I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why I didn’t have sex in high school–Debilitating skinniness, lack of game, and relatively wholesome girlfriends, just to name a few–but the two main reasons I stayed as pure as the driven snow (more of an off white, really…. Maybe bone? We’ll call it beige) during my tenure at my small, Christian high school were as follows: Fear and Morality (which, coincidentally, at that time was mostly based on a fear of hell). Like most kids who grew up with my kind of upbringing, I had a sense of the inherent wrongness/sinfulness of pre-marital sex that was instilled in me from the time I could talk. But I also had a deep/healthy fear of getting a girl pregnant. I must have instinctively known the beefy pile of fertility I would one day grow into. Well, Formerly fertile. I once sneezed in my wife’s direction and got her pregnant. At least I think that’s how it happened–we may have been naked at the time. Either way…. We got a baby out of the deal.
And yeah, I know that condoms are usually a pretty good way to keep from getting pregnant, but buying condoms would have been me PLANNING on doing something I knew was wrong, and even I knew that was way worse (In the interest of full disclosure, I think I did buy one at a Hard Rock Cafe while on a mission trip to Chicago–Classic. I know–but I think it lasted about two weeks before I opened it to see what it looked like. They don’t last very long after that. Anyway, there was no way I would trust something as important as my paternity to something purchased in a bathroom). It felt like premeditation. It’s the difference between something serious like 1st degree murder and a harmless voluntary manslaughter charge. Plus I figured that if, as sometimes happens in the heat of passion, I started to care less about about the fear of hell, my fear of getting someone pregnant might kick in and save me from both hell AND teenage fatherhood.
I think that a Christian buying a gun “just in case” is like someone who has taken a vow of celibacy keeping a condom in their wallet…. Just in case.
I know that most of the posts I have written so far about guns have been more “Politics” than “Jesus” or “Bathroom Humor,” but this one is going to be different. Within just over a week, I have watched as the story of the Colorado shooting has been moved from the top headlines by stories about political gaffes, Olympic hoopla, homophobic chickens, and stars wearing the same dress…. but I’m not ready to let it go.
Now, before everyone gets offended and leaves because of what I’m saying, here are some things I’m NOT saying:
- I’m NOT saying that if you disagree with me, you’re not a Christian. And I’m CERTAINLY not saying anything about anyone going to hell.
- I’m NOT saying guns are inherently evil, or that owning a gun is sinful. Owning guns for hunting or even sport shooting is not what I’m talking about here.
- I’m NOT saying that whatever member of your family who is/was in the military or law enforcement is a bad person. Not even close.
- I am NOT disregarding the Old Testament. The OT always points toward a king who would bring an end to killing.
- I’m NOT saying that when facing evil, followers of Jesus are called to “do nothing.” There is a difference between pacifism and an active, loving non-violence.
Here is what I am saying: Followers of Jesus are clearly called to love their enemies. We are called to do good to those who hate us. Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” Paul writes to the Church in Rome and tells them, “Never repay evil fore evil” and to “be at peace with all men.” He instructs them “Do not be overcome by evil, but OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.” One should never build a theology by cherry-picking verses, but this message of peace and non-violence is a clear and unmistakable message of Jesus Christ and the entire New Testament. And as it applies to guns and killing our enemies, the message of Jesus can certainly never be mistakenly interpreted as something even close to “Kill them before they kill you.”
I realize that there are many stories of violence from the old testament, but Jesus makes a clear distinction between the old way of doing things (“An eye for an eye” and “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”) and a his new–A BETTER WAY–that says, “Do not resist an evil person” and “Love your enemy.” Besides, the sorts of war that are described in the Old Testament do not even come close to a modern idea of “just war” tactics. Much of the war described in the OT (to which people appeal as proof God allowing violence and killing by his people) was a “slaughter every man, woman, and child” sort of warfare. This seems like the furthest thing from The Prince of Peace, who calls us to love sacrificially. In any event, we are not called to follow Israel. We are called to follow Jesus.
Even though these Old Testament stories can be confusing and disorienting (especially when trying to reconcile them with a Jesus who clearly and consistently calls the people who would follow him to love and not kill), things get a little less confusing when you realize that God’s vision for humanity has always been peace and the end of violence for his people. There is continuity there…. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a day when the nations “will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” Zachariah looks forward to a king “mounted on a donkey. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem, and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations.” Even at his birth, the angels declared, “Peace on Earth!” Why would it be surprising to us that Jesus would be the sort of king who tells us to put down our weapons and love in response to hate?
There is a story in Jan de Hartog’s “The Peaceable Kingdom” about a Quaker village in the early United States that was friends with the Native Americans living near them. When the men from a neighboring town set out to kill the Native Americans, the warriors of the tribe sent the women and children to the Quaker village because they didn’t know what else to do with them. The young Quaker men thought that the right thing to do was to abandon their vow of peace in order to protect the women and children, but the older members of the community stayed committed to non-violence. When the neighboring townspeople came after the Native Americans, they were met on the road and turned away by the young men of the village who had constructed a fake cannon to scare them away. The young men got on their horses and cheered as they rode back toward the village to tell the rest what they had done, but the village mistook their horses as the horses of the men coming to kill the women and children in their protection. The young men rode into the village to see the older generation standing in front of their door, hand in hand, standing lovingly between the enemy and the powerless. When the young men saw this, they realized that the ones who stayed in the town had made the better choice–If by “better,” you mean “more like Jesus.”
And that’s just it. There is a better way, and we are called to pursue it. I have no idea whether God is disappointed when someone uses a gun to kill an attacker…. But I believe that the Jesus (as well as the entirety of the Bible) tells us there is a better reaction. Some reactions are better than others: In the face of evil, it is better to react violently and bravely than to react passively out of cowardice. Gandhi said “It is better to violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. ” I think this is true. But if what we are truly seeking is to be more and more like Jesus, we must admit that Jesus leaves no place in The Kingdom of God for us taking vengeance into our own hands.
I am not trying to judge anyone who uses violence or weapons to protect a loved one–I could very easily see myself reacting with some serious violence if I was afraid for my wife or kids. Violence is a natural reaction to being afraid, but perfect love casts out fear. Here is something to consider: If your reaction looks like the world’s reaction, it almost certainly isn’t the reaction Jesus desires for his Church. If you have taken a vow of celibacy, you wouldn’t keep condoms next to your bed just in case someone sneaks into your bedroom and turns you on; Neither would a person who has vowed his life to Jesus keep a gun next to his bed just in case he feels justified in killing an enemy he is clearly called to love. We are called to love sacrificially, just like a guy “who made himself nothing” and “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” It is unnatural. It is selfless. It is strong. It is wildly loving. And it is better.
And this selfless, humble, brave, non-violent, unnatural love should be the goal and longing of everyone who would call themselves a follower of Jesus, even when you are as bad at actually doing it as I am.
When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, “Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!” And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.