One of the first and most important steps in successfully being prepared is having the appropriate mindset to do so. This being the case, it is important that each person reconcile their Christian convictions with their convictions regarding preparedness and self-defense, resulting in their being of a single mind. It is only in resolving these beliefs that a person can be effective in choosing to act one way or the other in a time of crisis. Many people of Christian faith and even those who do not share a faith in Jesus Christ, question if the practice of preparedness and/or willingness to consider the taking of another person’s life in self-defense contradicts God’s will and Christ’s teachings as expressed in the Bible. These are weighty and very important questions which should in no way be taken lightly. Each person should consider carefully and make a clear decision about their convictions on these topics before they can decide if a preparedness lifestyle is one that they can embrace. Since we are admonished by scripture to stand ready to provide an answer to anyone who questions the reason for our faith and hope, I have been compelled to search the whole Word of God and provide a clear rationale for my convictions in this area of my faith. For those who may be wrestling with their own convictions on these topics, I offer the following references and perspectives.
Is a Preparedness Lifestyle Evidence of Our Lack of Trust in God?
I began my study of this topic by asking myself the question, “shouldn’t we trust in God for our sustenance, instead of stocking up on food and supplies?” In response to this question, I say that the scriptures teach us to not worry about tomorrow, or in other words, we should not be fearful of the future or seeking to gain material possessions for the sake of worldly wealth and status. However, having a lack of fear about the future is not the same as choosing to take no action about being prepared for the future. When considering God’s call for us to be good stewards of that with which He has entrusted us, we must be thoughtful and shrewd in order to avoid losing what we have been given through neglect of thought and/or action. Rather, we must judge the circumstances of the present times and be thoughtful about the future in order to be counted as good and faithful servants. One of the Scriptures’ most vivid examples of taking proactive steps to be prepared for uncertain future events is Joseph’s leadership in Egypt, which was prompted by God and carried out through the practical actions of faithful people. The plan of preparedness was given to Joseph by God and relayed to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:33-36, when Joseph said “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.” Like Joseph, we are to put our trust in God and not the things of this world, while also being good stewards of those things with which he has entrusted us through taking thoughtful and decisive actions.
When Christ spoke of the signs that would announce the coming of the end times, He painted a grim picture of the urgency with which people will need to take action and flee from danger in order to be spared from the full force of the coming destruction. In Matthew 24:15-22, Christ said “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house.Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” In heeding these words, we see that Christ is admonishing us to be ready to flee from the coming evil at a moment’s notice. He also makes it clear that we will not have time to get our affairs in order after we become aware of the pending danger, but must be ready to act immediately. Under these circumstances, it would seem prudent to have made preparations in advance for being able to respond decisively should such a situation present itself within our lifetime. If we are to care for the needs of our families, as we are instructed to do in 1 Timothy 5:8, which reads “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” it would make sense that we should have provisions ready for taking care of their basic needs, should such a time come that it is necessary for us to “flee to the mountains.”
Are Christians Called to be Pacifists or Defenders?
In accompaniment with being good stewards we are also charged with the responsibility to guard against wickedness. This responsibility is made clear in both Proverbs 18:5, “It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.” and Proverbs 25:26, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” In addition to fighting the spiritual battle, this means that we are to care for the people and possessions with which God has entrusted us for the good of our family and neighbors. For as it says in Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” We cannot care for our families and neighbors if our food, clothing and shelter has been stolen or destroyed by evildoers, nor have we cared for our families and neighbors if they have been raped, abused or even murdered by those people who have chosen to embrace evil.
The first case recorded in the Scriptures of the righteous actively defending their family and neighbors was that of Abram going to rescue his nephew Lot, the others with him and their possessions. This account is recorded in Genesis 14:14-16, which reads, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” The life of Abram, later renamed by God as Abraham, is an excellent standard against which to judge our actions, as a man who walked with God and was the patriarch of the Jewish nation, about which it is recorded in Romans 4:3 that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Beginning with God’s first commandments and working forward through the Scriptures we find that the Old Testament law describes killing in self-defense as acceptable, but killing in vengeance as murder. The sixth commandment, as handed down from God to Moses and the Israelites, is stated in Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.” Note that God specifically stated that “murder” was prohibited, not that “killing” another person was forbidden. This is an important distinction when considering how God used the Israelites to fight against evil men and nations. Understanding the appropriate use of force is further clarified by the Lord when He states in Exodus 22:2-3 that “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.” In this instance, a person cannot fairly judge the actions or intentions of someone who is doing wrong under the cover of darkness, and so is justified in the use of lethal force as protection for themselves and their household. However, in the light of day such actions can be more fairly judged and the level of defense must be appropriately proportioned, since acting in vengeance is not justified. Another example of using lethal force in the defense of another person is the early life of Moses. While defending one of his countrymen who was being brutally beaten, Moses killed an Egyptian, as is recorded in Exodus 2: 11-12. “One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” So Moses killed a man, who was threatening the life of another person, yet he was not punished by God, rather he was later blessed by being chosen to lead God’s people. Another admonition for a just defense against the violence of evil is stated in Proverbs 24:10-11, “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” A further example of appropriately defending against the physical attacks of evil people is the leadership and actions of Nehemiah while in Jerusalem. As they were doing the good work of rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem, men whose hearts were filled with evil devised schemes to murder the Israelites in order to stop them from rebuilding. While they trusted in God to lead and protect them from this threat, Nehemiah was a good steward of the lives and resources that had been entrusted to him by arming the people and posting an active defense. These preparations both exemplify his faith in the Lord’s protection and his acting responsibly, which thwarted the plans of the wicked. This story is recorded in Nehemiah 4: 11-23, which reads “Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’ Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.’ Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’ When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me. Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!’ So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. At that time I also said to the people, ‘Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.’ Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.”
Now that a thorough list of Old Testament examples has been provided to clarify the appropriate actions of self-defense and the defense of our families and neighbors, some might ask if the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament brought about a change to any of these precepts. Let me begin my response by stating that God’s precepts do not change from the Levitical Law to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is clearly stated throughout the Scriptures, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, that God is consistent and unchanging. This can be seen in 1 Samuel 15:29, stating that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”, Hebrews 13:8, which says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”, and in James 1:17, which reads “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” It is vital to the Christian faith to understand that what Jesus Christ the Son taught is consistent with the actions and commands of God the Father. With the clear understanding that there is no duplicity between the words and actions of God and Jesus Christ, we can then look at a teaching of Christ that is sometimes misconstrued to be advocating for pacifism, appearing on the surface to be at odds with the Old Testament law.
Among Christ’s many teachings during the Sermon on the Mount, it is recorded in Matthew 5:38-39 that He spoke the words “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” These words have been misunderstood as an admonishment for Christian pacifism. However, the Jewish leaders and people of the time were known to be misusing the Scriptures to justify vigilante type vengeance and an abuse of power. Instead of leaving it in the hands of individuals, God had clearly established judges and other civil authorities for the enforcement of justice. Christ’s example was not an attack against self-defense from a credible threat, rather a slap in the face is an example of an insult, for which we should not repay in kind, but instead show grace and mercy that we might win them over by shaming them through comparing their actions to our own. This is illustrated by the words of Paul as he was quoting Proverbs, when he said “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” We need to use discernment in order to judge whether a person’s actions are harmful of only superficial items and our emotions, or if they are intent on the type of evil that results in true violence or even murder. While Christ taught that we should not presume to know the underlying intent that drives a person’s actions, Christ did instruct us to judge a person by their visible actions, as He said in Matthew 7:17-20, which reads “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Someone intent on murder will not be pacified by grace and humility, for their first action will be the taking of a life, not an insult. So, acting in self-defense of a person’s life is not impairing our Christian witness, nor is it acting out of vengeance, but it is taking appropriate action to protect the innocent and not give way to the wicked.
I believe that the God of both the Old and New Testaments has made it clear to us through His word that we are to be prepared in spirit, mind and body for our Lord Christ’s return. In doing this we are called to be good stewards of the possessions and lives with which He has entrusted each of us. We are to avoid evil whenever possible, repay evil with good in consideration of our Christian witness, but also defend against the kind of evil that would murder and destroy that which is good. In summary, I believe that we should be forward thinking and resourceful as we store up for the difficult days to come like the example of Joseph, defend our walls and those living inside of them like the example of Nehemiah, and practice love by providing for those in need like the example of Jesus Christ.