February 11, 2013 by cbbeard
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a post about the controversial issue of gun control in America. Check out Part 1, which deals with the complexity of policy here.
Does God approve of me owning a firearm for personal protection?
I am an American citizen living in the state of Texas, and therefore I have the right to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun. The laws where I live allow me to carry a loaded gun in my vehicle without a license, and I can legally use lethal force if there is an intruder in my home.
Those are my rights as a citizen of the state of Texas in the United States. But as a Christ follower, my Texas and American citizenship are secondary to my citizenship in the Kingdom of God. So while it may be lawful for me to own a firearm for personal protection, I should be less concerned about what the Constitution says and more concerned with what the Bible says. I have spent a good deal of time prayerfully considering whether God would approve of me owning, (or more specifically, using) a firearm for personal protection, and I humbly submit the following for your consideration:
There is no clear-cut scripture to guide us on this issue.
I have searched high and low for a “silver bullet” Bible verse (pun intended) that will allow me to stamp this issue “case closed.” What I discovered is that many people have claimed to find such a verse; but with all due respect, I have also discovered that it requires some hermeneutical gymnastics for these verses to serve as the be-all-end-all type of verse that we desire.
Here are some examples of passages used to support an anti-gun stance:
- Matthew 5:38-42 – An excerpt of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” we are taught that we should “not resist an evil person” and “turn the other cheek” when someone strikes you. The full context of this teaching, however, is not so much in a physical act of violence, but a context of persecution and oppression. Few scholars believe that Jesus meant this teaching to communicate absolute pacifism.
- Matthew 26:52 – Jesus’ response to Peter when he drew his sword to prevent Jesus’ arrest was “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” We must remember that Jesus knew that preventing his arrest was not in God’s will, and that was primarily why he stopped Peter. But we must also realize that “living by the sword” is an attitude of aggression rather than defense.
- Romans 12:17; I Peter 3:9 – These verses instruct us not to “repay evil with evil,” but are better understood to instruct us to have a spirit of humility and not a spirit of vengeance.
However, the verses given to support a pro-gun stance are no more defensible:
- Exodus 22:2-3 – Verse 2 overtly states that it is permissible to kill a thief breaking into your house during the night. Verse 3 complicates things a bit, however, by stating that if the break-in happens in the daytime, it is not permissible to kill the thief. The other issue with this passage is that as is often the case with interpreting Old Testament law, consistency is thrown out the door. Just a few verses earlier, it is written that “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death” (Exodus 21:17). If the directions regarding intruders are prescriptive for the modern-day context, why not the directions regarding unruly and disrespectful children as well?
- 1 Timothy 5:8 – Some people point to this verse, which talks about providing for family, as a verse that says we are responsible for defending our families in a physical way. However, this stretches the context of the passage, which is more accurately referring to material needs (food, clothing, shelter) than physical protection. It is a slippery slope to say that God expects us to always protect our families physically; in fact it is a virtual impossibility when taken to the nth degree.
- Luke 22:35-38 – This seems to be the most popular New Testament example given in support of self-defense. Jesus is speaking with the disciples before his death and seems to tell them to obtain a sword at all costs. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” The disciples responded “See, Lord, here are two swords” and Jesus said “That is enough.” But a more in-depth look at this passage reveals that Jesus was using hyperbole, as he often did, to explain the difficult time that was ahead of them. Certainly Jesus didn’t really want them to sell their cloaks to buy a sword; the disciples wouldn’t have had a closet full of clothes, and such a sale would leave them naked. Surely if weapons of self-defense were needed, two swords would not be enough for eleven men. In fact, upon further review, it seems clear that Jesus’ response of “that is enough” was not confirmation of their swords but rebuke of their misunderstanding. (Check out Drew Strait’s excellent discussion of this passage here.)
Certainly there are other verses that have been used to support either side of the debate. But I have come to the conclusion that no passages give a clear-cut answer when considered in their context and within the whole of the Bible. Matters are complicated further when searching for a principle throughout the Bible that would shed light on the issue. I believe wholeheartedly that God is unchanging, but when the examples of scripture are taken at face value, it seems the Old Testament shows a violent defense of evil while the New Testament consistently gives examples of people not defending themselves and even dying for their faith without attempting to defend themselves.*
Since there is no text or principle within the Bible that ends the debate on this issue, I believe the best way to answer the question at hand is to consider the motivation for carrying a firearm for self-defense.
I mentioned in Part 1 of this post that my wife and I purchased handguns with the intention of obtaining concealed-carry licenses. I spent some time considering the “why” behind those plans; why did we feel it was necessary and/or appropriate to arm ourselves? Some of the reasons seem quite honorable: protection, prevention of possible disaster, peace of mind. But when you boil it all down to the lowest common denominator I believe our motivation for carrying a firearm as a private citizen comes down to one thing: fear.
I wanted my wife and myself to be armed because I was scared; scared of the “bad guy,” scared of not being in control, and scared of the “worst case scenario.” I might hide it under the guise of security and/or protection, and I might even attempt to justify it as a “good guy vs. bad guy” scenario. But the truth of the matter is that fear is at the root of my desire for protection.
What does God say about fear? Quite a bit actually. Look at what Jesus said in Luke 12:4-7:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
And Hebrews 2:14-15:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
I would suggest that there are no hermeneutical gymnastics necessary here; God has not called us to a spirit of timidity, but of power (2 Timothy 1:7) and we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37). We must be very careful about letting our fear control what we do, because if we are not careful, we may put our hope in something other than God. I love how my friend, Scott Nelson, stated it:
I’m as convinced as ever that security/protection is one of the biggest idols that plague so many of the American Christians I know, including me. We give into this idol because we have sinfully allowed our hope in God to give way to despair and fear. The consequence of our despair/fear is a heart turned toward ourselves rather than toward God (in worship) and others (in service). What I wouldn’t give to live my life with a handful of bold and hope-filled Christian brothers and sisters.
I am concerned that if I carry a firearm that I will have an attitude of fear instead of boldness. I am concerned that if I carry a firearm that I will be asking myself “is this guy a bad guy?” instead of “does this person know Jesus?” And the truth of the matter is that if my boldness for Christ is compromised by my fear of death or injury, then that fear is worse than death itself.
In his book Leadership Ethics: An Introduction (2008), Terry Price concludes that while we might contemplate extreme examples where a leader is justified in “breaking the rules” (i.e. lying to the Nazi’s about the whereabouts of Jews hidden in your home) that the everyday leader is not justified in moral exceptions because he or she simply does not encounter such extreme situations. In the same way, we can dream up all sorts of “worst-case scenarios” in which having a firearm seems justified. However, being prepared for those worst-case scenarios does not justify trading our everyday hope in God and boldness for Christ for fear and a sense of control.
There is one last struggle I’ve had with the idea of carrying a concealed firearm. If the occasion arose for me to actually use that weapon, chances are someone would lose their life. Once again, I could justify that and say “better him than me,” but who am I to determine that? Am I really prepared to take someone’s life? I’m not so sure; actually I’m quite sure that I am not.
So here is my struggle: emotionally and viscerally I am all for carrying a concealed firearm. I don’t want to lose my life, I don’t want my family to come to harm; the father and husband in me wants to do whatever it takes to protect them. The problem is that I find very little Biblical support for my emotional desires. Instead I see God calling my family to engage a broken world on behalf of Christ with boldness and without fear. I see God calling upon all Christ followers to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). I see God calling upon us to let go of our fears and insecurities; and when he tells us to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) that we are to have a heavenly mindset about all things.
Therefore, while I respect those brothers and sisters who disagree, I will not be getting my concealed carry license.
What do you think? If you disagree with me, how so? Can you show how God does approve? Healthy dialogue encouraged!