On December 2, 2015, America suffered the tragedy of the San Bernardino massacre, yet another in a long list of mass shootings. Fourteen people were killed; over a dozen others were wounded. As always, Facebook became a platform for the never-ending discussion about guns, freedom, and pacifism. Nothing much was said that hadn't been said before. However, one comment did catch my eye. The comment was made that "Regardless of legality, I don't think Jesus would go around packing heat". That got me thinking.
Before we start, I would like to briefly mention a few things. First, when I say pacifist, I am specifically referring to the belief that deadly force is never warranted. Second, this is in no way a discussion about gun rights. Every culture has to deal with violence to some degree and no legislation could possibly fix that completely. It's simply a part of our fallen condition. What I will be talking about is the reason I am not a pacifist. Third, and most importantly, I can't tell you what to believe. All I can tell you is my opinion and why I have it. My hope for you is not that you would end up believing what I believe, rather that you would believe what is true and honoring to God. I pray regularly that my opinions would also hold to that standard. I hope that we can all be patient with each other as we continue to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling."
I'm going to start by pointing out that the idea that we, as Christians, are supposed to act exactly the way Jesus did isn't entirely accurate. Before you grab your torch and pitchfork hear me out. We are to be like Christ, but Jesus was the actual, incarnate, Son of God. The reason this is important is because it is sometimes impossible to do exactly what Jesus would do in any particular instance. Jesus came with a very specific purpose and used supernatural abilities to help Him accomplish this purpose. For example, if you had a friend who was very sick, asking yourself "What would Jesus do" doesn't help, because Jesus had the authority to miraculously heal people, you do not. A better question would be "What would Jesus have me do?"
So now for the question: Would Jesus ever have me kill someone?
As far as I can see, and to my limited understanding, I think the answer is yes. It is unrealistic of me to think I can address every idea and opinion related to this topic. What I am going to do is explain the argument I think has the most weight, and is the main reason I'm not a pacifist.
We are called to protect the innocent. The entire discussion about pacifism hinges on this doctrine. We can all agree that the bible does not strongly promote looking out for one's own interests. So I don't feel like I could build a very strong case for my right (from a biblical point of view) to kill someone in defense of my own life, and definitely not for the sake of my property. However, I think we also all agree that one of the greatest themes in the bible is looking out for the interests of others. Mark 12:31 "Love your neighbor as yourself" and Philippians 2:3 "In humility value others above yourselves." Another of the Bible's greatest themes directly ties into this one; that of defending the innocent. Psalm 82:4 "Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." and 1 Corinthians 13:7 "Love always protects." It is mostly out of this idea of defending the innocent that my views on pacifism developed.
There is a temptation at this point in the discussion to start bickering over which verses have more weight, those that promote defending the innocent, or those that promote loving your enemy. Because the bible is entirely consistent, we know that these two ideas do not conflict. There may be some situations however, where one of these concepts trumps the other. In the same way that it was good for Corrie Tenboom to lie to a Nazi soldier about hiding Jews during WWII, (the doctrine of "do not lie" being trumped by the doctrine of defending the innocent) I believe it would be good for a christian to fight an evil person in defense of an innocent one, even though this action would not be strictly loving them. In the book, The Weight of Glory, one of the greatest christian scholars of our time, C.S. Lewis, says this. "You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man. And if you do this good, you can't at the same time do that; and if you do it to these men, you can't also do it to those... This in fact most often means helping A at the expense of B... and sooner or later, it involves helping A by actually doing some degree of violence to B. But when B is up to mischief against A, you must either do nothing or you must help one against the other." In the case of the shooting mentioned at the beginning of this article. Two individuals knowingly and willfully attacked a room full of innocent people in order to forward their radical ideas. It doesn't appear that they had any intention of living through the event, either way they didn't. Now what if there had been the opportunity for a christian to stop this attack using deadly force? The attackers still would have died, but there would potentially be a dozen more people who would have gotten to spend Christmas with their families this year. That is not a small matter. I'm afraid that in our attempt to love our enemies Christians sometimes neglect to love everyone else. Why is it that the life of the attacker is more valuable in our minds than the lives of the victim? Isn't that what we are saying when we condemn the use of deadly force in any circumstance? That it is better for those fourteen people to die than for a Christian to have used deadly force.
If a Christian is never permitted to use deadly force then that makes it wrong to be a police officer or soldier as well. At least under our current system. I know some people who would actually agree with that idea, but I do not know anyone who is morally opposed to calling the cops when they feel unsafe, or who truly think we should have let Nazi Germany take what chunk of the world they wanted unopposed. The Apostle Paul tells us that the power of the sword is given to the government for the punishment of wrongdoers, and the government is made up of individuals. Therefore is must be right in some cases for an individual to use deadly force. In short, the luxury to be a pacifist is granted by those who are not. To kill another human being is always a terrible thing. However, what I believe is worse is to let what is evil destroy what is good. We are called to love our enemies, but we are also called to love our neighbors. In a world full of evil I believe the most loving thing we can do is to protect, at all cost, those things that are good and innocent.