Thou shall not kill” (Exod 20:13; KJV).
“In the letters the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and eliminate the entire army of people or province which was going to attack them…” (Esther 8:11; NASB).1
For years, we have been conditioned to think that religion and politics are separate issues. People on both sides of the aisle get nervous, aggravated, and, sometimes, downright disgusted that you dare try to mingle the two supposedly unrelated subjects. In the past, I have found this amusing. There is nothing wrong with being ignorant—to lack knowledge in a given subject. We all fall in that category somewhere along the intellectual line. But it is absolutely disheartening when one refuses to listen, preferring their ignorant bliss over being teachable.
I am soon closing in on nearly two decades of serving in Christian ministry. I have had the privilege of pastoring two rural churches in southeastern Ohio. And so, I have had my fair share of encounters with persons who prefer not to know the truth of a matter. Such individuals dislike having cherished narratives that they hold challenged. They refuse to investigate matters thoroughly, even though it is their responsibility as representatives of Christ.
You may be correct on a given issue but you will never truly know until that issue has been challenged. It used to be taught in scientific inquiry that the goal of the scientific method was the disapproval of a supposed concept. Within a generation, this standard has been removed.
The goal of sciences…
Are you aware that there was a time in the past when Christian theology was called the “queen of the sciences?” Just like most people offhandedly dismiss the idea that politics and faith are interrelated issues, so too is their disdain for the idea that the study of God is truly a scientific endeavor. No, not science in the sense of empirical data gathering. But science in the sense of pursuing knowledge and wisdom. Empirical science is a tool that seeks to gain knowledge and wisdom about the material world. The same is true of theological inquiry, it is the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom about the Maker of heaven and earth and all therein.
Answer to a troubling question…
In case you are wondering where in the heck I’m headed, I’ll let you in on the big reveal. For a few weeks now I have been speaking on issues pertaining to the 2nd Amendment; the right to bear arms, the right to self-defense. Previously I have stated that this is a religious issue. Some may wonder at this: “How is that possible when it is surely a political issue?” This is an important question. One that needs to be carefully weighed and responded to. In particular, it is a question that Christians need to wrestle with and come down on the right side of.
You see, my primary goal is to reach professing Christians—that is my target audience. I’m not opposed to others reading my work, but as a pastor, my goal is the edification of the body of Christ. Many Christians do not see the connection between politics and their faith. Some believe that our citizenship in heaven prevents us from getting entangled in the affairs of this earth. Politics is focused on societal behaviors. However, you need to ask yourself, “What is the governing principle behind one’s political views or the policies that may be enacted upon a society?” Two things need to be understood.
Two things: Politics and Faith…
First, while it is true that we are citizens of heaven, if we are in Christ, another equal truth is established from our faith: we are citizens of this earth. Christians have dual citizenship: in heaven and on earth. And so, since our faith is not meant to be lived under a basket, we need to be concerned about this world (for our children, our children’s children, our children’s children’s children sake, etc., etc.). Furthermore, as Christians it is our responsibility to have concerns about the welfare of others, even beyond the welfare of our families and churches, for we are commanded to love our neighbors; even our enemies. Thus, politics which deals with society, which affects society either positively or negatively, ought to be a Christian’s concern. We are not permitted to say to our neighbors, “Oh, you’re cold…be warm” but give them nothing to warm themselves. Or, “Oh, you’re thirsty…be quenched” but give them nothing to drink. Or, “Oh you’re being robbed, assaulted, infringed upon through unjust taxation (among a list of others things)…” but do nothing to help alleviate the harm being done to them.
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does… What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…if [faith] does not have works, [it] is dead” (James 1.22-25; 2.14, 17).
This leads to the second principle that ought to be carefully considered. What is the foundation or cornerstone—i.e., the governing principle—behind political views and policies that are enacted upon a society? Think about this. What do the various policies meant to curb a society’s behavior entail? They attempt to establish a parameter of right and wrong. Politics seeks to answer ethical questions about life, about the inner workings of a given society. Therefore, politics is never neutral. How can it be, when people are not? Consequently, politics is likewise a religious issue.
We read in Scripture that,
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14.1a).
Does this mean that the fool does not worship anything? Is the fool without religious convictions? No, that is not what the Holy Spirit says. The fool’s denial of God is not a denial of an object of worship or a god to serve, but as seen in the case of atheism (no-god), they worship themselves for they are their own object of worship. Their mind is the determiner of truth, the arbitrator of right and wrong.
So Christian what sort of leader should you prefer to govern the policies of society? One that is founded upon the Word of God, held under the conviction that Christ is Lord over all; or another who pretends that they speak as gods and that they are the messiah of the masses? The Christian faith demands that we defend against all manner of wrong, once it has been sought out and properly identified. Moreover, our faith established the groundwork for self-defense.
Stepping along the path of contention…
How will a father protect his children, the very heritage that the Lord from above has granted him if he lays down his arms of self-defense? Do you not know that a mother bear will, without shame, protect her young cubs from harm? Even when the enemy in question is much larger and stronger than she is, like a male bear?
I pointed out last time that David, the young shepherd, stood against a mighty foe named Goliath as an act of self-defense. He defended himself, his family, his king, and his nation. More importantly, David fought to protect the sacred name of God. A testimony to all the nations that God alone is God:
“You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a saber,” says David, “but I come to you in the name of the Lord of armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defiled. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I will strike you and remove your head from you. Then I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that this entire assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will hand you over to us!” (1Samuel 17.45-47; emphasis added).
Remember that self-defense properly defined is “the act of defending oneself, one’s property, or a close relative.”2 A defender protects, he does not instigate or provoke. While this concept is difficult for some to accept, what seems to be the decisive point of contention is that self-defense sometimes leads to the taking of another human life.
Human life is sacred. Do you believe this? Do you think that human lives are precious? Though I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, you need to understand that the ONLY reason this is the case is that life is a gift from God. If you believe that life sprung up as a result of random processes (chance) due to some, as of yet unexplained, series of evolutionary actions, then you have no legitimate justification to argue about the dignity of life. Either life is an accident or life is purposeful. The Christian worldview alone accounts for this truth, the only way someone who denies biblical truth can attempt to argue in such a way is to adopt (borrow or steal) from a system of faith that is not their own. However, since all human creatures have been created in the image of God, a common belief will no doubt be held that life is sacred, precious and is worth preserving and protecting.3 Such intellectual schizophrenia is to be expected by rebellious sinners who deny their Creator.
This schizophrenia is visible in many of the arguments surrounding the 2nd Amendment. People on both sides of the aisle will argue that life is precious and must be protected. To do this, it is argued, is to avoid self-defense in the sense of taking another life regardless of the circumstances. It is believed that if dangerous weapons like guns were removed from the public’s grasp, then life would be properly guarded. David Barton highlights this popular attitude. He writes,
“…there is also the subjective, emotional argument. That is, since every individual with any sense of humanity detests seeing families destroyed, innocent children sacrificed, and promising lives snuffed out as a result of gun violence, the argument is advanced that the reducing the number of guns will produce a safer society.”4
The key issue in the debate over self-defense is whether or not an individual has the right to take the life of another. Period. Christians wonder, “If the taking of life is ever right within the confines of the biblical worldview?” Pacifist pastors like John Piper say, “no.” Progressive Christian scholars like David P. Gushee seem to share similar thoughts. Gushee, in his book entitled The Sacredness of Human Life argues,
“Jesus never blessed killing. He died for God’s kingdom but did not kill for it. His disciples understood the centrality of his radical nonviolence and became a nonviolent movement in a violent context of imperial oppression and domination. They rejected and recoiled from every form of killing, from abortion to infanticide to the gladiator games to war to the death penalty. They could not bear to see anyone killed, ‘though justly.’”5
Earlier in the same text, Gushee opined what he evidently believed was an inescapable truth:
“Let us grant that no simple appeal to life’s sacredness can resolve the question whether Christians can support or participate in war… Just-war theory has been pristine only in theory, not where the bodies pile up.”6
If we were to classify the three arguments against taking life under the guise of self-defense they would be as follows: no weapons, no just-killing, no just-war. All three are interrelated in the sense that they desire the preservation of life. Yet, all three fail to discern the nature of reality as it truly is:
“…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” (Gen 8.21; cf. Gen 6.5).
When Killing Ain’t Wrong, and When it is…
Almost every person that visited a Sunday school at some point in their life (or at least had friends that did?) has heard this biblical text cited. Don’t worry, even if you didn’t go to Sunday school or at least had friends that did, odds are you’ve heard this commandment before. You may have even recited it yourself:
"Thou shall not kill" (Exod 20.13; KJV).
The one who understands this commandment as saying that all forms of killing are wrong will then proceed to explain why the death penalty is wrong, eating animals is not the way to go. To be a Christian and then argue that there are times, in certain situations, where killing is justified is from their point-of-view groundless, hypocritical dribble. Thus, leading to a divided camp in Christendom (that’s Christ’s kingdom for the uninitiated)8 regarding the use of firearms or the self-defense claim.9
But is that what Exodus 20:13 says? “Come on man, can’t you read,” decries the critic, “that’s exactly what it says!” While there is nothing wrong with the King James rendering of the verse, murder would have been a more accurate translation of the Hebrew text for not all killing is unjustified. As the writer of Ecclesiastes explains, there is
"A time to kill…" (Eccl 3.3a).
And a few verses later the writer even says there is
"A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace" (Eccl 3.8).
Mark that! Not all killing is unjustified. In some cases, you would be unjustified in not killing.
So that Bible says that you shouldn’t kill, but then you should kill. O’ how some people love a supposed contradiction. Yeah, that’s right, I said supposed. I say that because it’s true. There is no contradiction here. For, the biblical witness describes and defines when killing is appropriate and when it is not. Scripturally speaking, killing another is justified when practicing self-defense (Exodus 22:2)10; when the civil authorities find one guilty of a crime worthy of death and they have them executed (Exodus 21.12; cf. Lev 24.16); when warring with another nation (people) is justified (Esther 8.11 cited above; cf. 2Samuel 10:12; Nehemiah 4.11-14 ).
This seems to be a good place to stop. We shall investigate the matter further before we move on, and in so doing, we shall see what necessary safeguards the Lord has put in place to prevent the wanton taking of life….
1Unless otherwise noted all scriptural references shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 update (NASB).
2Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008 Desktop edition, s.v., “self-defense” def. 2.
3Due to different objects of faith there will be variances in how this is to be understood. A case in point is seen in the argument over abortion (the murder of unborn babies). Both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life advocates will argue that life is precious but the former will not be as consistent as to when life is a truly precious life worth preserving and protecting. For the Pro-Choicer the woman’s autonomy is the most precious aspect of life and it needs to be protected at all costs. The Pro-Lifer believes that both the woman and the child are precious but not at the expense of one or the other; absolute autonomy is therefore rightly rejected.
4David Barton, The Second Amendment: Preserving the Inalienable Right of Individual Protection (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 2000), Kindle Edition, loc 305-313.
5David P. Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision is Key to the World’s Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013), 370-371.
6Ibid., 166. Allow me to put those citations provided by Gushee into context. The first quote above (p. 370-371) is in light of Gushee’s discussion regarding the death penalty. The second quote (p. 166) is in the sixth chapter of his book “Christendom divided against itself: Three Case Studies” where he argues against “war” in a Christian context. To the reader, I will add my thoughts regarding both issues.
8And yes, I am one of those guys that says Christ reigns supreme from heaven on earth and anything in creation—seen or unseen—that fall in between. He is Lord, King, of it all, for ALL authority in heaven and on earth is His by divine right, through sacrificial love, via the power of the Holy Spirit. That is Christ Jesus is the earthly representative of the invisible God. He alone can reveal God for He alone is God, was with God, and shares in the glory of God something no mere creature could do.
9John Piper once said that if a man were assailing his wife rather than violently intervening, he’d call the police and wait. See: John Piper, “Should Christians be Encouraged to Arm Themselves,” Desiring God, December 22, 2015, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves. (Reference point in the article is under heading #8). In a forthcoming post, I will be arguing against the various points Piper uses to substantiate his claim. For it is my conviction that such pacifism while sounding holy, is as unholy as turning a stone into bread so that a hungry man might have a bite to eat. Such pacifism encourages violence, rather than dissuading it. Rather the godly man should play the part of Phineas and run that devil through (cf. Num 25.7-11)!
10The next verse adds further clarity on the intention here. It states, “[But] if the sun has risen on him, there will be guilt for bloodshed on his account” (Exod 22.3a). The idea seems to be that in a more vulnerable state (like in the night) you are not to be held accountable for acting in self-defense; however, if the sun has arisen (meaning you are able to assess the situation more accurately) then you will be held accountable for killing unnecessarily. Restraint should always be used in defense, unless no other option is available.