ne’er-do-wells having any desire or use for guns.
I, however, have only known responsible, upstanding, God-fearing gun owners who maintain good motives and responsible habits with their firearms, and for that reason am baffled at how the Left casts aspersions on gun owners and often implies nefarious or untoward motives for gun ownership and use.
Pacifism has colored my views on guns.
Complicating matters further for me personally, my father was raised Mennonite, my grandparents on that side of the family were raised Amish, and both Mennonites and Amish are generally pacifists. Aside from hunting or target practice, what use do pacifists have for guns?
My father raised me to be very much averse to violence. My mother did not allow me and my younger brother to fight or rough-house with one another. Even owning pocket knives and BB guns was off-limits for us until we were well into our teenage years.
Why was I so sheltered from anything that could possibly be construed as a weapon? Why was I raised to be averse to violence? Put simply, it was because of the belief that man is created in the image of God, is therefore set apart from the animals with special inherent dignity and worth, and for these reasons unjust violence against man is a sin against God himself.
I was not raised in a Mennonite or Amish home, mind you, but it would be fair to say that a fair amount of leftover pacifism from my father’s and grandparent’s upbringings was mixed into what I was taught as a child, particularly by my father.
A few Bible verses concerning conflict were drilled into my head at a young age.
“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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
In other words, try your best to avoid a fight by compromising and giving aggressors what they want as much as possible, and do your best to prevent conflict before it has a chance to start.
Verses like these are at the heart of Christian pacifism, as are the words of Jesus:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
That’s what the Bible says about peace, but what does it say about war and fighting?
While I have the utmost respect for Christians who take these passages of Scripture to mean that there is no such thing as Christian self-defense, I have serious doubts as to whether the totality of God’s Word compels us inevitably toward pacifism. These verses are completely true and good, and we Christians need to bear them in mind and obey them, but there is more to be said to have a balanced view.
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
If you haven’t ever really stopped to consider that, God’s Word itself is to be likened to a sword, a weapon. This comparison is echoed elsewhere in the New Testament, especially when the Apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus with these words:
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
Yes, these two passages I’ve just quoted from Hebrews and Ephesians are figurative. God’s Word is not a literal sword. And even the verses from Ephesians say explicitly, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood…”
Yet I want you to see something. I want you to take note of how the Apostle Paul, and indeed every writer of the books of the Old and New Testament, assumes where not explicitly stating that there is an ongoing battle of good versus evil in this world, and that we are in the midst of the fight.
There is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures all this nonsense about mental illness and monstrous people being merely misunderstood. That talk is bandied about in modern times as an excuse for murder and violence. But no, in the Bible there is only good and evil, righteousness and wickedness, and we must pick a side to be on.
In the words of Joshua, the man who led the children of Israel after Moses,
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”
In light of this, the words of Israel’s King David should come as no surprise:
“Blessed be Yahweh, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.”
King David was a man of action, not a man of figurative war. He wrote this in a literal sense because his hands and fingers had fought real battles and wars. The Philistine, Goliath of Gath, was not a figurative giant like many modern pastors and theologians would like to make him out to be, but a real flesh and bone giant.
“[David] took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.”
David fought against Goliath and killed him, not in a figurative but rather a physical, literal sense. And there are many other such stories to be found in the Bible.
Indeed, though Jesus said very clearly,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Jesus also told his disciples,
“But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”
Indeed, consider the wisdom of King Solomon, son and heir to the throne of King David.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
- a time to be born, and a time to die;
- a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
- a time to kill, and a time to heal;
- a time to break down, and a time to build up;
- a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
- a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
- a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
- a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
- a time to seek, and a time to lose;
- a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
- a time to tear, and a time to sew;
- a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
- a time to love, and a time to hate;
- a time for war, and a time for peace.”
Take note how Solomon says there is a time to kill, and there is a time for war. According to God’s Word, life is not always healing and peace, and we would be wise to recognize that.
So God bless and keep the police and armed forces.
Though there is the very real potential for corruption and abuse of power, as evidenced most clearly by the arrest, trial, condemnation, and execution of the sinless Son of God, we should thank the Lord for law enforcement and the military.
Indeed, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome words which we American Christians would do well to keep in mind anytime we discuss our government trying to work toward infringement on our 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms and defend ourselves:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.
Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
I couldn’t be prouder of my family and friends who have served in the United States Armed Forces in defense of liberty and opposition to tyranny and oppression. Grandfathers on both sides of my family served in World War II, albeit in non-infantry, non-combat positions. My brother was in the Marine Corps, and two of my brothers-in-law have served in the Army.
The Bible says that governing authority is God-given, and that the one in authority is a minister of God to bring justice. In Paul’s day the common weapon was a sword, but it’s just as well in our day to insert gun here and read to ourselves, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not carry a gun for nothing.”