Did Jesus Oppose Self Defense?




I was having a debate with a person the other day who is a Christian but is also a self proclaimed Liberal. The argument was about which political side the teachings of Christ most line up with (Conservatism or Liberalism). Now, my intention in this post is not to make a political point as this entire blog is about Christian Apologetics and theology, not politics. However, I think it is important to address one thing he said and post it here for the sake of theological clarity. Clarity on the issue of whether Jesus endorsed pacifism and was against self defense. This liberal Christian said “Republicans are pro guns. Stand your ground, protect your home, your belongings, your family. Do it to them before they do it to you. What did Jesus teach? If someone demands your robes, give him your cloak as well. Your belongings are not worth taking a man's life over.” – To this, I would respond, that we should never shoot someone who robs us of belongings. But one thing he overlooked is that lots of times criminals engaging in home invasion shoot the people who live there so that they won’t be able to identify them if the cops ever get them and put them in a line up. Jesus never spoke against self defense. What he spoke against was revenge. When Jesus said “When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other one also”, he was speaking against doing something evil against someone who had done you evil. For example, if someone takes a rock and scratched up my car’s paint job and then busts out the windshield and all of the windows, am I not to do the same thing to his car. I am to turn the other way and let it go.

I don’t believe Jesus meant that if someone wants to kill you, you should let him do it. If he wants to take your stuff, then yeah, I agree. We shouldn’t take a man’s life over a plasma television or a few thousands dollars or whatever it is this hypothetical thief is taking. A human life is far more valuable than any material belongings, but if someone wants to kill my friends or family, I’d like to be able to take him out or subdue him before he’s able to do that. In that scenario, I believe I have a moral obligation to protect the one’s I care about. And if I don’t have a gun, I might not be able to do that if the bad guy has a gun too (which he likely will). This is why I’m for the 2nd amendment. We have a right to bare arms. We have a right to protect our families from evil people. We have a right to defend ourselves whether it be by fire arm, by unleashing kung fu moves, or using a knife or a base ball bat. Loving your enemies does not mean letting them do whatever they please. While Jesus said “love your enemies” he also said “love your neighbor”. How loving would it be to your neighbor to allow him to get murdered if there was something you could do about it?

In some instances, there’s really no good choice to make. If someone is trying to kill your family, someone in this instance is going to die. Either you and your family, or the killer. If someone breaks into your house, steals your things and then threatens to kill you along with your entire family, you have a choice. Either you let you and your whole family be murdered or you can shoot the bad guy before he shoots your wife and kids. Any sane person would choose the latter. Now, if a man kills your entire family and then you proceed to track him down and kill him for revenge, now THAT would be violating Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek as well as the other passages that say not to repay evil for evil (Proverbs 20:22, Romans 12:14, Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9). For in this latter circumstance, you would be carrying out your lust for vengeance, not merely trying to protect other human lives. You would be avenging lives already taken. And this would indeed contradict Matthew 5:38-44. Jesus was against revenge. He was against doing misdeeds to people in order to get back at them for doing similar misdeeds to us. Jesus preached that you should do good to those who do evil to you, and should repay evil with kindness. He also preached that if you do not forgive people their sins against you, God will not forgive any of your sins on judgment day (see Matthew 18:23-35, Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus never endorsed pacifism. Sometimes, there is an appropriate time to fight. If human lives are endanger, you have a moral obligation to do whatever it takes to protect them.

Police Officers do this when they shoot a criminal putting lives in harm’s way. Even Jesus said to his disciples’ when they were about to leave for Gethsemane, “If you have no sword, go buy one”. (e.g Luke 22:36)  Although he did rebuke Peter for using his sword (Matthew 26:50-52), but it was because Peter was unknowingly trying to interfere with God’s salvation plan (Matthew 26:53-54). God wanted Jesus to be arrested and executed so that He could pay for the sins of mankind. 

I did some internet research and one Christian site gave the opposite answer I gave. He said "As soon as we own a gun, or even have a gun in our hands, WE have taken over our OWN protection. We have taken our protection OUT of the LORD'S hands and put it in OUR OWN hands. We are trusting in ourselves, we are trusting in MAN - and NOT in God!" - I don't think that's the case at all. I don't think that taking up any weapon and protecting your family is trusting in man instead of God. As an analogy, some Christians think that if you take medicine or go to the doctor, it shows that you have a lack of faith in God. I had a great aunt who believed this. But I don't think you're not trusting God if you choose to go to the doctor instead of waiting for God to miraculously heal you. God sometimes works THROUGH people. God may be working THROUGH your doctor in order to heal you. And I don't think you're distrusting God if you choose to fight off a criminal and instead of waiting for God to strike him with lightning or something. 

There's a story that comes to my mind about a man in danger of drowning due to rising flood waters. A man was trapped on his rooftop by the rising waters of a flood. A fellow came over in a rowboat and called to the man, “Hop into my boat! I’ll save you!” The stranded man refused, saying, “No – God will save me!” The water rose to the man’s knees, and along came a rescuer in a motorboat. “Get in my boat! I’ll save you!” cried the boater. “No!” the man on the roof replied. “God will save me!” Soon after, the water was up to the man’s chest. Now came a helicopter with a sling suspended from it. “Grab onto the sling!” called the pilot. “I’ll pull you up and save you!” As the man called, “No, God will save me!” a wave swept him off the roof and he drowned. As he entered into Heaven, God greeted him, saying, “Welcome to Heaven! Glad to see you! Before I show you around and introduce you to some of the angels, do you have any questions?” the man replied “Well, yes Sir, as a matter of fact I do have one question. There I was, stranded on my roof, with flood waters rising all around me! Why didn’t you save me?” “Well,” replied God. “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What more did you want?”

The moral of the story is that God can work through natural means, and he can work through people. If we refuse to engage in self defense or if we refuse to see a doctor when we're sick, we're being just as misguided as that man on his roof. The Christian who wrote that article is engaging in the same kind of misguided thinking.



But someone may ask “But what about in impending Martyrdom cases?” I’ve addressed defending oneself in the instance of a robbery in which the robber intends on the killing the household to prevent witnesses from identifying him. But if what if someone wants to kill you or a loved one, not to remove witnesses to his crime of theft, but because you’re a Christian. What if someone wants to take your life because you’re a Christian, and you have the ability to defend yourself with a weapon of some kind? Should you shoot or should you lay down and die? Jesus did say “He who tries to save his life will lose it, but he who gives up his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39, cf.. Mark 8:35, Luke 17:33). Would acting in self defense be engaging in an unbiblical action in that particular instance? I cannot say with certainty.I'm inclined to say that we would in that particular circumstance.

Certainly if we deny that Jesus is our Savior, if we verbally deny to our persecutors that we are Christians, we will have endangered our souls. Jesus said “For whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father in Heaven. But whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father in Heaven.” – Matthew 10:32-33 (c.f Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26) And The Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of The Holy Spirit said “If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us;” – 2 Timothy 2:12

So I can say with certainty that we should not verbally deny Jesus if someone threatens to kill us if we acknowledge Him. We should never utter the words “I am not a Christian”, lest we be like Peter during Jesus’ trial. However, if there’s a way to get out of being killed for one’s faith while avoiding denial of knowing Jesus, I think that MIGHT be ok in some instances. I mean, when Saul Of Tarsus was persecuting Christians in the book of Acts (before His conversion experience on the road to Damascus), there were many Christians who fled to other locations to hide from Saul. They didn’t deny knowing Jesus, they just got out of harm’s way. But that’s not the same as fighting in self defense. What those Christians did was flight not fight. I also remember an instance in the book of Acts, where a man named Jason was stalling an angry mob while Paul and Timothy snuck out the back door. They had the means to avoid persecution by running away, and so they did.

Perhaps in the case of persecution, one should lay down their fire arm or unclench their fist, or sheath their sword, and say as Stephen did, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” as one takes their final breath. Perhaps we should preach the gospel to them before we meet the Lord. Fleeing the area where persecution is going on is ok, I think, but I’m not sure if fighting back is. I inclined to say no on that one. The Apostle Paul never fought back when he was under heavy persecution. Perhaps we shouldn't either. Paul endured "Hardships, Calamities, Beatings, Imprisonments, tulmuts, labors, watching, hunger." (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). Perhaps we should too. Flight is ok, fight might not be ok in persecution instances.