By Matt Dabbs
By Keith Brenton
The mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut have brought Americans face-to-face again with the darker side of human nature, the prevalence of weapons and mental impairment, and the vulnerability of our children. What measures should we be willing to support that could help prevent such tragedies? What measures can be supported by believers in Christ?
Much of the debate in social and mainstream media so far has centered on gun control, especially legislation intended to prevent certain weapons from being used for evil purposes.
While the proliferation of working guns — especially the automatic and semiautomatic kind — has made the question virtually moot, those who debate both sides have not been mute. The fact is, we don’t even know how many working projectile weapons there are in the United States; estimates vary from about seven to eleven weapons for ten every U.S. citizens, including those under adult age.
I can think of three main legitimate reasons for owning guns, and they make up the title of this article: fun, food and fear.
People own guns for the fun of it. Some like to collect guns, and have amassed museum-size-and-quality collections –including antique weapons in various degrees of restoration and usability, but with real historic value. Others thrill to shoot guns: targets, skeet, in-season animals. Hunters actually help keep wildlife numbers manageable and protect settled areas.
People own guns for obtaining food. Having recently moved from urban west Little Rock to the rural Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, I’ve noticed that my reaction to hearing gunfire has changed from “Someone’s getting robbed!” to “Someone’s getting dinner!”
People own guns for assuaging fear. We can dignify this truth by calling it “protection,” but at its root is the fear that freedom, property, health or life will be lost and that owning a gun at least improves the odds of keeping what might be lost.
And, interestingly, this fear is the very reason that the U.S. Constitution’s second amendment protects the right of most citizens to own a gun:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Fun and food didn’t really factor into the reason; it was for the provision of a “well regulated militia.”
So, with some infringements being reasonably made on the rights of those who have misused weapons to commit crimes, the Constitution defends the right of the people generally to keep and bear arms.<br><br>That runs us right into the question:
Should a believer in Christ exercise that right and insist on it without any further restrictions?
Which opens up a Pandora’s box of related questions, and hopefully the writers of this edition will address at least a few of them.
Let me focus on that first one, however, and answer with another question: “Would Jesus Christ exercise and insist on the unrestricted right to own and use a weapon?”
And the answer I perceive from scripture is a firmly ambivalent “Yes and no.”
Conversing with a friend on the matter raised years ago by a tragedy similar to Sandy Hook (sadly it’s been so long ago that I cannot remember which of many), the question was phrased, “Can you picture Jesus spraying an Uzi to destroy evil? ” and we each had our own, different answer. Mine was “no,” and his was “yes.”
Jesus as enfleshed and living in first-century Israel, teaching and dandling children on His lap and submitting to the injustice and torture and execution of His last days — I cannot picture that Jesus bearing arms. That wasn’t His purpose in coming. Judgment was not His purpose in coming.
It is, however, His purpose in returning. And having prepared a place for the devil and his angels to be destroyed on the day of judgment –that Jesus I can easily picture destroying evil, forever and permanently, with heaven’s equivalent of an Uzi. I actually can. Because heaven’s equivalent of Uzi bullets are His words (Revelation 2:6), the sword from His mouth. Peter used those words at Pentecost, and thousands were “cut to the heart.” Ultimately, there is nothing that can stand up to their power.
But is that divinely all-knowing, all-powerful Christ the one we are asked to imitate in our less-than-divine knowledge, wisdom and ability?
I would say — generally — no.
Fear is not to be the primary motivator of the believer, except for the fear of the Lord highly recommended in scripture. And even so, perfect love should cast out fear. No, the two commandments that remain supremely recommended by the life of Jesus Christ are to love the Lord with all of one’s heart, mind, soul and strength — and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.
Citizens of the United States (and many other nations) are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, to be sure, and more are endowed by constitutions and compacts and laws. But our rights are not to be the primary concern of believers, are they?
We are to look after the rights and needs of others.
And Jesus’ teaching in the sermon given on the mount is plain, and it is a hard, hard teaching:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48
That’s how believers are called to live in this life. In the life to come, we will reign with Jesus and judge angels. But not here.
Our concern here is to be the concerns of God and others. Our weapon is to be the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It is the only offensive weaponry we as believers are given to bear. The rest of our armament is truly defensive.
A sword is an interesting weapon. It can have a lot of other uses — like obtaining food (cleaning fish; Jesus was no vegetarian), having fun (fencing) — but to be used as a weapon, it has to be engaged in a very personal way. If you intend to pierce someone with a sword, you will have to be close enough to smell their last breath and see their dying eyes — and for them to smell and see yours. Unlike a gun, a sword can hardly be used in sniping.
Jesus did not and could not have addressed the matter of personal projectile weapons; their development was centuries away and what might have been revealed to Him by God while He was incarnate the first time would have made no sense to the people of His time. While it’s true that He spoke of swords, I think we have to recognize that He spoke of a very different kind of weapon and tool — and, as many others have pointed out:
His express purpose in authorizing two swords at His arrest seems to have been in order to fulfill scripture (Luke 22:35-38), and the plural “two” was enough to establish “transgressors.”
And His response to Peter was not that “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” but “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” – Matthew+26:52. Yes, the same sword He said was enough — enough to qualify the charge “transgressors,” but not to be drawn. (Plus, good guys with guns are shot to death all the time. In the back. While they’re asleep. From a great distance, aided by a long barrel and a sniperscope. A gun can only, at best, improve the odds of survival.)
As you can see, I think I can make a very good case from scripture for following a non-violent, first-incarnation Jesus Christ. But the very fact that Jesus does not speak of such a weapon (even prophetically) nor does scripture elsewhere, forces me to concede that the matter is one subject to human interpretation and logic — and therefore a matter of conscience under the purview of Romans 14. And we are not to judge each other, but especially on such matters of conscience.
Because I think I can make an equally good case that neither Jesus nor other scripture ever specifically condemn the use of a weapon in self-defense or protection of family, neighbors and countrymen. Never. Once.
But remember this: The followers of Christ in the New Testament and for centuries afterward took Jesus at His word so literally and so seriously that thousands of unarmed believers died martyrs’ deaths in dozens of programs and persecutions against them. Their possessions were confiscated. Their citizenship was revoked. Their families were slaughtered. And they themselves were executed, often with exquisite and protracted torture. They believed scripture promised them the reward that their faithfulness demanded from a just and loving God.
My choice on the path of peace and peacemaking is to remain armed solely with the sword of the Spirit. I see the servants of Christ carry no other weapon with His blessing in the New Testament, or after.
And you may disagree with me. And I will still love you and respect your conscience on the matter, though I disagree with you. If you serve armed in defense of neighbors and/or nation, I will even be grateful for your service and willingness to sacrifice — and wish that myself and other believers would display the same tenacity and courage with the sword we have been given to bear.
But I won’t own a gun. It wouldn’t be fun for me. I don’t need it to get food.
And it would be a constant temptation to use it and give in to fear, instead of giving myself over to love.
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