Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aurora, Self-Defense and Non-Resistance

With the horrifying events in Colorado filling the news, the reaction has been varied and often predictable. Those who advocate for "gun control" wasted no time in using the actions of a madman to push their agenda, missing the obvious flaw in "gun control", namely that making the possession of something illegal doesn't dissuade criminals. That is what makes them criminals in the first place. I will admit that my reaction was just the opposite. My first thought was: If someone in that theater had a legal concealed weapon perhaps they could have stopped him before he got off so many shots.

That is a perfectly understandable reaction and one that would get affirming nods and perhaps an amen or three in most "church" settings. Respond to violence with overwhelming violence is the mantra of many churchgoing, moral Americans. Force is met with force. He brings a knife, you bring a gun. So our response is understandable in our culture but our culture, no matter how deeply ingrained it might be, should not be what defines us and forms our reactions. The question we should be asking ourselves is how we should react to this event. As hard as it is we should also think about how we should react if we found ourselves like the moviegoers, in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time, facing a man bent on violence. It is always our best course to turn to the Scriptures in times like these and one event in particular speaks powerfully to this situation.

It is quite plausible to assume that Christians in the first few centuries saw innocent people arrested and brutally executed on a daily basis and yet they did not rise up and respond with violence. Just the opposite, often Christians were the victims of violence and did nothing to defend themselves. Jesus Himself was executed by a repressive regime and when He was arrested in the garden He rebuked Peter for trying to use violence to intervene in the defense of an innocent Man. Peter saw a violent injustice taking place and he responded in a natural way but in the wrong way. It is an event recorded in all four Gospels....

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" (Matthew 26:51-54)

Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard." And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. (Mark 14:44-47)
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, "No more of this!" And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:47-51)

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:10-11)

Jesus did not command His disciples or the legion of angels at His command to defend Him. He rebuked Peter when he attacked Malchus. He even went so far as to heal this servant of the high priest. He did everything in precisely the opposite way that we would expect.

Now a case can be made that this was a unique event and Jesus even said that He had to be taken so that His grand mission could be fulfilled. That is certainly true but His response in Gethsemane is consistent with His life, His teaching and the teaching of His disciples. We cannot overcome the world by acting like the world. We cannot defeat evil with evil. Jesus didn't conquer sin with sin, He did not overthrow evil with evil, He defeated death and hell for His sheep by love, sacrifice and submission.

As Al Mohler writes in his eloquent response to these events, we as followers of Christ must remember that evil can only be answered by a cross.

Third, we must admit that there will be no fully satisfying answer to these questions in this life. Christians know that God is sovereign, and that nothing is outside of his control. We also know that he allows evil to exist, and human beings to commit moral atrocities. We cannot allow the sovereignty of God to be denied and evil allowed its independent existence. Nor can we deny the reality of evil and the horror of its threat to be lessened. We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross.

The cross overcomes evil. We cannot, we must not, fall prey to the mindset of the world that sees overcoming a greater evil with a lesser evil as good and proper. We cannot live our lives in fear, arming ourselves so that we can wield justice in place of God. He has instiututed the powers of this world to deal with evil by wielding the sword but He has also called us to a different path, one that often leads to suffering and persecution and even death but has as it's reward eternal life.

When the question is raised, why does God allow evil to happen to the innocent, the Christian response must be to praise Him that He allowed, indeed ordained, the most evil event to ever occur to happen to the only truly innocent Man to ever live so that those who by nature were His enemies could be redeemed. Jesus has shown us the way by His teaching and His example. It is our calling to follow Him no matter the cost.


Aussie John said...


Well said!

Steve Stowe said...

Is it a lesser evil to save additional lives by shooting the shooter? If not to protect strangers, then how about to protect your own wife and children. I cannot say I would not hesitate to take the life of the predator, but if I had the tools to do so then I believe I would. And may it not be a evil to stand aside as innocents are slaughtered while we have the opportunity to stop the slaughter?

Steve Stowe said...

Is it a lesser evil to stop a predator? May it not be an evil to stand idly by while innocents are slaughtered if we have the means to stop the slaughter?

Chad said...

Your line of reasoning on this has always been hard for me to follow. It seems almost purely theoretical. Like it only makes sense in hindsight, but would have no bearing on ones actions "in the moment". If you see a person that needs defending, you defend them, right? Caring for orphans and widows and all that. In this case, there is a theater full of defensless people. Defend them. End of analysis. What form that defense takes is debatable, but I don't think there's anything necessarily more "Christian" about saying to the shooter, "Let us all line up nicely for you so you don't waste any bullets." There has to be a sense in which stopping the shooter from shooting is an act of love toward the defensless targets, and toward the shooter himself, under the heading of "turning a sinner from the error of his way". But like I said, this sort of analysis is just theoritical. In that moment, my hope would be that I would step up to defend the defensless.

A side note on the gun control issue. A theater would be one location where even a person with a concealed weapons permit would be unable to carry. Bars, schools, theaters, hospitals...there are certain places where even folks with a ccw can't carry. You'd have to be off duty law enforcement to carry in a theater. Anyhow, these locations where everyone is guaranteed to be unarmed create what is generally called a turkey shoot. A real 'fish-in-a-barrel' situation.

Arthur Sido said...

Chad, there is an enormous difference between caring for orphans by providing food and shelter and medicine and defending someone by shooting someone else. I cannot see how it is an act of love to shoot an unbeliever. Hey you are sinning! Bang!

This is a largely theoretical issue. I am not sure how I would react in this circumstance. I own a bunch of guns. What would I do? I am not sure but I am certain that the church needs to think about these issues. What if it wasn't someone threatening your family but rather stealing you car. Is it OK to defend your property?

It is my hope that I would trust God in those circumstances, that like Jim Elliot I would refuse to choose the lesser evil and instead choose the way of love, even if that cost me my life.

Arthur Sido said...

Steve, that is a common question. My response always is this, do the circumstances dictate the doctrine or do we follow Christ no matter the circumstances? If your children were starving and you had no way to feed them, would you be justified in robbing a store?

Chad said...

So, by your line of reasoning, our desire to protect others is a result of the fall? Am I missing something? Would you also argue that it would be wrong to intervene in a situation such as the Rwandan genocide, or the holocaust? It seems like you're examining only one side of this coin...potential aggression toward someone who wants to harm us, and taking the position of absolute pacifism. All well and good, I guess. But don't we have some obligation to our fellow man? To protect them if we have the means to do so? The Jews like to say, the Text has 70 faces. I think there's room for a lot more nuance here than you are willing to concede.

Debbie said...


You realize that Jim Elliot's situation was totally different than that in Aurora, right? He knew that he and the other men with him were Christians, and he knew that those attacking them weren't. We have no idea what he would have done if those men had come into a village and started randomly killing people. Do you think he would have stood aside and let them have at it?

I still question your assumption that letting the shooter continue killing equals loving him. Obviously, killing someone isn't loving him either. I can't help but think there is a middle ground between the two extremes, one that shows love for all involved, though perhaps not for oneself....

As a side note, do you ever wonder why Jesus said that while He sent the disciples out with no money, etc. before, later He tells them to take money with them and to sell a cloak to buy a sword? (Luke 22:35-36)

R-N- said...

This is the first time I have read your blog, and I agree with what you are saying and that it is hard to live.

What I question is the argument that many have made that is someone had a concealed weapon in the movie theater, things would have ended sooner. I just don't believe that most people have the training to aim correctly in the disorder that was going on (tear gas, lighting only from the movie, etc) added to the fact that the shooter was wearing full body armor. I don't think people are really thinking through what actually happened when they say that. I personally believe that such a scenerio could have led to an even larger loss of life and/or numbers of injuries.

Norm M. said...

Proverbs 24:10-12 makes the decision easy for me:

10 If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.
11 If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;
12 If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?

Arthur Sido said...


I guess the question comes down to whether or not we trust and submit to God as the one who will recompense evil or if we see the need to step in. Would Jim Elliot have stood aside in that hypothetical situation? I don't know and neither does anyone else. I do know what he did do and thanks to that not only are he and his Christian companions in glory with Christ but so are many others who came to Christ through the ministering of their wives and others.

As far as this:

As a side note, do you ever wonder why Jesus said that while He sent the disciples out with no money, etc. before, later He tells them to take money with them and to sell a cloak to buy a sword? (Luke 22:35-36)

There is no mystery. We are told right in Scripture why in the very next verse....

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough." (Luke 22:37-38)

They armed themselves that He would be numbered with the transgressors. He clearly didn't want them armed to use the swords as He rebuked Peter for that very thing. I see that verse used all the time as a defense of arming ourselves but rarely do people include the rest of the sentence, instead it is often quoted cutting Jesus off in mid-sentence.

Arthur Sido said...


Is the choice to intervene in Rwanada either do nothing or invade and take sides? We have intervened all over the world and I am not sure we have done nearly as much good as we think we have. We are called to a radical way of living, a way that leads to suffering and persecution that we are to meet meekly and humbly. Since none of us were in that theater, this is of course theoretical but our response now ought to be for God to work in the heart of that deranged young man in the hope that he will come to faith in Christ, not to wish that someone had put him down in that theater.

Debbie said...


"I guess the question comes down to whether or not we trust and submit to God as the one who will recompense evil or if we see the need to step in."

Perhaps this is where we disagree. I don't see it as an issue of who will recompense evil. I see it as a matter of caring for the people involved. Stopping wrong behavior is not recompensing evil. You know this - you know of your responsibility to correct the wrong behavior of your children, and you frequently call others to task for their actions, attitudes, and outlook. Like you, I am not advocating killing someone who breaks into my house or goes into a theater with guns. But just as I will slap an infant's hand when that hand is reaching for something dangerous, or remove my child from a fight or similar situation, I would do what I could to prevent someone from doing something harmful to him/herself and others.

Let me ask you this: if it had been your child walking into the theater to kill people and you were there, would you have let him proceed, or would you have tackled him to the ground before letting him do something so harmful to himself and others? Do you believe that tackling him would be usurping God's authority to recompense evil? Or would it be showing love to all involved?

As for the verses in Luke 22, you're saying Jesus meant for them to go right then and sell a cloak to buy a sword? That going out to the garden was the same as when He sent the disciples out in twos to minister in the surrounding areas? I see how the disciples having swords in their possession could lead to Jesus being "numbered with the transgressors," but I truly don't understand how His instructions to sell a cloak and buy a sword apply to that night.

Arthur Sido said...

Debbie, you are getting tangled up in hypotheticals here. My point has to do with the response of Christians to violence and evil. What would I do if I were in that theater? I don't know just I don't know what John would do. At a minimum I would throw myself over my children to protect them with my body.

As far as Luke 22, I think Jesus knew that they had swords already. The swords reference is a confusing one but it certainly is not a call by Jesus for us to pack concealed weapons but rather the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Part of Isaiah's prophecy to bear the sins of many includes His being numbered with the transgressors. Why was Peter having a sword making him a transgressor? Was it not his attempt to use the sword to defend Jesus and if so doesn't that teach us something important (and not that we should arm ourselves)?

Debbie said...

LOL - Yup, the way I think things like this through is with hypotheticals. That's why when you bring this issue up, I keep asking "what would you do if your child was the perpetrator?" I am called to love everyone unconditionally, and the closest I come to that is with my children. So I think about what I would do (or at least want to do if I had the quick thinking and courage necessary) and want others to do if it were my child holding the gun. Would I want him killed? No. Is it better for him to suffer physical harm than to commit murder? Yes. So, loving my son, I would want him stopped from shooting people. Now, since I'm supposed to love Mr. Holmes as much or more than I love my kids (because I absolutely don't love them perfectly), I should do what I can to both stop him and preserve his life.

So, while you would see taking action to stop a violent act as returning evil for evil, I see stopping it as the best thing for the perpetrator, and therefore something I should do - regardless of the cost to myself.

Re: Luke 22.... I had typed a bunch here, but the bottom line is that this passage confounds me. I haven't found an explanation yet that pulls it all together - not yours, not mine, or anything else I've heard or read. Still too many questions!