Should a Christian store a gun at home for self-defense? As a probation officer, I was entitled to own a gun, but I decided against it. However, this wasn’t because I thought that it was wrong for me to have a gun. Instead, I just didn’t want the hassles associated with it.
In contrast, in a blog entry entitled What Would Jesus Say to the NRA?, progressive Christian, Shane Claiborne, argued that Jesus was against all forms of violence:
- Everything in Jesus' world, just as in ours, contends that we must use violence to protect the innocent from violence, which is the very thing Jesus came to help us un-learn through his nonviolent life and death on the cross. Surely, we think, if God were to come to earth, he should at least come with a bodyguard -- if not an entire entourage of armed soldiers and secret service folk. But Jesus comes unarmed. Surely, we think, if God were about to be killed he would bust out a can of butt-kicking wrath; but Jesus looks into the eyes of those about to kill him and says, "Father forgive them." The Bible goes so far to say that the wisdom of God makes no sense to the logic of this world, in fact it may even seem like "foolishness" (or at least utopian idealism).
Claiborne mistakenly interprets Jesus’ prayer, "Father, forgive them," as His rejection of any punishment. However, it can’t possibly mean that. Jesus had talked more about the consequence of hell than did anyone else in the Bible!
More to the point, Claiborne insists the Jesus’ “nonviolent life and death on the cross” represents the rejection of any use of the sword. However, this is contradicted by many NT verses (Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:14).
However, it’s necessary to acknowledge that Jesus’ cross is supposed to guide our conduct:
- To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23)
Clearly, Jesus’ life models for us non-retaliation. However, does this say anything against defending our families? Evidently, Claiborne thinks that it does:
- When soldiers come to arrest and execute Jesus, one of his closest friends defensively picks up a sword to protect him. Jesus' response is stunning: He scolds his own disciple and heals the wounded persecutor. It was a tough and very counter-intuitive lesson: "The one who picks up the sword dies by the sword ... there is another way."
Claiborne seems to think that any use of violence is unacceptable. However, should we never pick up the sword? Should we never own a gun or defend the vulnerable? This brings us to the question: What does it mean to pick up the sword? Certainly, we can’t take this statement literally. There is nothing wrong with literally picking up a sword. The criminal justice system picks up the sword. Their very role requires this (Rom. 13:1-4).
Nor can we maintain that Jesus swore off of all violence. He forcefully drove money changers out of the Temple (John 2:12-16; Mat. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46).
It’s therefore hard to maintain that Jesus had taught against all force or violence. In fact, the use of force was very much a part of the revelation of the Hebrew Scriptures. God had ordained certain wars. He had also mandated capital punishment, even before the Mosaic Covenant (Gen. 9:6), and there is no reason to believe that the cross changed any of this. In fact, Jesus even reaffirmed capital punishment:
- “For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'” (Matthew 15:4)
But what about owning a gun for the defense of one’s home and family? While God clearly ordained certain forms of violent judgment – wars and capital punishment – does Scripture make any allowance for self-defense? There is surprisingly little written about this in the Bible. Perhaps it’s not because self- and family-defense were not acceptable, but perhaps because it was such an obvious truth that it didn’t require biblical support. Perhaps the concept of self-defense was as acceptable as drinking water.
However, there are verses that do speak to this:
- "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.” (Exodus 22:2)
Although murder was such a serious crime, defending one’s home and family took precedence!
Jesus Himself even seemed to endorse a forceful defense of one’s home. He likens the necessity for keeping watch spiritually with keeping watch over one’s home:
- "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:42-43; Luke 12:39)
According to Jesus, the homeowner has a perfect right to forcefully resist the thief from breaking in.
I am not suggesting that we all go out and buy a gun. Sometimes, the Lord is best served when we simply rely upon Him. If we do buy a gun, we need to note the very limited circumstances where lethal force is justified.
Guns are not only powerful instruments, they can also powerfully affect our attitudes and behavior. They can wrongly teach us self-reliance as opposed to God-reliance. Power can mysteriously wean us away from our real source of power, placing our focus on the things below instead of the Transcendent. Power can cause us to forget to love and seek first His kingdom and righteousness, knowing that if we do, He will watch over us (Mat. 6:33).
What then does it mean “to live by the sword?” I think that Jesus was referring to trusting in the sword – the wrong object.