I haven’t written in a while. Looking forward to (hopefully) prioritizing it more in the next season of life, but anywho here it goes…
My dad recently approached me with this question. Finally, a question I am confident in answering with a definitive… “maybe?” (Cause I never do that! HA!)
The issue is certainly a complex one with Christians on both sides. On one side you have Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. seemingly sacramentizing self-defense. On the other stands none other than mr.- intense, John Piper suggesting that self-defense is incompatible with laying down our lives. Which is right?
Would I be out of line if I said “both” and “neither”? This wonderfully fuzzy answer is due to the fact that I think both sides are oversimplifying. To be honest, my sentiments lie closer to that of Piper, but even then I think he is oversimplifying the problem.
Piper is right to emphasize Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” statement, but would be wrong to assume that sin has been avoided if one does turn the other cheek. There are still a number of ways in which that ugly devil can rear its ugly head even in self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice could be done in the spirit of fame/attention-seeking. Self-sacrifice, like suicide, could be a manner of escaping some difficult life circumstances. The theoretical list goes on. Sin, either in pride or what Niebuhr called sensuality, simply is too big and widespread a problem to be quarantined to one option in a moral dilemma. If it could, Jesus would have just had to give us better practical advice rather than spend his time telling about and promising a new way of life in a new Kingdom, a promise guaranteed in his own blood.
Now on to Falwell. Falwell oversimplifies and confuses categories. First, comes the confusion of categories. Falwell too closely relates, indeed he nearly identifies American Nationalism (2nd amendment enthusiasm in this case) with Christian duty. When he confuses these categories the boundaries surrounding the morally real binary of right and wrong become skewed. Right is no longer defined in terms of a transcendent moral principle but in terms of particular cultural-historical context- an American one. The oversimplification comes in terms of self-location. A line in the sand is seen to be absolute with Falwell and Christian gun-ownership on one side and weak pacifism on the other.
The reality is that the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, etc. is no mere line in the sand but a towering wall in the desert (to further build on contemporary political discourse) with both “weak”-pacifism and gun-ownership on the same side. Indeed, the entirety of life is on this side under the judgment of God. On the other side of the wall is a Kingdom that is unlike anything we have experienced in this life between Gen.3 and Rev.19. In that Kingdom its King rules with justice and mercy, not quid pro quo and vengeance. That Kingdom is breaking into the present progressively diluting our sin till one day it will be no more!
This is Christian realism in a nutshell- the belief that some things in life are both sinful and completely necessary. Government itself is a prime example of this. As one of my former professors and colleagues used to say, “Government is both a consequence (I would add a manifestation) and a remedy for sin.”
The Christian life is not about “not-sinning.” It is about joyfully anticipating the redemption of ourselves and creation when Christ comes back and finishes the salvation begun in his life, accomplished in his death, and guaranteed in his resurrection. It is the recognition of Jesus as the one and only hope and antidote to the very real problem of our own (growing) guilt.