December 26, 2015

Shot to the Heart: Jesus, Guns, and the Kingdom of God

The blogosphere is abuzz with Christians defending or rejecting their right and/or responsibility to bear arms against their enemies. This is an important discussion that leads to the deeper question of whether a Jesus-follower should ever engage in violence.


The emotionally charged rhetoric on both sides betrays the profound implications of where one lands on this issue.


I believe it reveals something else.


Could it be, while carving out our stances on pacifism, self-defense, and war, we are obfuscating what matters most by framing the debate in a way that misses the heart of Jesus altogether? Could it be our obsession with what we ought or ought not do in this or that situation reflects less of His heart and more of the heart of the Pharisees who were convinced they answered the questions correctly, even as their rejected their King?


Could it be we are beginning with the wrong questions?


In my view, the most fundamental questions in this debate are not, “When can I defend myself or my loved ones?“ Or, “When can I be violent and not sin?” While important, these questions are close to meaningless until we answer more fundamental questions like, “Where is my ultimate hope?” And, “How does my attitude toward those I call my enemies announce and embody the King and His Kingdom that has come?”


In the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, Jesus calls those who would follow Him to climb higher than the ethics of ought, personal rights, and pulling the correct moral lever in a given situation. He calls us into a completely new kind of life that asks entirely different questions that flow from supernaturally renewed hearts.


For example, instead of asking, “What must I do to divorce my wife properly?,” Jesus forces us to consider the kind of heart that seeks to divorce one’s wife (Mt 5:31-32). His subsequent allowance for divorce under narrow conditions is a subset of the greater issue of one’s heart toward his wife. Isn’t this why he defines adultery as a condition of the heart, not merely a physical act (Mt 5:27-28)?


Not surprisingly, to those who claimed the right to hate their enemies, Jesus insisted they love and pray for even them (Mt 5:43-48).


Doesn’t this suggest Jesus is less interested in questions like, “When can I shoot an enemy without sinning?” And more interested in questions like, “What does it mean for me to love the one I would rather hate.” Or, “Have I paused to pray even once for those I am so eager to send into a Christ-less eternity?”


On the other hand, lest you think this is just a veiled argument for strict pacifism, we cannot ignore that Jesus never rebuked the Roman Centurion for being a man of war. Instead, he praised this warrior for his faith (Mt 8:5-13). Why? Because the ethics of the Kingdom begin with “Who?” and “Why?” before getting to “What?” and “When?”


Put differently, for the follower of Jesus, the questions underlying any moral debate must be, “Which King am I serving?” And, “Whose Kingdom am I building?”


A careful reading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran pastor who attempted to assassinate Adolph Hitler in WW II) leaves no doubt His heart belonged to the good King Jesus whom he believed he was serving by his actions. Likewise, many strict pacifists of that era (who could not have approved of Bonhoeffer’s actions) undoubtedly shared his devotion to Jesus.


So who was right? Who was wrong?


Could it be we can get the “ought” right and still get Jesus wrong? Is it possible to do the right thing wrongly? The wrong thing rightly? Could it be, as Jesus implied, our “why” often outweighs our “what” in moral debates like this?


As muddy as this makes the waters for those obsessed with pulling the right lever (or defending their right to do so), when we come to intractable debates like this, focusing on the bedrock questions of “Which King?” and “Whose Kingdom?,” while not always leading us to the same “ought,” will lead us to charity toward those with whom we disagree and, more importantly, burn away our self-centered hubris which fuels our self-righteous arrogance that always drives us away from the heart of Jesus, even when get the “ought” right.

December 26, 2015 Blog

9 Comments on “Shot to the Heart: Jesus, Guns, and the Kingdom of God

Darla Meeks
December 28, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Actually, I am not aware of any evidence that Dietrich Bonhoeffer ever tried to assasinate Hitler. He was loosely associated with a group that was accused of plotting to kill Hitler, and so he was arrested and executed on that basis. Bonhoeffer was a brazenly outspoken critic of the Nazi regime…that is really why he was killed.

John Mitchell
December 28, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Thank you Darla. I probably should have said Bonhoeffer was accused of being part of a plot to assaninate Hitler. There are indeed (at least) a couple of ways to read and understand Bonhoeffer and his history in opposing the Nazis. I am not an expert on this topic but am prone to believe he was, to one degree or another, sympathetic with if not involved in the plot to kill Hitler. But even if he was not, as some (e.g., Metaxes) seem to argue he was, with my apologies to this peace-loving man of God, it is possible to imagine he could have been, while remaining a lover of Jesus and Kingdom peace. At the very least, we can empathize with the tension he (or others like him) might have felt in the midst of that great and evil conflict. This tension is real among those on both sides of the pacifism debate. And both can really love Jesus.

Nate Johnson
December 28, 2015 at 2:42 pm

All actions, thoughts and intents, need to be bathed in the question – To whom do we serve? That said, the other questions are still morally relevant, which you yourself agree (I don’t want to represent you unfairly). I think you are attempting a bigger more fundamental motive for either position, and your example of Jesus and divorce was spot on. Perhaps a murky middle is where we will end up, but other questions, such as: Is there but one manifestation of the reign and rule of God? are worth asking. I think there can be basic questions in addition to the heart-motivation that can be as pivotal or even more so, than the heart one, when we attempt to ‘apply’ the fundamental ethos of the Christian life – love of God. But once the heart question is left dormant, even the correct position amounts to nothing before God.

John Mitchell
December 28, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Great points, Nate. Jesus not only compels virtue, He commands the right. It would be a mistake to say a wrong action becomes right “if your heart is in the right place.” It is possible, however, to do the right thing with the wrong heart and thereby not honor God, even if the rightness of your act points to Him.

Some things are very clear in Scripture. Others are not. For me, the pacifism question falls into the latter category, at least within certain boundaries. I believe God not only allows but ordains these kinds of tensions and the disparate convictions that flow from His people, as a way to tell His whole story. A story, it seems that is best experienced and expressed through truths in tension with one another — like distinct musical notes which, through the friction of bumping into each other reveal the depths of their individual and collective beauty in the form of chords and symphonies that point to the great conductor.

Cedron Caine
December 29, 2015 at 4:18 am

I have worked in advertising for many years I know the power that images have on the subconscious, the choice of pictures for this post is most unfortunate. Mostly the act of killing and it’s justification is to do with war. In order to achieve this effectively on a mass scale lies are required. This then is what we are to take a stand against. As with the picture above I find it difficult to understand why anybody would waste their lives to create another lie, who’s pupose is being served by publishing the picture.

John Mitchell
December 29, 2015 at 9:15 am

Did you read the blog under the picture, Cedron? You might find much to agree with there.

Bunny Turner
January 1, 2016 at 10:53 am

I’ve thought about these things so much. I’ve moved toward several positions…one, that when Jesus commented about the “rich young ruler” and the camel, His point was that as soon as we accumulate possessions, even to food for the next day, we tend to start thinking about defending them AGAINST others; thus Evil gains a toe-hold. And second, when we arm ourselves in time of peace in our lives, as now, we have started in the direction of NOT loving our enemy, of NOT being prepared to “turn the other cheek.” We have demonstrated a cold intention to sin. What do you think?

John Mitchell
January 1, 2016 at 11:01 am

Wow Bunny Turner – I think you are right on target with the heart of Jesus here. The direction of our hearts is the key. Which King? Whose Kingdom? Thank you for your words. May God draw us closer to His heart for His glory.

Ken Solts
January 2, 2016 at 2:15 pm

So glad I found your blog! Very interesting points here. However, they cause me to ponder on questions I hadn’t thought of before. Not saying that’s a bad thing, just more confused than before.

I believe that one has the right to protect yourself, even if that means bearing arms. With that said, you have made me aware of a new question which is, “Can a Christian carry a gun and still be in the will of God? ”

The Bible says that when our enemy strikes us we turn the other cheek. Is that truly a response of how we defend ourselves or is it talking about it symbolically? Four instance, someone says something to us negative Lee and we don’t respond back with the same negativity.

Or is it literal? That would mean that of someone pulled a gun on us, we could not pull out a gun to defend ourselves?

Is carrying a gun a sign of a lack of trust in God? Is it that we are supposed to so unswervingly trust God that we don’t even carry guns to protect ourselves? Is it that we should just rely on God’s will and let the chips fall where they may?

Now I’m really confused. There are two extremes here that come to mind. One is that God expects us to work for a living so that we can support our families and build shelter to protect them from the elements which, taken to the extreme, would make some believe that they should do anything and everything they can to protect themselves and their loved ones.

On the other side there are those (And, yes, I have actually met some like this) Who don’t do what they should do because they believe God will take care of it. There are also those who do what they shouldn’t do because they believe God will protect them, i.e. handling of snakes to put God to the test that He will protect them from the venom, etc.

I realize that my thinking out loud and writing it down might confuse the issue even more. I don’t know. I’m just searching for answers myself.

I have heard of and actually know of situations where Christian people’s lives were saved because they were armed. And I totally get the concept of sending someone to a Christ-less grave. But who are we to say that it How many times in the Bible did we see men go to war and kill others on the commandments from God? How many times did God command others to defend them selves against mortal enemies?should not have happened? Bear with me here. I’m not saying that it should have. I am asking, “Do we really know?”

How many times in the Bible did we see men go to war and kill others on a commandment from God? How many times did God command others to defend themselves against mortal enemies?

The Bible tells us to obey the laws of the land. The second amendment gives us the right to bear arms. However, I believe somewhere the Bible says that we should obey the laws of the land as long as they don’t compromise what God would have us do. So where does that leave us?

The Bible also says that every man has an appointment with that. That means there is nothing we can do about the time of our demise. There are many things we can do to live a healthier life, but the time that we leave this earth has already been established.

I’m probably going to get a lot of heat for this one, but I believe literally everything the Bible says. I believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God even though it was written in pen by man. Those men were instructed clearly by God. If His Word were fallible, The Bible cannot be considered an accurate source of God’s will, voice, history.

9/11 is a sensitive subject. It was a horrible event that none of us who were alive when it happened will ever forget. Remember that one of the planes was down by the actions of people aboard the plane, keeping it from its target. Was that a sin for them to cause the death of hundreds instead of possibly thousands? Was it against God’s will to send the pilot and his cohorts to a Christ-less eternity?

I don’t think so. Obviously what they did was not to save themselves but to save the lives of others. Regardless, are Christians really not supposed to defend themselves or others? I believe in my heart that God wants us to protect others when we can. To save the lives of others when we can. Wouldn’t that include protecting our own self?

I have to say that I am for one being able to carry a gun to protect himself and his family. My wife and I have done a lot of target shooting at ranges. Next month we will be going shopping for each of us to carry a handgun.

Although I feel no conviction about that being wrong, this blog has certainly caused me to really consider this in prayer before we do that. Whatever God tells us to do is exactly what we will do. If we feel that he is telling us to not carry guns, we won’t carry them. And,if we end up carrying, I hope we never have to use them.

John, I look forward to your comments on this.

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