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The Ark

Is it ever right to kill in the 21st Century?

Tue November 13th, 2018

History is full of the tales of violent death- it is a subject that fills our movie theaters and is often on out TV screens. Have we outgrown violence? Is there any justification for it? Should we fight for our countries in times of war?

Home Invasion If a madman broke into your home and attacked your wife, would you defend her? What if it was just your stuff? What if he came at you with a knife, or a gun? Would you respond like with like or would you let him get away? In the US, many ordinary people have a gun in their bedside cabinet for just that eventuality. Fortunately the amount of guns in circulation in the UK is far lower, because in general terms, the law forbids us from owning one. If you talk to many Americans, they will say that our government has robbed us of our right (to bear arms), but most of us will agree with that restriction, because we don’t like the alternative.

The Bible has something to say on this issue (Ex. 22:2), but remember the law of the land may not always agree with the Bible!

Personally, I might respect you if you said that you wouldn’t fight for stuff, but I would always fight for my wife or children.

You are allowed in the UK to use reasonable force to defend yourself from a burglar, and the right of self-defense is well known. Why wouldn’t you stand in the gap to defend someone you love?

Going to War Historically many of our Pentecostal brethren have been pacifist, refusing to fight in times of conflict. Christians of some denominations have fought with a passion to defend others.

Many have used this verse to justify their position:

"But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don't hold back your shirt either. Luke 6:27 HCSB

Surely this means that we shouldn't strike back? Doesn't it? And yet Jesus himself said that:

He also said to them, "When I sent you out without money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" "Not a thing," they said.36 Then He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money-bag should take it, and also a traveling bag. And whoever doesn't have a sword should sell his robe and buy one. 37 For I tell you, what is written must be fulfilled in Me: And He was counted among the outlaws. Yes, what is written about Me is coming to its fulfilment." 38 "Lord," they said, "look, here are two swords." "Enough of that!" He told them. Luke 22:35 HCSB

Does this contradict the other position or are we misunderstanding something somewhere?

The ten commandments include (Ex:20:13) 'You shall not murder' - this is often misquoted as 'kill' because of the inadequacies of the King James Version, but the word is definitely murder - so we cannot say the OT law tells us not to kill in any circumstance.

The Old Testament law was very much one of proportional retribution. God took a people who were used to disproportionate retribution and made everything proportional. So instead of killing someone who poked your eye out, the most you could do was poke out theirs! Instead of killing a whole family for the murder of your brother the most you could do was to put the murderer to death.

In the New Testament, Jesus takes things a step closer to what God wanted, emphasizing forgiveness. Jesus stresses what is often called the golden rule:

Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NIV

Really Jesus is saying something like 'extend the way you treat a family member to your natural enemies'.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22 for you will heap coals on his head Prov 25:21-22 HCSB

These sayings are more to do with the way we should treat those who discriminate against us or afflict us for our faith. It was a shameful thing to hit someone on their right cheek, and Jesus said offer the other also. Also it shows that you are not powerless in the situation, as by offering them the other cheek you are taking the lead. The coat taken was the outer one and the shirt the inner coat – for most people that was all they had to wear. Again this is about empowering you – that they may have the right to take one coat, but only you have the right to give them the second!

Taking up the Sword When Jesus tells them to buy swords in Luke 22:36, this is not the long term solution! Rather here and now it is time for Jesus to be counted with the outlaws, and therefore Jesus must be seen with men with swords. It is clear from v38 that Jesus is exasperated with their enthusiasm for the sword. The sword that we are all told to train with and have at our sides at all times is the word of God:

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. Heb 4:12 HCSB

If the metallic sword is not a weapon of the gospel, then should Christians go to war for their nations? This is an issue that causes much debate, and I personally wouldn't want to, but if required to fight by the state, and in a war that was just, where I would be defending my family and community I would take up arms. Having said that, when is a war just? It is easy to say you would fight to keep Hitler out of Britain, but we all remember the Iran escapade.

Personally I have great respect for our armed forces and whereas there have been questions over some wars, in general I would support forces personnel in their missions and if it became necessary I would defend my family. At the end of the day this is an issue of conscience, but if we would defend our family at home from an axe murderer, what is the difference defending our family from people that bomb and attack our land? If our hearts are geared towards loving our enemy and having Christ-like behaviours we can still show mercy in times of war. The concept of shooting someone or doing anything that would result in their death is an anathema to me, but if it was them or us and the state ordered me to defend us, I think that I would. I also think that I would do that with a clear conscience.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. Matt 11:12 HCSB

Some would use these verse to justify violence in the name of the Kingdom of heaven. Some people have said that this verse is about Christians violently seizing the kingdom of heaven and dragging it into our reality, but commentators agree that the opposite is true. This means that a violent reaction, or violent resistance to the kingdom of heaven has been there since John the Baptist. So the violence experienced by the apostles to the early church, is part of this. The violent have been seizing it by force probably refers to the Roman Empire (who were the violent ones who tried to seize the members and all that was owned by the church). There is nothing Christian about being violent. Terrorism is always a crime, never a religious act, and its perpetrators deserve to feel the full impact of the law.

Bringing the Sword The Prince of Peace once said that he came to bring a sword.

"Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. 34 Don't assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. 37 The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And whoever doesn't take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. 39 Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it. Matt 10:32-39 HCSB

This passage is not about Christians taking up the sword, but about Christians being killed with it! The sword that Jesus brings here is the sword of persecution and martyrdom. It is clear that in this passage Jesus isn't talking about himself facing the cross, but many of his followers. Being a Christian isn't a soft, fluffy thing – it is a life choice that may even put your life in danger! This passage points out that your life won't necessarily be safe with your family! This isn't to say that we all walk that way, but Jesus was telling his followers and still tells us today, that this faith is worth dying for and that some of us may be called upon to prove it.

Capital Punishment

So maybe it is right to defend yourself and your family and maybe it is right to kill people in the time of war, but what about capital punishment? Should we kill people who have killed others?

The irony of this argument amuses me – as a society we think it is a right to kill babies if they aren’t wanted and a significant section of society is fighting for the right of euthanasia for old and sick people who no longer add anything to society, but we choose not to give ourselves the right to kill someone who is proven to have murdered another human being! I hear the arguments, but you have to admit it is a bit ironic?

In a society that is living through austerity, it costs us millions to house and guard murderers, rapists, child abusers, terrorists and those other groups for whom another generation would have put to death, but we don’t have the will to make any financial savings there!

I apologise for equating money with lives, but in a society where I am sure that an economic pressure is behind the desire to pass euthanasia legislation, maybe we ought to have the discussion once more about the ultimate sanction. Having talked to a number of ex-prisoners and ex prison workers they all agree about one thing, execution would be more humane than long term incarceration.

This is not a simple situation though, if we were going to have a full conversation on this subject there are the issues of when is evidence incontrovertible and what about a mandatory appeals process, what would be a humane method of execution and who will take responsibility for ‘pressing the button’. Would you be the person who hit the switch? If not then why should anyone else? There are answers to all of these if we look long enough but there has to be a will in a nation to face these issues and probably we do not have that will at this time.

Dealing with our enemy The real warfare that we should all be part of is that against sin, sickness and all results of the fall and primarily the person behind it all, the devil.

For although we are walking in the flesh, we do not wage war in a fleshly way, 4 since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. 2 Cor 10:3-4

All Christians are called to war – but not with fleshly weapons but instead with power through God, not against natural strongholds, but spiritual ones.

There is a seriousness and solemnity about these matters that should be understood by Christians but we should not be a people of violence. If you lash out at someone that is sin. Remember: In your anger, do not sin! (Eph.4:26)