Letter Re: Christianity and Self-Defense

Mr. Rawles,
First of all, thank for providing the incredible resource of Survivalblog. I have only been a reader for a few months, but it has been an eye-opening experience. I was raised in a conservative, Christian home and my father was only a “casual” gun owner. At first, when reading the opinions on your blog, I was skeptical about owning firearms. I had never owned a gun in my life and only shot one a couple times. In actuality, I had never really thought too much about guns. However, after reading your reconciliation of Christianity and self-defense and my own study of the Scriptures, I determined that preparing to defend myself and my family is the right thing to do. I recently purchased my first gun, a 12-gauge Remington 870 Express Synthetic 18″ [barrel] shotgun, at a local gun show. I also attended the two-day shotgun course at Front Sight in January. I now feel fairly confident in the handling and defensive use of my shotgun.

I was hoping to get your opinion on something that still bothers me, however. While I now believe it is prudent to provide for my own self-defense, I have to wonder if there is a danger of putting more faith in guns than in God? For example, see the following:

Psalms 20:7-8: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.”

Psalms 44:5-7: “Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.”

Isaiah 2:22: “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?”

Your blog seems to discuss guns, body armor, and hardened defensive structures pretty extensively. Is this something you have considered before? What do you think is the correct balance between guns and God? At what point does someone cross the line where they begin to put all their faith and trust in their guns and their own preparations? How do us Christian and otherwise religious Survivalblog readers avoid crossing that line? Thanks again! – DR

JWR Replies: Thanks for re-opening this topic. First, you mentioned Psalm 20,. It noteworthy that this psalm was an admonition to Israel’s kings to not raise too large an army rather than saying the nation should not have an army to defend itself. (That psalm ties it to several other verses that warn against “multiplying chariots”.)

Certainly, there must be a balance struck when preparing. It is foolish to trust just in just your own preparations. We need to trust in God’s providence and his protection for his Covenant people. But at the same time we need to heed the prodding of the Holy Spirit to prepare for our family’s safety, housing, nourishment, and security.

Trust in God is a wonderful and crucial aspect of preparedness (it is to me!) but we should not expect manna to fall from heaven, nor walls of flame to spring up between us and those that would do us harm. Some Mennonites, for example, eschew all means self defense and decry even the willingness to defend oneself or one’s loved ones. That, in my opinion is taking “turning the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) to an extreme that is not scripturally founded.

Exodus 22:2 provides Biblical justification for killing someone if he intends to forcibly rob or kill another man: ” If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, [there shall] no blood [be shed] for him.” Exodus 22:2 (KJV)

And Jesus teaches that it is wise to be armed, in Luke 22:35-36 (KJV): “And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.
Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take [it], and likewise [his] scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”

In an article titled: What Does The Bible Say About Gun Control? Larry Pratt keenly observed the difference between self-defense and vengeance:

Resisting an attack is not to be confused with taking vengeance which is the exclusive domain of God (Rom. 12:19). This has been delegated to the civil magistrate, who, as we read in Romans 13:4, “. . . is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

Private vengeance means one would stalk down a criminal after one’s life is no longer in danger as opposed to defending oneself during an attack. It is this very point that has been confused by Christian pacifists who would take the passage in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek (which prohibits private vengeance) into a command to falter before the wicked.

Let us consider also that the Sixth Commandment tells us: “Thou shall not murder.” In the chapters following, God gave to Moses many of the situations which require a death penalty. God clearly has not told us never to kill. He has told us not to murder, which means we are not to take an innocent life. Consider also that the civil magistrate is to be a terror to those who practice evil. This passage does not in any way imply that the role of law enforcement is to prevent crimes or to protect individuals from criminals. The magistrate is a minister to serve as “an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4).

Jesus taught both to turn the other cheek and to be well-armed to defend oneself. The important factor is having the wisdom to know when to employ either approach depending on the circumstances. I pray, for wisdom, discernment, and discretion, daily. I don’t seek out trouble, and in fact I have moved my family to a remote, lightly populated region in good part to avoid trouble. But if unavoidable trouble comes my way, I want to have the option of resisting force with force. And I only have that option if I am armed and trained.

Some critics of armed preparedness cite Matthew 26:52-54 (KJV), which descries how Jesus responded when Peter cut off the ear of a high priest’s servant, using a sword: “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”

In context, Jesus is telling Peter that it would be suicidal to fight in that particular situation, since they were quite outnumbered. And of course Jesus knew it was in God’s plan for him to be arrested, tried, crucified, and resurrected. Jesus told Peter to put his sword in its place –which was back in his belt. Jesus was telling Peter in effect that “there is a time to fight, and this, my friend, isn’t it.” He didn’t command him to “throw that sword away”, or “surrender it”, or to “stop carrying it”. After all, according to Luke, Jesus had just recently ordered the disciples to arm themselves. The reason for the arms was obviously to protect their own lives when traveling–not to protect His own life, which He intended to sacrifice, to pay for our sins, once and for all.

The Old testament teaches both to be armed, and to be trained. We read in Psalm 144:1:

Blessed [be] the LORD my strength,
which teacheth my hands to war,
[and] my fingers to fight:

Yes, as Christians our battles are mainly spiritual, but we must also be prepared to defend our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, against evildoers.