The Christian and Lethal Force in Self-Defense

January 11, 2013 at 1:58 PM 1 comment

I realize that this particular topic may seem strange to some, especially those who believe that Jesus taught without equivocation that the Christian must always turn the other cheek to the person who is intent on doing evil.  To those Christians who believe that it is never allowable to put up a struggle against a person whose intent it is to overcome us, I would simply ask that you take the time to read this entire article with an open Bible at hand.

Admittedly, picturing yourself as a Christian having to defend yourself against someone who is trying to physically overpower you is not an easy thing to do.  Moreover, the idea that self-defense might actually involve taking another person’s life is also something that is also not an easy thing to deal with for the person who is resolute in following Christ in all things.

It is easy to go through the gospels and note all the times that Jesus was nearly apprehended and thrown off a handy cliff before He was able to escape the crowd that had attempted to take matters into their own hands.  On several occasions, Jesus said things that others viewed as blasphemous.  Because of this, they felt obliged to kill Him.

This took place – as one example – in Luke 4, not long after He had spent time in the wilderness being tempted of Satan.  He was 100% successful there and after that, went to a local synagogue in Nazareth where He stood up and read part of Isaiah (61:1-2).  The people didn’t like what they heard because it sounded to them as though Jesus was equating Himself with the text.  He was, in fact, doing that.  Since they did not believe He could be the One that Isaiah was referring to, then the only alternative was that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy.  For that, He deserved to die and so they tried, but He escaped.

In fact, the real reason they wanted to kill Jesus is because He rightly pointed out to the crowds that during Elijah’s day, because of the hardheartedness of the Jews then, God sent Elijah “to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon,” (Luke 4:26b) who, as it happened, was not of the nation of Israel.  Jesus further indicated that though there were plenty of lepers within the nation of Israel then, none of the Jewish lepers were cleansed.  Only Naaman, a Syrian was cleansed.  They didn’t like the implications of what Jesus was saying, so they rushed Him and tried to send Him flying over the cliff.  Jesus merely walked away from them without much trouble.  It was a form of self-defense without the lethal part.

Certainly, had Jesus wished, He could have destroyed the whole lot of them right there, but He didn’t want to do that and He knew He could simply “disappear” from among them.  I’m not sure how He managed it – whether He blinded the eyes of the people momentarily or something else – but it is clearly something that we cannot do.  If I had the option of using a cloak of invisibility to escape a thief, robber, or murderer, I would certainly use that option.

However, I live in the real world of the god of this age (Satan).  He likes to play for keeps and he is not so gentle and I am not God in any way, shape, or form.  There are many people in this world who could take me out without much effort and I do not waste time believing otherwise.  I am finite, limited in my ability to defend myself with my hands.  I do not have the power to blind people’s eyes or make it appear as though I can become invisible, even for a short time.

So what do I do?  Can I biblically use lethal force if necessary if someone is trying to harm myself or a member of my family?  I believe I can and I believe it is biblical as well.

This means a number of things though.  First, it means that I do not go looking for trouble at all.  It means I take the necessary amount of precautions recognizing that I live in a fallen and corrupt world and because of that, it is a world filled with individuals who – in some cases – have been completely taken over by demonic entities.  Because of that, they have greater strength and power than I do.  This fact causes me to walk with more efficiency and awareness than I would otherwise.  Again, I do not look for trouble, but I am aware that trouble could be around the next corner.  Second, I avoid situations that might cause me harm.  It’s really Logic 101 when it comes to trying to keep out of range of those who enjoy creating problems for others.  But, there is more we need to consider as well.

Jesus talks about turning the other cheek and going the extra mild.  Unfortunately, I believe Christians as well as non-Christians have misunderstood these statements from Jesus.  They fail to see these teachings in their context and the context is the Roman world in which Jesus and other Jews lived.

During Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers were the law.  If they saw you standing there or walking by and they did not want to carry their backpack any longer, they could grab you and force you to do it.  You could object, if you were stupid, or you could grit your teeth, carry their backpack for one mile and then be on your way, feeling more like a slave and less like a person, but at least the soldier didn’t beat you too.

Jesus’ point was simple.  Yes, you were being forced to carry a backpack for one mile and it was against your will.  Jesus was saying that once you came to the end of that first mile, make a decision to carry that backpack another mile of your own free will!  You would no longer be the soldier’s slave because you had chosen to carry the backpack another mile without being forced.  You would be regaining your personhood back.  You would be doing something not because you had been coerced into doing it, but because you chose to do it.

The same thing applies to being slapped.  Often, Roman soldiers would slap men with an open hand (palm).  This was an absolute insult.  It meant that the person being slapped was not equal to the Roman soldier.  That was the way someone dealt with someone who was beneath them, not equal to them.

Jesus was saying that if you offer the other cheek, the Roman soldier would be forced to hit you with the back of his hand this time and that was the way they fought in battle when it was hand-to-hand combat.  In fact, when I was taking Karate years ago, the back-handed closed fist was (and remains) a good way to break someone’s jaw or nose.  There’s plenty of power in that hit and as painful as it can be, it elevates the person into an equal footing with the one doing the hitting.

Jesus was saying that by offering the other cheek, you would be forcing the soldier to treat you as an equal.  We don’t have this today, do we?  Police officers cannot simply order us to carry their pack.  They can’t (normally) slap us around just because they feel like it (although that seems to happen way too often these days).  We don’t deal with that here in America, generally speaking.  During Roman times, people dealt with this all the time and Jesus gave them the answers that allowed them to regain their composure and self-respect.

But the above two examples have nothing to do with self-defense when it comes to thieves, muggers, and murderers.  We live in societies where these types of people like to prey on others for personal gain.  What do we do?  Do we swing wide the door to our homes and allow them to take whatever they want to take, doing nothing to keep that from happening? No, that would be foolish and that is different from giving to someone who has a real need.

Paul tells us that the man who does not provide for his own household is worse than an unbeliever and he has actually denied the faith (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8).  His exact words are “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Paul is not merely talking about providing food and shelter.  It goes beyond this, to many facets of life.  If I truly love my wife and children, I will do what I can to come to their aid when someone threatens their lives.  I may fail miserably at it, but I cannot simply sit idly by thinking “Jesus will protect them.”  That’s like not buying food for the table and thinking “Jesus will make food appear.”  How asinine is that?

If someone breaks into my home at night, I have an obligation to defend my family.  Failure to do that may result in harm to them.  The reality is that I may have to use lethal force in doing so, but it should not be my initial desire to kill someone who tries to break into my home.  My goal is to simply defend my family from the potential harm that may come from someone who is trying to break into my home.  If my action results in that other person’s harm or even death, by law, I am not responsible for that because he attacked me first.  I simply defended myself against him.

This situation was played out recently in north Georgia.  A woman was at home with her small children when she heard someone knocking loudly on the front door.  She chose to ignore it because after sneaking a peek at the person, she realized she did not know him, not to mention he had a tire iron with him.

She called her husband at work and he told her to get a gun and get into the closet with the children.  Meanwhile, the husband called 911.  The man at the front door eventually broke into the home with his tire iron.  The husband told the wife that if the man opened the door to their hiding place, she should shoot the man.  The 911 operator told the man police were on their way.

At that point, the man who broke into the house did open the door to the hiding place where the woman and children were hiding.  As soon as he did, the woman began shooting.  She hit him five times in the face and neck.  As he lay there bleeding, he asked her to stop shooting.

The woman took the children and went next door to wait for the police.  The wounded intruder ran to his car and tried to get away but was overcome by his wounds.  He lived through the ordeal and was arrested.

Had the man not opened the door and simply ransacked the home and then left, it is likely no harm would have come to him.  The woman remained closeted away with her children waiting for the police to arrive.  Instead, the man decided to open the door and was shot in the process.  Had the woman not had a gun, we can only wonder what might have happened to her and possibly the children.

There are examples of people shooting a burglar as they are fleeing.  Maybe it’s because I lived in California too long, but if they are running away, so is the danger.  There is no need to shoot at their back as they are running away.  Again, had the intruder from the above story not opened the door to the closet, he would likely not have been shot.

In Georgia, where I live, we have the Stand Your Ground Law which allows me to use lethal force against someone who is threatening me.  In other words, I do not have to retreat.  If I was on my property though and someone started coming up to me in a threatening manner, I would probably simply go into my home and lock the door.  If my wife was with me outside, we would both go in.  I would call the police.  If the individual at that point tried to break into my house, I would warn the intruder that I had a gun.  If that did not stop him, I would likely shoot him.

I am not interested in shooting people who simply threaten me.  If they place me in a position where I am left with no other choice but to defend myself which may include using lethal force, I will do that.

Throughout the New Testament, we learn that we are not to take vengeance on ourselves by deliberating taking the law into our hands.  We are not to go out looking for trouble.  If someone hurts a member of my family and I was not there to protect them, I am not released by God to hunt them down and act as judge, jury, and executioner.  I can hunt them down to bring them to justice, but I cannot take the law into my own hands.  I should endeavor to forgive them as Christ has forgiven me as difficult as that might be to accomplish.

When it comes to self-defense, I can and should do what I can to defend myself and my family against evil people in this world.  I cannot use my freedom as a Christian to murder people whom I believe should die (and unfortunately, there are some who call themselves Christian who believe that).  At the same time, I cannot use my freedom as a Christian to allow others to try to bring harm to me or my family.  I must protect what God has given me as the head of my home.

It’s interesting when we consider the fact that Jesus speaks so much of protecting His “sheep.”  He understands the dangers of this world and the responsibility of a good shepherd is vitally important to Jesus.

Notice when Jesus stood before the High Priest in John 18, one of the soldiers struck Him because he did not like the way Jesus responded to the High Priest.  Instead of Jesus saying, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” He questioned the man as to why he had struck Him.  Jesus was not a milquetoast.  He was not a doormat.

We might argue that Jesus did not resist those who eventually were successful in taking His life.  The truth of the matter is that He came to die.  When it was His time to die, He willingly gave His life, allowing puny human beings to act as judge, jury, and executioner, but in truth, Jesus gave His own life.  No one took it from Him (cf. John 10:18).

Jesus’ situation was unique.  He was born into this world to eventually lay down His life for His sheep.  We don’t do that.  We lay down our life for our Shepherd, allowing Him to be Lord of our lives.  He becomes our Master through our voluntary surrender of our life to Him.

Though it appeared as though Jesus’ life was taken from Him, it only appeared that way.  He willingly gave up His life so that we might receive life.  For proof of this, we need look no further than the incident in the Garden of Gethsemane where Peter lopped off the ear of one of the soldiers because he was trying to defend Jesus.  Jesus rebuked Peter but not because he carried a sword.  He rebuked him because Peter still did not understand that if Jesus wanted to, He could have asked the Father to send legions of angels to protect Him from humanity and from Satan.  Jesus chose not to do so because of the reason He came to earth as a human being in the first place.

Peter was defending Someone he loved; in this case, Jesus.  Under normal circumstances, this would have been fine.  Under those specific circumstances, what Jesus was going to go through was going to happen to fulfill the Scriptures.  Jesus never told Peter to stop carrying a means of defense.  Jesus simply told Peter that he shouldn’t be using it in that specific situation, not this time.  Jesus had a higher calling and He would willingly pursue it.

Self-defense for the Christian is permissible, even if it means using lethal force, if it comes down to it.  As Christians, we should not be looking to kill someone if they attack us.  We should be looking to simply stop them from attacking us, which is completely different.  In the heat of battle however, if the attacker winds up dying because of the struggle, in essence, they have no one to blame except themselves.

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1 Comment

  • 1. Bonnie  |  January 13, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    Thank you for this piece. I have often wondered what Jesus would have me do show a situation like this threaten my family. My instinct would be to defend my children and family. It is a relief to hear that is the right thing to do.


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