Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
As a younger man, my favorite book was The Journals of Jim Elliot, the personal writings of the famed missionary/martyr. Elliot was always a hero of mine. He and four others were speared to death by aboriginals in Ecuador, people they were trying to reach with the Gospel.
Only recently, though, did I read an interesting fact: Elliot and his companions carried guns, yet they chose not to fire them in self-defense. Instead, they took the spears and died.
The simple question: why?
Many believe that Elliot and his friends chose to die rather than kill others who, not knowing Christ, would be doomed to hell. They gave up their perceived right to life to keep others from eternal death. They loved strangers more than they loved their own lives.
When I look around the American Church, I don’t find that mentality. If anything, we are Americans, first and foremost, and our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness trumps any idea of forgoing that right to save another from the lake of fire. Our enemies deserve to burn in hell; they’re our enemies, aren’t they?
Yet the Kingdom of God has different rights than the kingdoms of this earth. For instance, here’s one of the realities of the Kingdom of God:
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Paul then notes that this reality makes us more than conquerers.
But we don’t think that way. Our view is that retaliation against our enemies and those who intend to harm us is our right as Americans. Yet Paul says it is for God’s sake that we lay down our lives.
An eye for an eye was most definitely the Old Testament way, as was the sword. But I struggle to find any evidence that the New Testament incorporates that same thinking:
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
When the inclination is to pick up the sword rather than the cross, then we live by the sword. And we in America most definitely live by the sword because we see it as our right to wield it.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Persecuted didn’t just mean opposed, unless Isaiah’s being sawn in two can be considered mere dissent on the part of those who “persecuted” him.
“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.”
What part of “Do not resist the one who is evil” do we not understand?
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Isn’t “Hate your enemies and counterattack those who persecute you” more the way we live? Don’t most of us think a chromed Dan Wesson .45 with a walnut grip a better response to one’s enemies than prayer? Don’t we all smirk when someone offers that we should “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out”? Well?
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
And how were Christ’s disciples like their teacher? Nearly all died deaths at the hands of those who reviled them. What’s more, the Bible hints that they welcomed such a death. (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”—Philippians 1:23 / “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”—Revelation 12:11)
“And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Was Jesus ignorant of how those trials would end? What retaliatory plans did He offer His followers in the wake of their sentencing?
Here’s a good example of one such trial:
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at [Stephen]. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
I believe some would have preferred that Stephen, doing his best Chuck Norris, pull out a couple of AK-47s and dust every last person holding a rock. Yeah, man!
Instead, Stephen died praying for his enemies because he knew that vengeance belongs to the Lord alone.
Paul wrote this:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
In that spirit, I offer this scenario (not for the fainthearted):
One day, your enemies come for you and your Christian family. Instead of reaching for your shotgun, you attempt to share the love of Christ with them. Their response? They force you to watch as they rape your daughter, then slit her throat. Then they put a couple slugs into your wife’s face and do the same to you. For a finale, they set your house to flame to ensure that your young son, who is hiding somewhere inside, doesn’t make it out alive.
A few months later, one of those enemies, having heard the life-filled testimonies and seen the holy martyr deaths of enough Christians, gives his life to Jesus.
I believe that one of the reasons that such a response on our parts seems so inconceivable is because we don’t really live as if a mansion in glory awaits us. The question of Jesus to Martha that opens this post receives an answer of yes in our heads, but no in our hearts. We love this life too much because it’s the only thing that seems real to us. We can’t see the value in giving that up willingly. Only fools, weaklings, and cowards would do such a thing. Better that we go down with a pistol in hand than be thought impotent against our enemies’ attacks.
Yet Jim Elliot’s holstered gun speaks long after its owner took his last breath.
As an American, all this is foreign to me. It’s not the way I have ever thought or even think now. I encounter an Elliot or a Dirk Willems and such people exist outside my own worldview box. No, I would prefer to think that Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom pulled out a couple Walther P38s and sent a dozen Nazis to hell before they and their family and their boarders were hauled off to the concentration camps. That the Apostle Paul yanked out a secreted knife and gutted his executioner before the Romans managed to strap him down and remove his head.
But when the room is quiet and it’s just the Lord and me, I realize I think that way because my mind is not as Christlike as I would believe.
So I ask, when they finally come for you and me, will we go down fighting like men who don’t believe in the world to come? Or will we kneel in prayer and die like Christians?
70 thoughts on “Killed All the Day Long”
An addendum from Dan:
I want others reading this to know that I struggle immensely with this issue. My natural inclination is to hate my enemies, fight them when given the opportunity, and take pleasure in destroying those whom I believe to be evil.
But vengeance is the Lord’s alone because only His vengeance is perfect. As for me, many of my “natural” inclinations come from the flesh and not the Spirit.
I am called by Christ to love. I am also called to die. I am called not to love my life so much that it threatens the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
In chess, all the pieces on the board are expendable except the king. Now imagine a chessboard where all the pawns were concerned with was their own preservation. Their rights. Their happiness. Their lives. So much for that kingdom, right?
But God is God and does not need us to protect Him. Still, He asks us to lay down our lives anyway, but this time so that His will be done and that none should perish eternally.
I’m not sure if every single man who sent a spear into the bodies of Jim Elliot and his companions came to Christ. But most did. As did their families. Heaven rejoiced. And Elliot and his friends lost only what they would eventually have lost some day anyway. Much eternal was gained by that sacrifice.
Yes, it is a lot to ask, but not if we truly are bearing the image of our crucified—and risen—Lord.
I struggle with this, folks. I do not have all the answers on this one. But I simply can’t read the NT and see a Kingdom filled with Christians prepared to kill others to save themselves. Still, if you can show me otherwise from a New Covenant perspective, I’m willing to listen.
Perhaps we need to live like John the Baptist, instead of John Wayne.
Or the Apostle John.
Amen! I’ve been contemplating this myself lately, after several respected people within the church started talking about armed revolution. I’m no closer than you are in heart, but I hope to be by the time it becomes necessary.
Armed revolution is about my rights, my way. While it may be true that our country’s founding documents may leave open the option of armed revolution should our government devolve into tyranny, should Christians be the ones leading that charge?
What is the real motive behind Christians constantly pushing for their rights? Isn’t it just self-preservation? Aren’t folks who do so thinking mostly of their own comfort and ease? Is that what we should be thinking? Or should we instead primarily be about the work of tending to the unloved and the lost, no matter what it costs us?
Again, I struggle with all these issues.
This sounds so weird and extreme – because it’s coming straight from the word of our holy and incomprehensible God. Thank you for speaking the truth, and may God conform all of our hearts to it!
You can’t build a theology of violence from the New Covenant. Whenever I hear this argued, the proponents have to go back to the Old Covenant to find support for their thinking. But Jesus stepped in and said that there is a greater truth than an eye for an eye. Isn’t that what Christians should be espousing?
I think the biggest issue affecting the Church (or one of the biggest at least) is that we forget that our citizenship is now in heaven.
We are no longer of this world. We are ambassadors of another Kingdom.
We look the same and our passports and ID’s still work the same so we forget that we are NOT the same.
It’s only when we throw off this ‘forgetfulness’ and live as if we are who we truly are that we can step away from these societal concepts of right and wrong and what should and shouldn’t be done and truly live as Christ taught us to.
Great post Dan.
The lack of understanding of the citizenship in heaven reality IS a huge problem, especially when patriotism conflicts with the Gospel.
I am proud to be an American. But I can’t let my pride in my country trump what the Scriptures say. And too many people are doing that. The older I get, the harder it is for me to understand how people can argue that killing our enemies can be squared with the admonition to love our enemies. Am I loving them by sending them to eternal torment? Isn’t my ultimate goal to prevent that from being the natural outcome of their sin? Isn’t that what the Great Commission is all about? How am I fulfilling my role in the Great Commission if I am killing people instead of reaching out to them?
Here’s another question: Did God allow Saul of Tarsus to wipe out the early Church in its entirety? Obviously not. And there was no greater enemy of the Church than Saul. People were killed and imprisoned by him. Some paid the ultimate price. But no one killed Saul, did they? And look what God did. So in the end, were the deaths and imprisonments of the Christians Saul persecuted worth it?
If an enemy came against us and slaughtered us ruthlessly, have we been reduced to thinking that God is so small that He will not act when he hears the blood of the martyrs crying from the ground? Cannot God do to our enemy what He did to Saul? We may say we believe He can, but then we may also harbor doubts that He will. Therein is your answer: We may very well lack the faith required of us.
Here is one last verse that I should have included in my post:
Jesus said those words five times in the Gospels. I think that means He’s serious about it. We should be too.
Jonah is a study in Nationalism. Unlike the children’s tale of Jonah and the Whale, where Jonah fled because he was afraid of the bad ol’ Ninevites, Jonah fled because he hated the Ninevites and he wanted them to be punished by God.
Jonah was a patriot.
Jonah was wrong.
So for we who live in a society where being a good Christian often means being wrapped in the US flag, perhaps a visit to Nineveh is in order. It’s right over the river from Mosul, where 10 days ago 5 American soldiers lost their lives.
I am increasingly failing to understand the very group of people I used to genuinely believe myself to be a part of. Many would call me a traitor for that because I no longer wholeheartedly support their causes, but I just can’t square the Gospel with their passions.
The culture wars are lost. Even James Dobson said so.
War only breeds more war. And now wars are fought more like gang turf battles. And it doesn’t take much to form a gang.
The Republicans sold out their conservative heritage to the highest bidder. I can’t even tell you what they are for conserving anymore.
Christians talk all the time about letting go and letting God, but all I ever see is them stepping in to take over when they think God isn’t working the way they believe He should be.
Vanity, vanity, says the philosopher.
Usher: Deak, I’m glad we don’t have guns. I might use them to shoot the roadkill!
Deacon: You probably would. The humans have quite the issue with weapons. I’m just glad they drive big cars, with big tires and big grills.
Usher: Yep, all the better to tenderize the roadkill!
Sadly, shooting the roadkill seems to be what some people do best.
Thank you for your willingness to let us in on one area of real,intense struggle with the central truths of NT discipleship in the context of your American nationalism. I too have admired the testimonies of men like Jim Elliott (in fact my most recent post was about his faith) and believe that outside the Word of God itself, one of best sources of encouragement comes from biographies of those in Church history who have been marked by their singleness of passion for Christ and obedience to taking the Gospel into the unbelieving and hostile world.
We must continue to wrestle with these very real issues so that we may know what that good and perfect will of God for us really looks like “here at ground zero”.
A fellow struggler, but more than conqueror in Christ victory.
I am continually struck by the fact that the people who accomplished the most for the Lord were the ones who took the nonviolent path. Meanwhile, Christians are still apologizing today for all the times we bore the sword in the name of Christ. Aren’t we learning anything from those lessons?
This is something I have struggled with for the last 10 years. It was then I started doing prison ministry and had to work through my beliefs on the death penalty. How can I support it when it will send some to hell? On the other hand, I saw those who were open and accepted Christ because of the fear of their impending meeting with God. They were more open to understanding their sin, the consquences, the cost, and finally the Grace.
It is also a struggle with the sovereignty of God. Will a life end before God has given them the chance to accepted Him (free-will)? Can a life end if they are part of the elect (reform)?
Jim Elliot and his wife, Elizabeth are heros of mine. Elizabeth actually went back for two years to minister to the same people who killed her husband.
Agreed, Cheryl—tough questions.
With all the issues here in Mexico, folk are always asking if we have guns on board. When we speak of traveling into the Red Sea, folk want to know what sort of cannon we’ll be mounting on deck. Michael tells them that I won’t let him kill anyone and that if we should douse pirates’ boats and toss men into the water, I’d be right there trying to rescue them so I could tell them about Jesus.
But that’s hyperbole at this point, isn’t it? We exaggerate to garner a laugh because we don’t expect it ever to happen. And, frankly, I think it more likely to happen in an angry, desperate US than here in Mexico. If we do get to the Red Sea and go up pirates’ alley, then we’d better trust angels because nothing of man will protect.
What would we do if we were to face a gun or a pirate? We’d better hope we’re prayed up because right now I struggle with my faith and my willingness to let go and trust even during a storm at sea. I’m ashamed to admit how long it took to wrap myself in trust when only last week the seas raged and the wind grew — I remembered the disciples in their boat and Jesus asking about their faith. Mine teetered badly as I stared at those dark waves until I prayed (and prayed some more) and gave the results to the Lord. So, if a pirate were shooting my children or my husband or anyone in front of me, would I have the time to get prayed up? I doubt it.
Lord, help my faith grow before it’s really needed. Help all of your children to recognize the Kingdom that awaits and not fear man or the elements here on earth.
I so admire those who hold fast to the Father’s robe when the lines are drawn. May I do so if I’m ever faced with the choice….
When we lived in Silicon Valley, we lived in a highly international apartment complex made up of a large number of Asians, Indians, and Europeans. We had an Asian family living below us. Being social people, we thought we would introduce ourselves and possibly do a little evangelism. But even when we saw them go inside their place, they would not answer their door.
One day, I caught the husband in the car park and tried to introduce myself. Visibly shaken, he started looking around as if pursued. Eventually, he told me that he had always had it drilled into him that all Americans carried guns. So naturally, he assumed the same of me. I was stunned.
This is what happens when your culture exports most of the world’s violent entertainment.
Did we actually start the process or merely enlarge it? Sin and violence have always been in the picture — and always seem to have entertained those in declining cultures such as Rome and now everywhere. I watch the videos shown to very young Palestinian children that exhort them to violence against Americans and Jews, and I shudder at what they’re learning and then emulating. And the young children in all cultures watching/playing those violent video games — many of which are created in Europe, the Far East, and elsewhere for profit and destruction of young minds elsewhere. The US companies have done more than their part in using film/games/music to extol violence, but the rest of the world seems to be jumping quickly to catch up and even surpass.
Mexico is a lovely, loving place for the most part, made up of lovely, loving people who place family before riches and so do a lot of smiling. But the army/navy/police/militia strut around on streets and docks armed to intimidate/kill with BIG guns. We keep a low profile and smile a lot, trusting that they’ll ask before they take aim.
I pray for peace everywhere, especially for peace in the Middle East. There are a lot of folk who haven’t a clue about the blood of Jesus, spilled for them. And the violence the children learn will not be negotiated away.
Peace and the laying down of weapons will only happen when the Lamb of God brings His peace to earth. I think, Dan, what you experienced with that Asian family is something akin to what Christians face everywhere as they try to win others to Christ through love. We’ve done such a poor job in the past — historically using violence, more recently using hate and condemnation — that folk hear we’re Christian and they want to run the other way — or they jeer, laugh, and curse us.. It’s going to take a lot of loving and a lot of patience to break down barriers so we can share God’s love with a dying and hurting world. Good for you that you kept trying.
I saw The Passion of the Christ over Easter, and it’s really made me think about living and dying by the sword. To not retaliate when you’ve been wronged seems like an impossible feat. Yet doing what Jesus says is never a mistake.
I just know I personally wrestle with this topic, and appreciate your insights. I’m not so sure I would be thinking of another’s soul while I was being stabbed with spears. But then I’m not sure I’d pray for forgiveness while being crucified either….
Yes, the path is narrow, isn’t it?
The 3rd graders in our church study great missionaries over sveral Sundays and one of those missionaries is Jim Elliot. I found out last year that the former pastor of our church was a close personal friend of Elliot. His wife and Elizabeth were on also friends at Wheaton and were on the debate team together. So I arranged for them to come and spend some time with these young kids.
One of the coolest things I have seen is a group of 9 year olds listening and asking questions as this awesome couple shared tears and personal stories about their friends the Elliots.
Very powerful to see him tell these kids point blank…God has something great for you just like my friend Jim.
As the mother of a young preschooler and the wife of an ardent patriot, it is ironic that you posted your scenario today. My believing husband truly believes we need to have a “better” gun for home protection. I have never fired one, nor do I think I could.
The scenario you described was his explanation of how I *would* use a gun, if necessary. I cannot reconcile what I know of Christ with taking even a life so horribly lived, as to hurt my family as you’ve described. Thank you for this, sir. It has helped me immensely to know that I do understand clearly.
One thing in the post and comments keeps striking me, and I’m not sure how significant it is. I’m not sure that the Bible ever uses the rationale of “don’t resist and kill an evil person because it would mean sending him to hell.” At the least, it’s not a big theme like it’s been here. Now, I think that sentiment is true, and it’s a very insightful and loving consideration. But… should we nonetheless stick closer to rationales of “Jesus commands it – period,” or “love because God loves; forgive because God forgives”? Might there be some major significance to sticking with biblical rationales? Perhaps the “don’t send them to hell” rationale envisions us in control of judgment and salvation, rather than seeing God in total control of those things? Or might I just be missing the biblical prominence of the “don’t send them to hell” rationale?
What does everyone think?
The Bible doesn’t come right out and say to avoid killing the wicked because it short-circuits any possibility of later conversion. And I don’t believe that that is the major idea behind what Jesus says in the passages I quote. But it is one of the rationales behind some Christian sects that eschew violence as an answer to evil.
Trying to reason that way is one thing, but as you noted, the direct words of Jesus on this are strong enough to get us thinking.
I shared this post on Twitter, but I wanted to also leave a comment here and thank you.
What you wrote, and the Scriptures you reference, are hard, and are all the evidence I need that the way is too narrow for me, or rather too narrow for me alone.
I don’t know how I would respond in such situations, though in light of the passage from Mark 13, I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much about that. I can live in faith knowing that, if such a trial should ever come, the Almighty will still be in me.
Thanks again for the message, Dan.
You’re welcome, Rick. I’m glad the post proved challenging to you.
I see some major flaws, or at least points to be made, about this issue. First, it is man who has been ordained of God to be protector and provider. If someone, as in your example, was threatening to kill my wife and rape my daughter, it is my duty to protect them with whatever force would be necessary, including shooting him to death if that would be required. I may choose to offer myself as a martyr, but I cannot make that decision for anyone else, including my wife or daughter. Also, in the martyrdom of Jim Elliot and the others, they were carrying guns! Maybe they did have the forethought of protecting themselves from the aboriginals, but made the decision at the time of the attack to not use them and offer themselves up. Also, how many innocents would be dead right now if some off duty guard had not shot to death a crazed killer outside a Colorado Springs church last year. While most people were probably Christians in this situation, I’m sure there were a few lost people in attendence? Should we gamble with the soul of the one gunman over the souls of countless unknowns?
I have always found it curious how the OT portrays battle as a righteous act when the people of God do it. But then the language of the NT shifts battle from a flesh and blood war to a spiritual one. And all flesh and blood interactions take on a more loving approach, as if the enemy went from being the wicked nations themselves to the unholy, chthonic powers behind them. I think it would make a very interesting Bible study to examine that shift.
Jesus did not eliminate all war-like talk, though. He talks about careful planning in the king who is going out to wage war, but who first must gauge if the enemy forces are more than he can handle. He strongly praises the faithful Roman centurion whose livelihood was warfare. He talks about binding the strongman who has broken into a home. So the imagery is there, but it’s not of the clear type found in the OT.
I am more of the opinion that what we are to do is to ensure that while we do not seek our own protection, we ensure the protection of others, especially the weak. The defense is of others, not one’s self. You see this in Jesus in the defense of the Father’s honor and name when He drives out the moneychangers.
Still, even those are tangential interpretations that don’t have direct verses to address them in the NT. Or verses that are as strong as the ones I quoted in the post.
I guess matters of degree make a difference. How much peace is too much peace? How gentle is too gentle? The Holy Spirit can help us here IF we are able to listen when the situation gets scary.
Still, I think our mindset is a violent one first and foremost. I think that limits us, and in the wrong way. We really do want to see our enemies burn in hell. There’s something truly sick and anti-God in all that.
And when I look back through history, I am perpetually struck by those men and women who find “the third way,” one which was not the course of violence nor the course of appeasement, yet one that still thwarted evil. That’s the way I pray that I will take, because in the end, I think it most resembles the path of Jesus.
I’m curious about the “protector and provider” bit. Where is it so ordained? I know we are ordered to take care of creation as steward of the Creator. I know that we are to take care of our relatives, especially our immediate family.
How about deliberately putting our family in what the world would call danger? Missionaries have been doing that for centuries. How many of the early disciples took their families with them? The Bible doesn’t reveal that. How many children were executed with their parents for being believers?
We might say, well, they were called by God to be in those places. But aren’t we all called to be where God wants us? We don’t have the luxury of saying that our home is our own, or our time is ours to use as we please, or our families are ours to kill over.
During the American Revolution a Quaker businessman who had received a load of bayonets as payment for something, was asked to give those bayonets to the local militia. He refused.
“Active Obedience, or Passive Suffering.”
I cannot think of any way that more closely mirrors our example; Jesus Christ.
David & Mike,
These words of Jesus have always startled me (and you won’t hear them quoted much from Focus on the Family):
By the world’s standard, that’s a deadbeat dad/husband/householder who does such a thing. They think you can’t be much of a protector or provider if you’re gallivanting around the backwaters of the world spreading “truth.” Jesus, on the other hand, blesses such behavior and rewrites our priorities. Here’s the equally amazing thing about those words of Jesus: Note His comment about “in this time.” This is not a blessing reserved solely for after death. It exists now and will certainly bless anyone who is affiliated with the one who leaves.
We believe that God can take care of everything, right? What is too big for Him to handle? Can He not take care of our families? And ultimately, isn’t He our final security? I mean, I can go out to the store to get a jug of milk only to have armed men invade my house and attack my wife and kid. Did that mean I was a lousy protector? At what point do we say that God alone must be our security and not our own power and might? One bullet would take me out. If I were out of the picture, does God’s protection then cease to exist for my wife and child? Does He not still reign?
The provider thing gets me too. When my wife and I suffered repeated downsizings, I knew we had to do something to break the cycle. So I started my own business. Most small businesses take five years or longer to get to the point that they can provide livable income. During that time, my wife had to bear the load of breadwinner.
I wish I could say that my Christian brothers and sisters were supportive, but many of them called me every dirty name in the book because my wife was the primary breadwinner. People I thought were my friends called me a deadbeat. Folks in my own church, when I would say that I could not attend a meeting because I had business to attend to, would say, “Well, it’s not like you actually DO anything.” And they would say unkind things about my wife too, unable to accept that maybe God had equipped her with the skills He did for a reason.
So I was pretty much reviled as a provider by a lot of self-righteous people.
Because my business has grown exponentially since I started it in 2003, we were able to make the switch last year. I became the breadwinner again. It was a year of a lot of sacrifices and self-denial. So far this year, I have had to turn away lucrative business at times because God has blessed us so much.
Here is the lesson: God alone is the provider. It’s not you and it’s not me. If we think that we are the providers, we have usurped the role of God. And we have also usurped the role of the communion of saints, who as a body are also responsible to provide for those in need. My faith is in God’s provision, not my own. The arm of flesh will fail, but not the strong right arm of God.
BTW, David, what you quoted was classic. I’ll have to remember those final lines.
Timely post and you make some excellent points. I can’t tell you how sad (and utterly shocked) I was to have a conversation with a man who is studying for the ministry in which he mentioned that the best way to deal with terrorist is just to kill them all. When I said that I thought Jesus said we should turn the other cheek, his response was that if we make the first strike, we won’t have to turn our cheeks because there won’t be anyone to strike us in the first place. This from a person who would never vote for a candidate who was not pro-life. That’s love for ya! I have become so disillusioned by this American Militaristic brand of Christianity that is championed by many conservatives. It’s fast turning me into the dirty “L” word–liberal!
“Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” is at the heart of too much of our thinking. We arrive at it almost instinctively. But as I said above, not all instinct is of the Spirit.
It seems that Mike Jacobs illustrates the way our rationale can matter quite a bit, and perhaps shouldn’t rest on an idea of our determination of eternal judgment.
Dan, thanks for stirring up things with your post and for the lively discussion. I’ll bring this before the men’s group that meets on Wednesday mornings. These are all “Manly Men” with a couple of Marines and outdoorsmen so it should prove to be interesting.
In Norman Grubb’s book about the life of Rees Howells he recounts how Howells and his wife determine that they would give up their young son to a relative to raise while they went on the mission field. It’s really hard for us to even imagine how they could do this but God was in it.
I’m looking forward to a really interesting discussion with the men in the morning. Wish you could be there.
People long ago did things differently than we do. We think we are the arbiters of truth, but I suspect we have a lot to learn from our ancestors. If only we weren’t so arrogant. 🙁
Sanctification is a gradual process.
I was in the beginning of my Christian walk as a teenager. At the time, I was also defensive, violent, and GOOD at it. Despite being a small statured girl who often leaned on a cane, I had a fearsome reputation. (At one point, I told a young punk that was sexually harassing my younger sister in class of of our relationship. He didn’t speak to her again for the rest of the year.) I did not have to fight often, but I always decisively won, and I felt great about myself for it. I really liked that part of myself and my behavior. I rationalized it, because it was always for self defense, or some other “good reason” that was culturally accepted. I used to channel my anger into self destructive violence (ie, punching concrete walls).
God has worked a powerful healing in me since then. I don’t glory in my skill or knowledge of violence anymore. My reaction to perceived offenses is no longer anger, but pity and concern. When I do have anger, I surrender it to God. I can’t really enjoy hero-beats-em-up movies, and can hardly enjoy even cartoony violent video games much of the time. My sense of what makes someone a hero, what fills me with awe and respect, is completely changed.
I praise Jesus for that! He not only showed us how to live, but transformed me to be so different from what I was. The way to approach this problem is not to try and rationalize out the paradoxes, or map it out like a philosophy. Instead, constant prayer, consciously submitting to God and asking him to reshape in you a new and Christ-shaped heart, reading the Bible, and a cultivating of God’s love will lead to a completely new outlook on life that you never consciouly built yourself. Then when a time of testing comes, you just act out of your regenerated heart in the best of God’s will as you cand find in that moment.
This is a really hard one. What’s worst is that it tends to tear us apart as believers. I have lost dear friends, been asked to leave churches, and even been physically attacked (by a Christian) due to my feelings on this matter.
There’s two things I’d really like to add. First, and most important, this is a two way street as far as the argument goes. A lot of what I mentioned in the paragraph above was at least partially my fault for presenting my views with the wrong attitude. Just because we feel that we believe/live the way God wants us to in this matter (even though it can easily feel like one of the most important beliefs we hold) that doesn’t mean we can tear them down for disagreeing; and that’s really, really easy to do – especially for those of us who grew up thinking this way or have thought this way for a very long time.
Second, like you said, to present a militaristic or nationalistic view from scripture you have to go to the OT. Not that we shouldn’t learn from the OT, but like was already mentioned, the New Covenant changes the perspective and context of life for followers of Christ. What surprises me, and admittedly frustrates me, is when people will speak boldly in support of defending self or country by quoting the OT, get upset at me for pointing out that we are called to live differently now (You have heard it said…But I say unto you), but then are the first to preach “Not under the law, under grace. I love my bacon.” (Granted, I love bacon too, that’s not the point.) The point is the change. If some things changed, then everything changed. We can’t pick and choose. What makes it hard is HOW it changed. Some things got easier (Food, Sabbath, etc.) while others got harder (Murder, Adultery, etc.). The law was fulfilled, not destroyed.
I hope you can see what I’m saying.
I have to disagree on one point you made. You do not have to go to the OT for militaristic behavior. Study Revelation, God will pour out horrible wrath and Jesus comes back in style of military leader.
“I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man “with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.” Revlation 14:14-20
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:11-16
In pointing this out, I’m not saying I disagree with all you are point out. It is complex issue.
Revelation portrays God meting out His justice, which He alone is qualified to dispense because He alone is a perfect judge. As the Scriptures say, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”
If anything, that furthers the point of the post. We are to let God fight on our behalf, let Him pour out His perfect justice on the wicked. That is not the mantle that we are to usurp as ambassadors of Christ. The ambassador brokers peace; he doesn’t then turn around and fire the M-16. That is handled by someone else.
You’re right Cheryl, it is complex. I should have clarified better. I’m talking about us as Christians, not Christ as Lord. Well, but even that is complex and confusing. I don’t have it all down. I know I don’t. I like to think I do sometimes, but I don’t.
I am pretty sure though that we have been called to peace, not violence. How that’s supposed to happen; I haven’t a clue most of the time. The NT just seems pretty clear on a rather non-aggressive personal life.
Dan and Jonathan-
I would agree with you about the non-aggressive tune of the NT and that Revelation is about the wrath of God (not ours). I was not trying to use Revelations as a scripture to justfy us being aggressive. Just to make the point that the NT does document a time where God will express His wrath once again and it is violent. AND the unsaved world will deserve it.
I in no way want to lead anyone into believing I promote aggression. I personally could not harm anyone and I have been in a situation where many would have fought back. It was very humbling, but I forgave and I still pray for that person’s salvation. How can not when God has saved a wretch like me.
Thanks for sharing your own journey, Jonathan.
You have to be kidding!?
If some one was raping my daughter, I’d do what ever was possible.
Since when did Jesus stand by while his loved ones were going through this?
Jesus sacrificed His life for our sins. It wasnt for some other reason. He could becuase of who He is and what He is. We cannot presume that we have the same to offer as Jesus did nor to offer up someone else as well.
Thinking that we can save others by our own sacrifice….c’mon! Only Jesus can do that trick.
If someone attacked my family, I would stand and fight, in the name of Jesus. My goodness man, can you see the look in your daughter’s eye as her killer slits her throat as YOU pray for them?
I dont know much and I may not be a biblical scholar, but I know there is no biblical context for letting your family die to a killer while you get on your knees and pray for them and do nothing else.
You don’t believe that “Turn the other cheek” only had to do with someone slapping you, do you?
There may not be a biblical context for “letting your family die to a killer while you get on your knees and pray for them and do nothing else”, but Christ himself gave us a lot of hard concepts to swallow that speak to that exact scenario.
“Turn the other cheek.”
“Resist Not Evil”
“Love Your Enemies”
I know, those make no sense. How are we supposed to influence the world, let alone survive, if we do those three things? In an earthly sense it doesn’t make sense. Yet, the apostles and early brothers and sisters did exactly this. Did a lot of them die horrible deaths? Yes, but isn’t that the point of taking up our cross and following Christ? Are we naive and comfortable enough as Western Christians to honestly think that suffering, true, gut wrenching, coma inducing, life taking suffering, isn’t part of the cross that Jesus bore?
I don’t think the options are:
a) Hurt the person trying to hurt you or your family.
b) Do absolutely nothing
I think that these extremes are hyperbole used by both sides to make a drastic point. God is God. He is almighty. Do we really believe that He’s in control? Do we really trust Him to take care of us and our family?
I know, it’s hard. I don’t really know if I could live it out the way I would want to in the heat of the moment. My human mind can’t understand how God could ask this of us.
Yet, there they are:
“Turn the other cheek.”
“Resist Not Evil”
“Love Your Enemies”
I honestly don’t know if it gets much clearer. It’s hard, but it seems pretty clear.
What I am trying to stimulate in this conversation is the question of Why is our response so often a violent one?
Just as God makes a way out of temptation possible—even when we feel that one does not exist—do you believe He makes possible a way out of always reverting to violence?
Between non-action and violent response, is there a third way? I believe there is. And I believe that Christ will make that way when it is needed, if only we ask Him for it. And His answer may look far different than what we are used to understanding.
In Victor Hugo’s classic book Les Misérables, convict Jean Valjean has been released from prison to face bleak prospects. Desperate for shelter, he comes to a bishop’s house. The bishop makes him welcome. That night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silverware, and when caught in the act, beats the bishop and escapes. He is later caught by the police and returned to the bishop. The bishop tells the police that the silverware was a gift. He then whispers to Valjean, “With this, I have ransomed your soul.” The police let Valjean go free. Devastated by the unselfish act, Valjean reforms his life and becomes a leading force for good throughout France.
How different that story would have been had the bishop acted violently and stuck to his right to due recompense.
Do you believe those stories are out there in the lives of real people? What Jean Valjean might you meet some day?
I would also recommend the movie The Mission for more on law, grace, and facing one’s end like a Christian.
I was just thinking about that scene from Les Misérables yesterday on the way home from work. I was still processing this topic and that scene came to mind. I think this topic will be with me for a while.
“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free… If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquilly under every circumstance.” A.W. Tozer
I’m not sure what you mean by this. What right are you referring to that we have based on this scripture?
“Yet the Kingdom of God has different rights than the kingdoms of this earth. For instance, here’s one of the realities of the Kingdom of God:
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
Paul then notes that this reality makes us more than conquerers.”
Paul is quoting Psalm 44 where David is questioning God’s action toward Israel. David is saying that BECAUSE of God they are being persecuted and honestly wondering what God is going to do about it. Paul is saying in Romans that Christians will be targets for persecution as well BUT to remember as David noted further in the Psalm that through Christ, God will keep us. Nothing eartly although it seems harmful will separate us eternally. So, I’m not sure I understand what rights this gives us in the Kingdom of God. Are you saying that we have the right to be persecuted? I don’t think David or Paul are saying that it is a right. They are saying it is a reality and when it happens remember who the Victor is. I could certainly be misreading what you wrote.
I don’t believe that Jesus in saying turn the other cheek or don’t live by the sword is suggesting that we should never use violence in the defense of others and I also don’t think he is saying we can’t defend ourselves.
I think Jesus is addressing a vengeful spirit not the issue of self defense or the protection of your family.
The those who live by sword will die by sword is an wisdom teaching. It wasn’t a command or law. Peter drew the sword and didn’t die by the sword. Had Jesus not intervened, he certainly would have given the crowd surrounding them. As I said earlier, I think it is a spiritual heart condition he was addressing – the need to avenge one’s honor – that he was speaking to. Jesus is telling us that those who resort to weapons as a way of dealing with life issues will be dealt with themselves by the very weapons they use.
The Scriptures don’t address every ethical dilemma we will face today. We have to mine the scriptures and seek the Holy Spirit for guidance. We also have to be careful to use those scriptures within the context in which they were written.
Dan, I agree with your struggle to try reconcile this. I believe we are entering a time in our country when our lives as Christians, our American freedoms as Christians, will be tried. We are not prepared as Christians to deal with this reality. We are not prepared to give up our lives for what we believe.
There are pieces to the story of the Jim Elliott and his team that we don’t have. We can’t assume that if the attackers had attacked them when they’re families were with them ,that the outcome wouldn’t have been different. It wasn’t because these men gave up their lives without using their guns that these men were saved. They were saved because the women went back. The women did not give up. The women showed them a love that was beyond comprehension. The women should have come back to exact revenge on them. They did not do that.
I think the actions of the missionaries, seen in context of going into area hostile to white men, is very different from someone breaking into your home or attacking your family. We have to be careful with context and original settings of sayings and storys. Without the context, we can use anything to support any agenda.
Re: the sword (in context):
Jesus’ response is a rebuke. I think that speaks for itself. That Jesus also undid the damage caused by that attack (Luke 22:51) speaks against it’s violent outcome as well. Jesus is clearly against a violent response to trouble in this snippet. It can’t be read any other way. Its example, because it is included in the Scriptures, serves to inform us of how we should live. In this case, bearing the sword as a weapon against others is firmly rebuked, even more so when one considers that Jesus had other things on his mind than making such a statement. That He made it when He did should serve to play up its importance.
As to context, Jesus said, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” He is, of course, speaking about flesh and blood, as we know full well where He stands against the demonic powers. What about that sentence is hard to understand? Why do we refuse to deal with it as is, attempting to explain it away through “clever” reasoning? Jesus was offering the New Covenant’s rewriting of “an eye for an eye.” He demonstrated how this very truth was to play out in the way He went to his death, a death that not only reconciled the world to God but served as a model for how believers should die. We students are not above the master. We are to walk in his footsteps.
In casr this makes a difference to anyone:
I was just studying texts from the first 2 generations of the Church and what they mean to our doctrinal interpretations. Without going into heavy citation, the long and short of it is, the early church interpreted these passages as exhortations to non-violence in ways that would make your head spin. They refused military service because to them, even killing in battle was murder. More still, they believed it wrong to report someone for a capital offense, because to do so knowing they’d be killed was as good as killing them yourself. For context, imagine someone killed one of your family members, and you had the chance to apprehend them and purposely let them go because you knew they’d probably get the death penalty for it. That’s the extent to which the early church took these passages. It’s pretty well documented by Polycarp, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and their contemporaries.
Don’t shoot the messenger. Just passing on empirical information.
I’m going to throw this out because it seems to fit. It never ceases to amaze me how God always throws multiple things on the same subject at me all at once. This morning in reading through my blogs I found this article by Michael Spencer:
It doesn’t talk about peace vs. violence specifically, but it’s a great perspective on morality and moral decisions. I especially like the thought that we need to not look at morality as lawyers. I tend to do just that, but it’s a great challenge.
That’s a good callout on the iMonk piece. He’s right too.
I am rather stunned at the levels of rationalization in the replies…God made the plant, so He obviously wants me to smoke it…?
No wonder Christians are so screwed up. If we can’t deal with small matters of faith, how can we deal with the larger issues?
My current belief is this:
If it’s persecution for the sake of Christ we are called to nonviolence.
If it’s violence against me unrelated to my beliefs then (hopefully) I’ll respond with nonviolence.
If it’s violence against my family or someone who is defenseless I will respond with violence, if necessary.
Here’s a story:
Josh is the offensive tackle for his school’s football team and a fairly popular guy who loves Jesus and never misses church. Paul plays on the soccer team, is very popular, and always seems to have a new girlfriend. Josh and Paul have gone to school together since elementary school and know each other’s reputations very well: Josh as a nice guy who is always talking about Jesus; Paul as the ‘cool’, popular guy who has a lot of influence in the school. Sam is in Josh’s youth group but doesn’t play sports or hang out with very many people because he has an afterschool job to help his mom pay the bills. Sam believes in Jesus, but doesn’t have or take near as many opportunities to talk about him as Josh does.
At lunch one day Paul stops Jeff, a sophomore, as he passes by the table the popular kids sit at. Paul begins to ridicule Jeff about always wearing black clothing and about the day Jeff wore black eyeliner. Paul calls Jeff a witch and gets up in his face and pushes him.
All of Paul’s friends are laughing. Jeff is thinking that he wished he had killed himself last night.
Josh sits at the table next to this, watches what is happening and thinks “turn the other cheek” and ” do not resist evil”. Sam passes by while looking for someone to sit with, observes the commotion, is disgusted by it, sets his tray down and confronts Paul forcefully.
Which of these two (Josh or Sam) has the greater opportunity to advance the Kingdom of God?
There’s a difference between forceful confrontation and violent confrontation. If Josh had interposed himself between Paul and his victim, then he redirects the violence from Jeff to himself.
We tend to assume that non-violence, or “turning the other cheek” is a lack of action. Many of the ambulance drivers of WWI and WWII were non-violent people who interposed themselves on the battlefields of Europe. Many died because of it. Many live because of them.
Don’t confuse non-violence with inaction.
I think your example sets up a false dichotomy. My question would be “Is there a third way?”
You’re right. Looking back at it, the story does set up a false dichotomy. The story was simply an attempt to show that action is sometimes necessary.
But what is the third way? And what happens when the aggressor becomes bent on violence toward someone other than you? Can you still say “do not resist an evil person” applies?
The way I read it, when Jesus makes this command during the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:39) he is speaking only about an evil person who is attacking or trying to take advantage of YOU, assuming you are a Jesus-follower. It doesn’t have anything to do with intervention when someone is after someone else. I think in those circumstances it’s more important to “love your neighbor” (Matt 5:44) — realizing that your neighbor is both the one being attacked and the one who is attacking. If you don’t have Love and the Kingdom’s benefit at the forefront of your motivation then no matter what you do is going to be wrong (that’s the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount).
The Holy Spirit will guide us into the third way, if we let Him. And if we learn how to recognize His speaking to us. Too many Christians do not know how to listen to the Spirit’s speaking. They end up falling prey to paying attention to the storm and the earthquake, missing the still, small voice when it comes. Our church leaders do an astonishingly poor job at helping people (and modeling how) to listen to the Spirit. Too many churches fail to teach a healthy pneumatology, which is why we suffer this lack so profoundly.
Because this third way is revealed by the Spirit’s direction, it can’t be theorized. As the Scriptures say, the promised voice says, “This is the way; walk in it.” I can’t give you an answer any more prescriptive than that. It’s the same kind of answer that Jesus gave His followers when He said the Spirit would guide them in what to say when they are hauled into court to stand trial. We can’t surmise what the answer will be, only that an answer will be given when it is needed.
Should they come for you and me one day, our response will be given to us by the Spirit. That is the Lord’s promise. I don’t believe it will involve a violent response. It may, but that is by the Spirit’s leading alone. If we are only listening to the storm and earthquake, then we will probably always respond violently, since that is the way the world reasons. The still, small voice may have another message entirely. My point in this post is that we need to be listening more readily than we need to be grabbing for our weapon of choice. Such listening might reveal the weapon of choice to be a spiritual one, and not one made of cold, hard steel.
Yes, we certainly need to listen to the Spirit – but that includes listening to Him in the Bible. And so if, as I think, and as you seem to think, the Bible does not leave a violent response open to us, then the Spirit will not lead us to a violent response. Of all the many things which might lead us to violence, the Holy Spirit is not one. We cannot ever blame that leading on God.
Yes, Gareth, action is not only sometimes necessary, I’d say that most of the time it is needed; probably more often than we like to admit. We as the Church, those following after Christ, should always find ourselves at the forefront of defending the weak, the powerless, the widows, the orphans, and the list goes on. The gospel, the good news, the power of God is a very active, easily seen thing. It was even said to turn the world upside down at one point.
The trick is doing so without compromising the very message Christ portrayed. Like we’ve been going over, it’s hard to see from scripture that a violent action is allowable as a Christian response.
I’ve been in a similar position to the one described above several times. In the majority of cases, simply stepping in and standing between the aggressor and the victim defuses the situation in a (relatively) peaceful manner. Does this work every time? No. Have I received my fair share of bruises and cuts from standing there? Oh yes. The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit WILL lead us and He does so to the glory of God with Divine reasoning and insight, not human reasoning and insight.
But yes, action is a huge part of Christian response. It’s just not violent; it looks like Jesus.
It looks like Jesus in town square scolding the Pharisees or it looks like Jesus in the temple flipping tables and cracking wips?
Do you think Christians cannot/should not ever be cops or soldiers then?
It seems to me that you put more emphasis on “loving your enemies” than “loving your neighbors as yourselves” which includes your own family members. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) “Brothers” and “Friends” point to your family members and loved ones and brothers/sisters in Christ rather than your enemies. How would you show Christ’s love by letting your enemies attack your loved ones without trying to defend them? I know the Lord can protect but He also gives us a brain to think and solve problems with and to use available resources. I also believe in the Holy Spirit’s leading. In the scenario you gave, my husband or I would definitely shoot the attacker(s) to stop/immobilize them (not to kill them). It is more loving to confront them with their sins and share the Gospel with them than to just let them do whatever they want and continue to sin (there’s no guarantee that they will choose Christ after you and your family are killed by them). You seem to assume that the enemies will eventually give their lives to Jesus but what about your kids who may grow up to be fruitful evangelists/missionaries whom the Lord would use to bring many lives to Christ? Is it better to get rid of some terrorists (who may or may never repent) or to let them keep killing many innocent people (who would also have chances to repent if they were allowed to live)? I’m not afraid to die but dying as a martyr (defending our God/our faith) is different than dying as someone who refuses to defend his/her loved ones…who refuses to lay down his life for his “brothers”.
It seems Jesus spoke to that situation — the defense of relatives — when He so harshly rebuked Peter for defending Him. “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword” was spoken in the context not of warmongering, gang banging, or school shootings… but of defending a loved one. “All they” who take the sword were in context here. We can scarcely bless those who curse us if we are attacking them in retribution. Perhaps instead we could simply strip naked, offer them all our clothes/possessions, then dance around like a chicken (adapted from a real-life scenario in “Jesus for President”). That’ll diffuse quite a few situations, all without resorting to violence.
I pose this post in part as a philosophical question to balance the typical Evangelical response in America. I’m an unsure how I myself would respond, but I believe God for a resolution to the dilemma should that day come and I have to decide the path of peace or the path of the sword. I am leaning toward peace.