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God and Guns ... what would Jesus do?

This is a blogpost I did way back in August of 2008, but it's still my most popular. I've expanded it a bit since then, and I hope you enjoy!

As I wandered a maze of booths hawking guns and other eclectic items at a gun show recently a thought occurred to me: What would Jesus do? Would Jesus be happy I was there? Would Jesus want me to join an anti-gun crusade? Would Jesus direct me to buy a Glock for self defense, or kick those tables over and preach non-violence? Would he distinguish between hunting rifles and assault rifles? Would he be against a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds?

As Christians try to understand what faith calls them to do to follow Christ, questions on self defense and weapons are unavoidable. Though all Christians know their immortal soul is held safe by grace in the hands of our Lord, whether a Christian should take steps to protect his mortal being and family or trust in God for protection remains a point of debate. And proponents of either view use passages from the Bible for support.

Christians who believe in pacifism, or at least pacifism on an individual level, focus on the fact that Jesus is the "Prince of Peace" and said in his sermon on the mount (Mt 5:39) to "turn the other cheek " when slapped. They further focus on mount Gethsemane, where the mob comes to take Jesus and Peter drew his sword and cut a manís ear off. In a powerful and oft repeated verse, considered wisdom by even non-believers, Jesus says to Peter (Mt 26:52), "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword " (commonly translated to "he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword").

Christians who believe in self defense use the same story from Gethsemane, and point out that not only was one of the twelve Apostles carrying a sword, but though Jesus warns against living by the sword he did not tell Peter to cast his sword away or admonish him for having it; he told him to put it back in its place. He rebuked Peter, not for carrying a sword or attacking the man, but because he "cannot avoid the cup" he has been chosen to drink and thus it is wrong for Peter to stop what is happening.

And it is just before the confrontation on Gethsemane, during the last supper, that Jesus commends his disciples to (Lk 22:36) sell their cloaks and buy a sword if they donít have one. The disciples answer that they have two (one of which was presumably used by Peter at Gethsemane) and Jesus tells them that two are enough.

So some Christians find that the Bible teaches pacifism and against weapons ownership, and others claim the bible as a mandate that Christians should own weapons. And of course there are other biblical passages used for support by either side, though these are the ones most often identified .

So where is the answer? Christians know the bible is infallible and does not contradict itself, so how can intelligent people of faith follow such extremely different viewpoints? And find biblical support for them?

As in all biblical debates between believers, it is because humans view the bible through the goggles of their own conceit, sin, and life experience. We create a rationalization to ignore the passages that donít appeal to us and revel in the specific parts that do.

But is there truly an answer? If someone could look at the bible intellectually and without bias (which does not identify anyone either reading or writing this article) what answer would they come up with? What would Jesus say to me, a man actively trying to follow the path he has ordained, owning and carrying weapons for self defense?

Of the two extreme viewpoints, one that the bible forbids Christians weapons and the other that Jesus himself ordered us to have weapons ... neither speaks to my heart or my faith, and quite frankly I donít believe that either is supported by a complete reading of the bible. But there is no contradiction in the bible, there is only the need of people to find in the bible justification for what they already believe.

Perhaps what we can best do is state what we read in the Gospels (I am not a bible scholar, but I have read the works of people who claim to be):

  • Jesus never carried a weapon, though at least one of his disciples obviously did. But Jesus was not weak or afraid to confront the wicked with force. To defend the temple of the Lord (Jn 2:15), He made a whip of out of cords and drove the money lenders out. A whip is not a deadly weapon, but neither is it a feather boa. It causes pain or draws blood (how much Jesus did or didnít do of either is not spoken of) and using it against fellow humans is not a peaceful act.
  • Jesus forbade his followers from using violence to answer indignities, even violent indignities (such as a slap on the cheek).
  • Jesus forbade us from answering a legal attack with violence (if a man sues you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well).
  • We are not allowed to use violence to avoid forced servitude, though I believe there is an assumption that servitude is legal (if a man forces you to go one mile, go two miles Ė something Roman soldiers were allowed to do to civilians in the time of Christ).

Although most people view Christians as "conservative" and hence pro-gun, several of the most popular denominations in America are on the record as having anti-gun stances. A reading of those positions on their websites indicates that their opinions are based on cultural issues rather than biblical mandates (the Presbyterian USA website starts out by saying they began supporting gun control in the 1960ís after several prominent assassinations, but since the bible was not written or changed in the 1960ís one has to wander why these events prompted a change in faith).

But since other denominations are either neutral or silent on the subject (or at least without a written opinion) then some denomination must be wrong. Which is not surprising, as even the most godly of denominations can lose their focus on Jesus and find themselves involved in a debate on a cultural matter Ė once again, the goggles or pride and sin that are worn by everyone in and out of the church.

But one thing that sets Christians apart from many people with no faith is that we inherently understand that there is evil in the world, and it is caused by the nature of mankind and the Devil himself, and not what guns are or are not available. There was murder and mass murder long before gunpowder, and there continue to be such things in countries with no firearms. Such as the mass murders in Japan with knives or the 1994 genocide in Rwanda committed with machetes . And of course even in America the worst school massacre of all time was committed in Bath, Mi, in 1927 with explosive instead of guns and the worst terrorist attacks were committed with fertilizer explosives and box cutters.

Itís not the job of Christians to change culture by passing laws and supporting political candidates; it is the job of Christians to spread the good news of the gospel and prepare the way for the second coming of Jesus and to be Christís kingdom builders. And we do this by teaching people the gospel and converting them, because if all were converted to believers there would be no need for gun control laws of any kind and no discussion about self defense.

But if human history makes anything clear itís that we canít create a Utopian, violence free society through the laws of man. The nature of man is too flawed for that.

The bible was meant as a book for all times and leaves many things open for us to figure out for ourselves. I find no place in the Bible where it forbids individuals from defending themselves, and it is the God given nature of men to defend their families. And whether we choose to support the availability of tools for such defense (such as guns) is left to us.

Not to say that we shouldnít have passion for our political causes on earth; God certainly didnít mean for us not to share our morals with the world. And the presence of firearms is society is a subject upon which educated individuals can disagree.

But to answer my original question, What Would Jesus Do Ö to answer that would be a sacrilege. I cannot know what the son of God, the only human who has lived and not been a victim of his own sinful nature and not seen the world through sinful bias, would do. Any comment on that would be a reflection of what I would WANT Jesus to do.

All I can comment on is what he DID do and what he DID say; and while he spoke with perfect wisdom on how to live, how to worship, and how to find salvation Ö he did not limit nor encourage his followers as to what implements they should obtain for their mortal self defense.

I canít know what Jesus would do. I can only pray for guidance and decide what I will do. And given the history that I read, and doing my best to analyze the issue from every side I can understand, at this time I choose to own firearms.

If this someday becomes the wrong choice for me, I hope God will lead me to find that wisdom in a manner not too painful.

NOTE: Please see my new post that references this here.


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