An ethical and moral situation was presented in a college course as follows;
You wake in the night to hearing the loud crack of splintering wood. Thieves are breaking into your home. Your children are sleeping right down the hall and you can tell that the thieves will gain entry at any moment. You have a shotgun in your bedroom that is there for hunting and killing snakes. What would you do?
More information: A rebel group has become active in your area that is resorting to terror tactics in expanding their influence. They have begun the practice of attacking small villages. Raping women and children and randomly cutting off the arms and legs of their victims. They have even been known to force children to cut off the hands of their parents. Now, what would you do when you hear the people breaking in? Would you do something different?
What are some biblical passages that address the issue of the people of God resorting to violence when confronted with violence? Is there any situation where Christians would be justified in using force? Do you have any biblical support for your position?
The following was my response:
First things first, what is at the core of this ethical dilemma? The bottom line for all in this issue is how God sees the act of one person taking the life of another person. A secondary issue may be that some people demand a cut and dry ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
As with every ethical or moral issue, we must find the core of the issue. I have come to stand, and now submit, that at the core of the issue is the difference between the meaning of the word ‘kill’ and the meaning of the word ‘murder’. If we do the work, we can find that the majority of Bible translations show the word ‘murder’ in Exodus 20:13.
“You shall not murder”(NIV) “Thou shalt not kill.” (KJV). Most other translations agree with the NIV and a few agree with KJV. The point is that there is a difference in meaning between these two English words. I once heard a professor inform his students, me being one of them, that we do not get to define nor re-define words.
The meaning of the word is crucial. The following definitions are found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Kill- “to deprive of life: cause death of”
Murder- “the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought”
If we remain in research mode and open to the details of the facts, we can see the difference plainly. Both words mean to deprive of life, but they both do not mean the same thing. Most people, if not all people, have killed. All of us have deprived something of life at some point or another.
Even to eat vegetables is depriving something of life. Killing spider or a bee, or even taking cold medication to kill a virus has to be included. However, plenty of people yet not many have deprived of live in the form of murder. The difference is the word malice.
The dictionary defines malice as “the intention or desire to do evil; ill will”. Now we are getting to the heart of the issue. God is and always has been one who looks at the heart of man. That is why there will be plenty of ‘good’ people who end up separated from God for eternity. When God looks, He will see what is in the heart of every person who ‘kills’.
What He will notice is whether or not there is or was malice in the heart. This is why the translations use the word malice, because it is the more appropriate word of what was written. Moving forward, I will be assuming that it will be understood that I understand the scripture to say “ You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13 NIV.
January 2014, I had been 4 years into my first preaching ministry. I found myself presented with an opportunity to become the Chaplain at the local Police Department. It is not a requirement for a Chaplain to go through police training. However, after much prayer and thought over this very subject. I elected to go through the same training that the officers had gone through.
I felt that if I were to be riding with these officers, I wanted to know first hand what they do and why they do it so that if needed, I could better understand our conversations and hopefully offer the best help. Also, I felt that if I were to be with them on duty, I did not want them to be distracted by having to watch out for my safety, as well as having a desire to want to assist them should situations become life threatening. So I became a law enforcement officer.
Why am I bringing all of this up? Because many people did not understand what I was doing and questioned whether or not the preacher could be a cop. The simple answer and most direct is to point out that if a cop can be Christian, then a Christian can be a cop, even the preacher. The debate includes everything from physically fighting criminals to lethal force. It is true, any cop at any moment could have to use deadly force.
Many people refer to Romans 13:1-14 as it refers to the relationship between the believer and the governing authority and how that authority represents what God has put in place. Verse 4 particularly talks about this relationship as it applies to our debate.
“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4 NIV.
For the record, yes there are some “bad” cops out there. Also, this same application applies to military personnel as well. Oh, and for those who may disagree, just know that if we read all of Romans chapter 13, we find that the scripture instructs the believer to pay taxes that are due. Keep in mind, it is taxes that pay these men and women to do what they do so that the public will be able to live with less of a chance of facing the answer to our debate on a daily basis.
Having put all of that on the table, let me point out that about 97% of the time, when a threat is present, the police are not there. After all, they do not live in our homes or follow us around. Usually what happens is that people do bad things to other people and then the police are called. Sometimes they get there in the middle of it but usually the wrong doing is already done.
Therefore, each person should be responsible for defending themselves. Keeping in mind the core of the issue, the heart of men and women, we can come to a conclusion that the same would apply to the individual as it pertains to how God views it. It still comes down to the difference between killing and murdering. Since, as we concluded, the proper translation is “you shall not murder” Exod. 20:13, we can say that if one finds themselves in a threatening situation he or she could defend themselves against the threat.
The fact is, the Bible does not prohibit a person from acting in self-defense against any and all physical threat. In fact, I have spent much time in thought and prayer over this matter. I have concluded that what ever happens to those in my household, spiritually, mentally, or physically, I will stand before God about it.
I can say with confidence that should anything such as anyone breaking into our home to do us harm or a group of terrorists destroying communities, I will respond in whatever way necessary to be able to stand before God about how I protected my wife and child. I, my wife, and every other believer has been bought with the price of the blood of Christ.
Therefore, there is a responsibility to stand against this type of threat, the threat that is presented by the professor, or any like it. We can see in Luke’s gospel chapter 22 that Jesus sent out the disciples out and instructed them to obtain a sword before they went. It was not just for looks, it was because they were about to go into a place which exposed them to threats.
However, after saying all of that, I will present what may in fact be the exception to where I generally stand. As I read about Jesus and His arrest, trial, and brutal beating, it is impossible not to notice that as He was being physically assaulted, to say the least, He did not even say a word. Although He had all the power of the Kingdom of God at His disposal, nothing, even unto death.
So if we are to be like Christ, that must mean that there are times when physical, or even verbal defense of self is indeed not the way to go. What is the difference? The difference seems to be found in the motive of the aggressor from which the threat is coming.
These questions come to mind; Am I being attacked because of my faith in Christ? Or, Am I being attacked because I live in a world that has people who do wicked things and has nothing to do with me being a Christian?
Generally, people do not experience the threat of persecution unless they are presenting the Kingdom of God to the world. In other words, I would like to believe that I am willing to die without a fight for the sake of the gospel, yet I am not willing to die without a fight so that someone can just invade my home and rape my wife and murder my child.
To conclude, I think it is obvious where I stand in this ethical and moral dilemma, yet I will say in answer to the question, it depends. What I mean is that since the Bible does not forbid the act of self-defense, we then must conclude that every situation is different and there is not one answer that can be applied to all situations.
This is why we need the Holy Spirit to provide wisdom and knowledge as we live our lives. Ultimately, God knows the hearts of people. None of us really know what we would actually do until the moment presents itself. I think it unwise to wait until that moment to seek the Lord about how to react.
Oh, and by the way, I do not believe that there is a right and wrong answer here, except for the interpretation of scripture. What ever the Lord leads each of us to do, that would be best.