The reverberations from the horrifying Sandy Hook massacre are still ringing in our ears. Though personally I lament at how we care about a small number of tragic deaths, then blindly look away from millions of child deaths we can actually prevent, murder by abortion, or murder by neglect of suffering children in third world countries. Stalin said it right, “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Nonetheless, as the United States slowly recovers from this grief, many are using the tragedy to call for a reform on gun rights. On the one side you will hear voices clamoring about the mind-blowing ease of access everyone has to a wide range of firearms. On the other side you will hear slogans such as “Guns don’t kill, people kill.” In between that is a whole range of people. As Christians what should our stance be?
CHRISTIANS AND GUNS
Jesus did not carry a Beretta 9mm pistol. Most would add it doesn’t fit the description of Jesus who loves, cares, forgives, and gently nurtures the weak. And indeed, while Jesus was on the earth, he did not carry a sword (the most common military assault weapon at the time). Yet others will argue that his disciples did and Jesus did not tell them to throw it away but to put it in “its place” (Mat 26:52, Luk 22:36-38). Also they argue that Jesus came to bring a sword (Mat 10:34) and is coming back to use that assault weapon (Rev 19:15). The other side may counter that while Jesus, who created life, has the authority to give life and take it, we created humans do not. (1 Sam 2:6). There are many slogans and fragmented views, but one thing is certain, Christians have had guns, or strong views about them, ever since the first gunpowder based weapons emigrated from the Orient. Below are three of the popular views and a short critique on them.
Some may consider a discussion about guns as “unspiritual.” Yet, the fact that the Bible is filled with war and weapons, with some of its inspired human authors being warriors themselves, necessitates that we do speak about that which God though important to write about.
1. The Ideal World
Some Christians want to get rid of all the guns in the world. I definitely agree with these guys. I wish all the guns were gone. I wish everyone would “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” I also think every Christian should have this be an ultimate desire. That we would hope for a Shalom (peace) that would rule the whole earth. This is what we should long for, the ultimate pacifism. This is what Jesus promises us. Yet, the obvious critique is we don’t live in such a perfect world. It is coming, but what do we do before it comes. I respect people who are true pacifists, but I always ask them one question. “If your daughters are about to be kidnapped, raped, and killed, will you still be a pacifist and stand by? Or would you shoot the guy, not to try and kill him, but to stop him?”
2. The Orderly World
Some Christians don’t want to touch guns, but are fine with non-corrupt police carrying them. I also agree with these guys, I want to never have to shoot anyone in my life. I sincerely wish that our land was filled with honorable, trustworthy policemen, who are seconds away. And indeed the Bible does state that God ordained good government partly for this reason, to carry a sword as “God’s servant”(Rom 13:4). Yet, not every government authority is good nor always near. Human authority is after all, human. They are still prone to sin and error. Many governments have misused their authority to annihilate people who are defenseless. And they’re not always present or available to stop a tragedy. If the government is sanctioned by God to use the sword to prevent/punish crime, is a citizen who prevents crime when the authorities aren’t available not sanctioned by God? I understand revenge killings are out of the question, but what about using a gun to prevent the murder of the weak?
3. The Real World
Some Christians want all good citizens to have guns. I have a few friends who are like this, some have even promised to buy me a gun. None are criminals, violent, or evil. They are very committed to the noble task of defending the weak. I wholeheartedly agree, one thing many pacifists often miss is that the Bible does call us to defend the defenseless. I hate that people are sinful and abuse, hurt, maim, rape, or terrorize the weak, but this is a reality. I hate that this world is like this, and I understand that only Jesus can change it, and will change it. But while we are here, and this is the way it is, what do we do now? I ask myself, were I standing at Sandy Hook Elementary with a gun in my hands as Adam Lanza took out his rifle and aimed it at children, what would I do? Talk to him? I think I would try. But if everything else failed, would I shoot him? Even if it destroys my conscience and gives me post-traumatic stress disorder? Yes, I would rather “sin” by shooting him, rather than “sin” by refusing to defend the children.
In the end I am still confused. On the one hand, popular culture shows guns as a symbol of authority and power. But only Jesus should really have authority and power, I don’t trust myself with ultimate power and authority. Then again, I would rather have a solid Christian wield a weapon rather than a sadistic killer. As a Christian, should I carry a gun to defend the weak? I would hate to have to shoot someone. But I would hate to allow the defenseless to be undefended even more. Thankfully Jesus is bringing an ultimate Shalom (by wielding his sword against all the rebels) and then we won’t need guns.
I can’t wait.