Righteous and Wicked Defense
When is it okay for a Christian to defend themselves?
Is their a difference between defending oneself against physical attack and slander?
After all, isn’t self-defense an inalienable right?
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
And what about Jesus, doesn’t he get a say?
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
I want to do more than simply tell you “it’s okay to defend your family” or the opposite, “to be a Christian we should obey Matthew 5:28-42 without another thought”… you know, because “I said so” or “it’s in the Bible, duh” are super-persuasive arguments. Rather…
I want to give reason to why any action is righteous or wicked and how that applies to self-defense.
First: A Christian’s Foundation
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
To be Christian is to say that I am not the final authority any longer. Not my will but Thy will.
When Satan casts judgments upon the Christian, heaping guilt upon their shoulders, they respond, “You are right. I am guilty as charged. But I do not despair, for Christ died my death and my life is no longer my own, it is His.”
In Christ, condemnation is swept away and we no longer vainly pursue self-justification. Further, we need not defend ourselves from any man for we are forever free from the second death.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So what do we do with self-defense?
With everything I’ve already said above, should a Christian conceal-carry?
Before we answer any question like this we must first answer this:
Is this action for my good or for the good of another?
Why does Jesus tell us not to defend our own person? We do not need to, nor can we, save ourselves. God is judge. He is mighty to save. We are secure in Christ. To follow after Christ, to be a Christian, means to testify to his life, death, and resurrection. One way in which we’re called to proclaim the good news of the justifying Jesus is by turning the other cheek, just as our Lord did.
But again, what about police officers or soldiers? What about civilians and conceal-carry permits?
Here are a few steps (principles) for discerning between a righteous and wicked defense:
1. We are not God
As soon as we begin to consciously act as if we are instruments of God’s justice, than it is no longer a just war we are fighting, it is a Holy War. It is no longer defending others from danger, but it is to subvert the justice of God for my own “justice” (Matthew 7:1,2).
I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds—wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine—I become insufferable. The pretence that when England’s cause is just we are on England’s side—as some neutral Don Quixote might be—for that reason alone, is equally spurious. And nonsense draws evil after it. If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 29.
The first step in discerning whether self-defense is righteous or wicked is to crucify the belief that, “I am good, I am moral, I am on the side of God.”
2. Defend the helpless
If you slap me in the face, by God’s grace I will turn to you the other cheek. If you slap my wife or infant son in the face, you will quickly feel the just wrath of a husband or father.
Is your impulse one of rage or vengeance? Does your life testify to your own glory, which you lord over others with smug self-righteous “authority?”
Authorities: When a police officer or soldier is serving and protecting others, defending innocent persons from wicked persons, he is a just instrument of God for the good of others (Romans 13:1-5). When he is out to defend “me and mine,” or to rule over others as a “Peacekeeper,” we can be nearly sure that he acts wickedly. Like any person in any circumstance, we swerve in and out of righteous and wicked motivations. Throw in the nerves of a life-and-death situation and this distinction can be very difficult to discern. Governments are always intermingling the just and unjust, and we must all of us be very careful when we wield any “power,” whether over a nation, a city, or a congregation.
Civilians: When a person with a conceal-carry permit acts as a vigilante and cries out for “my rights” at every turn, we can be nearly sure that a wicked motive is not far behind. But, if a man or woman, seeking to protect others, whether their family or “people” as a whole; if that man or woman carries a firearm, then we are on the path towards righteousness. Again, we swerve in and out of righteous and wicked motivations, so me must guard against a false transcendence: “I am the neighborhood watch and it is up to me, and me alone, to protect society from this hooded thug.” Further, Christ did not give the sword to persons but to governments. We must be on guard, but not against wicked people in society. We guard against our wicked heart and our tendency (yours and mine) to serve my own good.
A Brief Aside on Slander
When someone slanders (verbally attacks) you, when a malicious gossip wreaks havoc in your church, should we speak up or turn the other cheek for the glory of Christ?
If you’re out to defend “my honor,” or to “set the record straight,” or to “let truth be out,” or you are seeking to defend your “God-given authority;” you are surely on a slippery slope. But, if you are out to defend against wolves in your midst, to protect your congregation from wicked gossip, bickering, and spite, or to defend the honor of Christ and his Bride; if you are defending others, if you are defending the glory of The Other, then continue on, righteous defender.
I purposely did not come out on record with a “Yes” or “No” on self-defense. To take another human life is never good. But every action, whether lifting our hands in “praise” to God or killing another person, can be righteous or wicked, and hopefully I’ve helped in some small way to discern the difference.