20 March 2013

A Christian's Use of Lethal Force

Thou shalt not kill.

Those four words are often used by opponents of self defense when they claim that divine law forbids the taking of another human life, even in defense of your own. So, how can a Christian justify the carrying of arms for self defense, or should they abhor such a practice and rely on divine intervention?

The first issue with the opening argument, above, is that it is the result of a mistranslation. While many texts translate the fifth (sixth in some texts) Commandment as "you shall not kill", many other texts hold true to the original meaning of "you shall not murder." That is the key distinction.

In fact, when analyzing the issue using the Catechism of the Catholic Church*, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 5 goes right to the heart of the matter.
§2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not."

§2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.

§2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

This tells us that not only do we have the right to use deadly force against those tho would try to take our own lives, but we have that right to defend others in our care as well. We all have a responsibility to each other individually, and those charged with the protection of the community (such as police officers) are justified using deadly force as well.

When you are forced to defend yourself to preserve your life, it is that act of preservation that is the intended result of the employment of force. You're trying to stop the aggressor. If the aggressor dies as a result of your meeting force with force, that outcome is considered unintentional by the church. You are trying to stop, not kill, though sometimes only the death of the attacker can halt the assault.

During the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing his followers for what was to come after he was gone. He told them, "one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one." (Luke 22:36). Once He, their shepherd, had left them, they would need to protect themselves, even if it meant selling their clothes to be able to buy a weapon to do so.

Some Christians are fond of saying "The Lord will provide," yet here is Jesus telling his disciples to provide for themselves, which would seemingly support Benjamin Franklin's 1757 quote in Poor Richard's Almanac, "God helps those who help themselves." What Jesus is really telling his followers is to prepare themselves using the tools God has already provided in order that He might work His will through them.

If evil confronts a man in the form of an armed attacker, do we really expect God to strike the attacker down with a heart attack? Or is it more likely that He would provide "a defense for the needy in his distress" (Isaiah 25:4) through placing an armed, good man in the path of evil? If we are to believe that "the secret things belong to the LORD our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29), we cannot discount the idea that there are earthly ways in which God might intervene on our behalf.

But how do we reconcile this with the Christian value of turning the other cheek? Again, the answer is in the text.

"When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well." (Matthew 5:39). What is being referenced in the text is not a deadly threat. You're not going to be killed by a slap to the face, and Jesus was urging the letting go of anger and pride.

Consider also Isaiah 2:4, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." Though this is often taken to mean that weapons should be destroyed now, what it is actually referring to in context is Judgment Day.

According to the Scripture, after the Final Battle between good and evil, God himself will rule the Earth and all forms of evil, vice, and sin will be gone. It is only after that time that weapons will no longer be needed for self-defense, and until then, we need to be prepared to act to preserve our own lives and the lives of others. It is the Christian thing to do.

* I'm not a Catholic, but they have a LOT of good reference materials & studies which are useful to all Christians.


ProudHillbilly said...

I've always considered "Turn the other cheek" as a reference to all the petty garbage that goes on in daily life in communities, not a reference to serious threats to life and limb.

And I figure that if God loves X, Y, and Z infinitely, He expects me to protect what He loves and the gift of life He's given them. And since He loves me just as much, He expects me to protect the life He gave ME.

Rev. Paul said...

Good points, ma'am. Thanks.

eiaftinfo said...

I always find it odd when an "anti" uses the 5th Commandment as justification for taking weapons away from a person. That they believe that God values their life so little that they would not be allowed to defend it is simply beyond my understanding.

Thanks for drawing all these points together so nicely.

Rev. Paul said...

You're welcome, sir.

OldAFSarge said...

Rev, you've reinforced many of the things I thought to be correct and proper based on "common" sense and my (admittedly weak) knowledge of the Scriptures. The Lord WILL provide but He expects us to pitch in when necessary. Thanks for your wisdom.

Rev. Paul said...

Sarge, you're right. It's like praying over our food: we thank Him for it, and ask Him to bless it to our nourishment. He expects us to eat healthy foods, and in exchange, we're asking Him to remove impurities or toxins that are beyond our control. (He won't take calories out, though. Heh.)

When we do what He expects us to do for ourselves, He'll take care of the rest.

Anonymous said...

At the time, it was not only permissible but legal for a person of superior status (social or legal) to slap another person on the cheek.

The act of punching someone conferred an implication of equality.

Given cultural sensitivities to using the left hand, a slap could only be rendered with the palm of the right hand to the left cheek.
In turning the other cheek, the insulted person shows his non-violence and his rejection of the supposed superior status of the other.

In the parables Jesus tells (turn the other cheek, Go the extra mile & If someone takes your cloak); there is an implication of legality to the original actions. A person hearing those situations would realize that Jesus is saying don't use violence to solve legal problems.

Rev. Paul said...

Also good points. Thanks.

MO Bro said...

Your posts ROCK, just like you!
Blessings, oh Brother there art thou!

Rev. Paul said...

Thanks, Bro. You're not so bad, yourself! :^)