A wonderful question was asked in a comment to part three of this series. How can we obey the command of Jesus to love our enemies if we are willing to kill them?
Another commenter made a valid point: this passage speaks to daily affairs, not to the rare and terrifying moments in which we fear our lives, or those of others around us, are in danger. It is dangerous to take such a teaching and extrapolate it outwards to cover every situation.
However — let’s be fair. There is no question that our Prince of Peace changed the way we are to deal with each other. He has required us to live in peace with others, loving them and serving them to the best of our abilities. Yet, that same Lord took a whip into the temple, told his followers to buy swords on the night he was betrayed, never required Romans or Jews to leave their positions in the army, guard, or militia, and used military terms and imagery, most often in his appearances in the Book of Revelation.
Paul puts it in a very interesting — and enlightening — way in Romans 12 when he says: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do
not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is
written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." There are several things here worthy of notice.
First — Jesus gives us no room for taking revenge. While revenge makes for a great movie or novel, it has no place in our lives. I confess: if a man violated one of our precious children at Rochester, I would want him punished. If he walked on the charges and taunted her as she walked to school, I would want him dead… but I would have no right to kill him. That would be against secular and religious law. I COULD form a guard to walk with the girl, gather funds for lawyers to get a restraining order against the man, or help the girl and her family relocate, if required. No, none of those things would satisfy the cravings of my heart, but I am not allowed to feed those cravings; my faith tells me that that evil man will one day be in the hands of God. I have seen people forgive their daughter’s attacker and thanked God for them while knowing that I probably didn’t have that in my heart. Admitting that makes me sad; I wish I were a bigger man.
And that is the second thing to notice about Paul’s instructions. He says "if it is possible." There are times and places when it is not possible to live in peace with another person. Then he goes further and says "as much as it lies in you" (or "with you" in some versions). There are some people who can put up with a lot more than others. God knows that. Remember Psalm 139? He knows why we stand up, speak up, and sit down. He formed us in the womb. He knows that some of us have tighter limits than others. His grace covers us.
Now, back to Jesus’ command to love our enemies. We need to remember one more thing about that command: it doesn’t limit our obligation to just our enemies. We are also to love our friends and family. Someone asks "how can you love your enemy and yet raise your hand to them?" I would respond, "How can you love your wife and yet refuse to fight off her attacker? How can you love your neighbor and yet turn a deaf ear to their cries for help?" (or, more hypocritically, call the police when you, yourself, think that serving as a policeman is sinful)
Here is a story I’ve never told before. I will not name the city and I will blur a detail or two for reasons which should be clear. Years ago, when Duncan was around 4, he announced that he needed to go to the bathroom. We were in a crowded mall in the part of a city that wasn’t in immediate danger of going upscale. The bathrooms in this mall were down a long, twisty, dark corridor. They may as well have hung a sign saying "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."
In the restroom, he had to sit down so I entered the stall with him and waited. That’s when a storm hit. A group of men in gang clothes came in shouting curses and threats. I heard cries of protest as men were shoved into walls, against sinks, etc. A few blows landed, but most of the action seemed to be shoving and threats.
We couldn’t hide there. Eventually, we would be found. I couldn’t take on the whole group — I’m not as good as I used to be and I was never that good to begin with. I had to think quickly. I was licensed to carry concealed weapons in that State (as I am in 31 States today) and had my firearm secured under my jacket. I didn’t want to draw it and, in fact, had no reason to. No one was dying and I didn’t fear for my life. I did, however, fear for the health and safety of my son.
Duncan remained completely unaware of the import of the sounds around him. I spoke, in a voice much louder than necessary: "Are you done, buddy?" He said he was. I asked him to hold my coat while we walked to the sink. He did. We walked out of the stall, me looking at Duncan and talking as if nothing was wrong, while giving a glance to the mirrors above the sink to spot where the gangbangers were. We strolled over to the sink and washed our hands. By the time we were done, the restroom was empty, except for us. Merely having a weapon visible on my hip was enough to stop the threat to us. (in case you wonder, open carry was legal in that State, as it is in nearly half of the US, even though it is rarely done. That means what I did was not considered brandishing a weapon)
I have never drawn a firearm on a human being and I pray that I will be able to say that on the day I meet Jesus. However, if I need to do so out of my love for my family, friends, or the innocent, I pray that I will not fail them. I will not want to resort to violence, and the thought of having to do so makes me shake my head with the weight of such a moral choice. I would rather have bought the gang members lunch and talked to them about their lives, Jesus, and how the world works — or doesn’t. I bear them no ill will. I prayed for them on that day and I pray for them now, fourteen years later. I love them, but I will not allow them to kill others I love if I am able to stop them.
The FBI says that citizens with their own firearms stop between 1 and 2 million crimes from occurring every year in America. That is an amazing statement. Almost none of those citizens has to fire their weapon; it is the possession of it that changes the equation. When a citizen shoots someone else, less than 6% of those shootings are ruled unjustified. Compare that to police shootings where 17% are unjustified (same FBI reports). When a state allows concealed carry by good citizens, their crime rates go down… every time.
John Lott and Don Kates have both written extensively about this (book titles upon request). The conclusions they came to are backed up by solid research by federal law enforcement agencies and it all boils down to this: good people, well armed, well trained, and with a good sense of moral decency drive down crime by their very presence.
Our weapons are not to be used to spread Christianity, our politics, or to exact revenge. They are not to be used in anger. I remember one trial when a citizen who killed to protect his family was asked by the prosecutor (it was a VERY un-gun-friendly state), "So you admit that you shot to kill?" The man replied, quietly, "No, sir. I shot to live." The case was dismissed.
He loved his enemies, but he also loved his family. Can we take a quick look at that word, "love"? God is love, yet He is the one behind the capital punishment rules in the Bible. He is the one who designed hell, who referred to some people as "brute beasts, born only to be destroyed" and who said that He will love who He loves and hates who He hates. Could it be that "love" means something other than valentines and soft music? He who told us that the greatest love is shown by those who lay down their lives for a friend might have had more in mind than just being nice to everybody. Maybe love is also shown by stopping evil and protecting the innocent.
On 9/11, several our of neighbors came to our house. They knew Duncan and I were shooters (we won contests and the local paper mentioned it). Their husbands and fathers were out of town, trapped in airports without any hope of returning for a week or two. They needed protection and reassurance. One of the women — who had previously called us nuts for owning guns — asked, in a trembling voice, "should I get a gun?" I said, "No, ma’a
m. We’ll take care of you."
To some, that will seem silly or ludicrous or melodramatic. To us, it was love.