Guns, Self-Defense and the Bible: Christian Perspective

“Gun ownership by itself is not a sin. Nor is self-defense when a person is physically threatened with lethal force. However, throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ overwhelming focus is on the importance and preservation of life.”

Guns

As concerns and emotional exhaustion related to COVID-19 build, fears relating to civil unrest, rioting, and lawlessness combine to contribute to a record number of gun and ammunition purchases in America. When people feel unsafe in relation to possible physical crime to self, others and property, firearm sales increase, according to a report by Chauncey Alcorn, CNN Business (June 24, 2020).

Gun and ammunition sales are up in the U.S., even though discretionary income is down due to rising unemployment and an unstable economy.  We are “seeing a reaction to people’s concerns about being able to provide safety for themselves and the ones that they love,” concluded NSSF’s Director of Public Affairs, Mark Oliva recently. Those concerns have escalated as a result of protests, riots, looting, and arson. As people feel increasingly unsafe, they become increasingly vulnerable to fear. Fear can test people’s faith, lead them to temptation, and cause them to consider gun ownership for personal security.

In circumstances where gun ownership is not a crime, gun ownership by itself is not a sin. Nor is self-defense a sin according to the Bible, especially when a person is physically threatened with lethal force. But because guns are potentially harmful or deadly, gun ownership for Christians can be problematic.  The New Testament strikes a balance weighted heavily on the side of love, peaceful coexistence, and forgiveness. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ overwhelming focus is on the importance and preservation of life. The Biblical concept that permits acting in self-defense when threatened by potentially lethal force probably exists in recognition that a non-aggressor’s life is as valuable and as important as the life of an aggressor.

When the Bible was written guns did not exist, but weapons did. The Bible nowhere forbids ownership of weapons, but the New Testament in particular cautions against a weapon’s sinful use. As it is now, the world of Jesus’ and His disciples could be a violent, scary, and volatile place. It boiled with religious upheaval, injustice, and political and civil unrest. It bore the weight of illness, cruelty, and crime. Jesus anticipated His disciples would need weapons – not for aggression, but for self-defense: “Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you were without money, duffle bag, or extra clothing, how did you get along?’ ‘Fine,’ they replied. ‘But now,’ he said, ‘take a duffle bag if you have one and your money. And if you don’t have a sword, better sell your clothes and buy one! For the time has come for this prophecy to come true: ‘He will be condemned as a criminal!’ Yes, everything about me by the prophets will come true.’ ‘Master,’ they replied, ‘we have two swords among us.’ ‘Enough!’ he said.  Then, accompanied by the disciples, he left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, ‘Pray God that you will not be overcome by temptation.’” (Luke 22:35-40)

I do not know the unspoken mind of Jesus. No one does, except God. But when Jesus commanded His disciples to pray to God that they would not succumb to temptation in that context, perhaps Jesus did so because He knew that people might be tempted to place their trust in weapons when they became afraid — instead of trusting in God. And perhaps He was motivated by the knowledge that disproportionate reliance on worldly things undermine’s one’s reliance on God. Those who rely solely on guns for protection when threatened with potentially lethal force — without simultaneously praying for and trusting in God’s protection — may achieve an illusion of security in a worldly sense, but lose the spiritual protection that God offers through faith alone. Simply put, guns are man-made tools that should only be used in self-defense, if at all, as a last resort; they do not offer any spiritual protection. Guns are man-made tools that God does not need to win the battles that belong to God, nor are they needed to fulfill God’s plans: “And Israel will learn that the Lord does not depend on weapons to fulfill his plans – he works without regard to human means! He will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:47)

Or perhaps Jesus commanded his disciples to pray to God they would not succumb to temptation in this context because Jesus anticipated that all those who carry a weapon have the potential to use it in a manner that offends God — or that is inconsistent with God’s will. When Peter perceived that Jesus was threatened and about to be arrested, Peter pulled out a sword and cut off a man’s ear. Jesus told Peter, “Put away your sword… those using swords will get killed. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what is happening now?” (Matthew 26:51-54) Unlike Jesus, we do not always know the will of God or what He desires of us. But we do know from the Bible that violence breeds violence; Christ teaches that only love and non-violence can break its cycle  — with God’s grace.

There are risks to gun ownership that Christians should assume only after careful deliberation and prayer. Any time we pick up a weapon, we risk using it in a manner that displeases God. We all have sinful natures and we all are prone to disobedience. As hard as we may try, we cannot deny our nature all of the time. If we use a weapon in anger, hatred, revenge, or jealousy, for example, we offend God and are guilty of sin. Such use is contrary to the Bible and the Scriptures condemns it.

Similarly, the Bible cautions us against vengeance, which many people desire. Those who own a weapon may not be able to resist temptation to use it sinfully if overcome by rage, injustice or if they feel wronged. God commands us to avoid vengeance at all times.  The New Testament clearly states that the right to seek vengeance does not belong to individuals. Vengeance belongs only to God: “Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it. Don’t take the law into your own hands. Instead, feed your enemy if he is hungry. If he is thirsty give him something to drink and you will be ‘heaping coals of fire on his head.’ In other words, he will feel ashamed of himself for what he has done to you. Don’t let evil get the upper hand, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:19-21)  The use of guns or other weapons in the pursuit of vengeance in any circumstances is offensive to God — as is glorifying or encouraging vigilantes or others who do so.

Finally, the Bible seems clear that even though legal gun ownership is not a sin, not everyone has the proper disposition to own a gun. The Bible also seems to discourage excessive weapons ownership. Jesus did not state that all His disciples should carry swords; He stated that two swords among His disciples were “enough.” (Luke 22:35-40) Contemporary studies show that not all people have the disposition, discipline, competency, or mental capacity for weapon ownership. Nor do all people want the risks and responsibilities that come with it. People who are immature, reckless, or who manifest evil, hatred, volatility, impulsiveness, cruelty, or who don’t value human life, are poor candidates to own potentially lethal weapons — for their sake as well as the sake of others. Ideally, before any individual would acquire a gun, they would search their hearts to determine their suitability for gun ownership — while praying for guidance from God. If they decide to acquire a weapon for self-defense, they should then pray to God that they will never need to use it, not be overcome by temptation, nor in any way use it in a manner that offends God.

 

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