Yeshua and Violence
3 May 2010
NOTE: In this article, as in the other articles on this Web site, I am using the Hebrew form of Jesus, Yeshua, rather than the usual Greek form, Jesus. He IS Jewish after all, isn't He?!
This article is part two of a three-part series which looks at what the New Testament teaches about violence. If you have not done so already, please read part one of this series, Christianity and Violence, before you continue.
The New Testament clearly teaches non-violence — I don't see any way you can get around that without twisting the meaning of what it says. Nowhere in the New Testament are you going to find even ONE verse that commands or encourages Christians to act violently towards another human being. On the contrary, Yeshua's words on the matter are quite clear:
Do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! (Matthew 5:39,44)
Not only do we have the words of Yeshua as an example, we also have the higher example of how He lived and died. As we saw in part one of this series, when Yeshua was facing arrest, rather than calling on 60,000 angels to come fight on His behalf, instead He submitted Himself to His enemies. When one of Yeshua's followers drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of those enemies, Yeshua rebuked His follower and healed the injured man! When accused by the Jewish leaders, Yeshua did not answer back, nor did He defend Himself. And when He was being murdered on the cross, He prayed: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Yeshua didn't preach one thing and live another — He definitely walked the talk!
Contrast this to Christianity in America today, where its public image seems to be associated with right-wing politics, the "right" to bear arms, the National Rifle Association, and numerous backwoods militias. It is not clear to me whether these associations are due to such interests on the part of American Christians, or an attempt by the enemies of Christianity to portray Christians in a negative light. Perhaps it's some kind of mixture of both.
Whatever the reason, as a Christian myself I deeply resent, and absolutely reject, these defiling, ungodly associations with the Christian faith. Being a Christian is not about exercising political power over others. (I have a lot more to say about this, which will have to wait for a future article.) And as we have seen in part one of this series, Christianity has absolutely NOTHING to do with violence and guns. To paraphrase Yeshua, "Those who use a gun will die by a gun" (Matthew 26:52).
How has Christianity in America gotten so mixed up with the "right" to own guns and to "defend" ourselves? This is NOT the example that Yeshua and the early Church gave us. Perhaps because it was 2,000 years ago, we have a very difficult time applying Yeshua's example to our modern lives. The question "What would Jesus do?" has become so overused and cliché that it has lost much of its force. But in relation to the subject of Christians and violence, it is still an extremely important question to ask, for it brings the truth and relevancy of the Bible into our everyday lives.
So, let's imagine that Yeshua is living in America today. A robber breaks into His house. What would Jesus do? How would He "protect His property"? Would He hit the robber over the head with a baseball bat? Would He shoot the robber with His gun? Would He even own a gun?
What did Yeshua teach? "If ... your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. Give to those who ask, and don't turn away from those who want to borrow" (Matthew 5:40,42). After reading the Gospels for many, many years, it's really, REALLY hard to imagine Yeshua injuring or killing another person just to protect His property.
OK, but what if the robber threatened to kill Yeshua? Surely the Father would understand that His life was in danger and that He needed to "protect" Himself? So, what would Jesus do? Would He shoot and perhaps kill the robber under these circumstances?
What did Yeshua teach? "Do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also" (Matthew 5:39). And what did Yeshua live? When He was about to be killed, did He grab a weapon and start attacking His murders? Did He call on the 60,000 angels at His disposal to come and wipe His enemies out?
NO! He died on the cross rather than commit aggression or violence against His killers. His attitude was the same as the three Jewish men before King Nebuchadnezzar, when they were about to be thrown into the blazing furnace because they would not disobey God and worship other gods, even to save their own lives. Perhaps Yeshua would have their words in His mouth, adapted to His own situation:
I do not need to defend myself in this matter. The God I serve is able to save me from this robber, and He will rescue Me from from him. But even if God does not rescue me, let it be known that I will not injure or kill this robber, even if it costs Me My life. (Daniel 3:16-18, paraphrased)
After reading the Gospels for many, many years, it's really, REALLY hard to imagine Yeshua injuring or killing another person just to protect His own life.
OK, Yeshua wouldn't defend Himself, but what if He were married and had children, and the robber was going to kill them? Surely, even if He died in the attempt, He would shoot and perhaps kill for the sake of others, for the sake of His loved ones? What would Jesus do? After all, Yeshua Himself said "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Well, this is a difficult dilemma, isn't it? This would be an ultimate test of faith and obedience. What would Jesus do? What would WE do? Would we trust in our own human reasoning, or would we have enough faith to follow Yeshua's example? When He was being murdered on the cross, He prayed: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Do you remember the church shooting in Colorado Springs in 2007? A man started shooting people at a church, and a Christian woman there, acting as a security guard, shot the man, who then shot and killed himself. The pastor of the church stated that she probably saved over 100 lives.
About the shooting, Jeanne Assam said, "I just prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide me. I said, 'Holy Spirit, please be with me...' My hands weren't even shaking." On April 17, 2008, the Colorado State Senate honored Jeanne Assam passing a resolution calling her a "true hero".
So let's see if I've got this straight. A Christian lady regularly takes her gun to church in order to protect fellow Christians from evil people. An evil person comes and starts shooting, so she prays for the Holy Spirit to help her as she is taking aim with her gun at the shooter. She wounds him, and he kills himself. The lady is hailed as a hero for potentially saving so many lives. I don't know about you, but to me there is something dreadfully wrong with this picture! What would Jesus do?
Let's just stop and think about this for a second. Imagine Yeshua 2,000 years ago in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He always takes His sword with Him to synagogue, just in case an evil person might show up. One day, an evil person does show up and starts attacking the congregation with a sword. Yeshua grabs His sword and starts hacking at the attacker in order to save the congregation. Is that the kind of Yeshua you see when you read the Gospels? What if Yeshua was bodily present in your church on Sunday. Would Yeshua bring a gun to church each week just in case an evil person might show up? And if an evil person did show up, would Yeshua grab His gun and shoot that person, even to protect the congregation? I JUST DON'T THINK SO!
After reading all of the violent verses from the Qur'an in part one of this series, you would expect that someone taking their gun to weekly religious meetings and shooting an attacker would be more in line with Islam than with Christianity. AND SO IT IS! I don't know what kind of twisted, perverted delusion has taken hold of our Christianity that we think taking a gun to church each week is normal and that shooting an attacker makes someone a hero.
After reading the Gospels for many, many years, it's really, REALLY hard to imagine Yeshua killing another person, even to protect the lives of His friends. It's equally as hard to imagine Yeshua killing another person, even to protect the lives of His wife and children. I'm sorry — I can imagine a lot of big things, but my imagination is definitely not large enough to imagine such things about God in the flesh, Yeshua. I can definitely imagine Yeshua laying down His life in love and dying for the church attacker, I definitely CANNOT imagine Yeshua shooting him.
There was a time when Yeshua was going to stay in a certain village, but the people there did not receive Him.
And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Master, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you belong to. For I did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." (Luke 9:54-56)
That phrase, I did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them, really sums up the heart of Yeshua (even though this phrase is often omitted in modern translations of the Bible). He wants to save people, not destroy them. What would Jesus do? Would He shoot someone? I DON'T THINK SO! Would He even own a gun? I DON'T THINK SO!
Do you remember another story in the news? On 12 March 2005, Ashley Smith was walking alone from her car in the parking lot of her suburban apartment northeast of Atlanta when Brian Nichols suddenly took her hostage at gunpoint. Sixteen hours earlier, Nichols had killed three in an Atlanta courtroom and had later killed a federal agent during his flight from authorities. During her traumatic 7-hour hostage ordeal she boldly shared her faith, and read to her captor from the Bible and Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. She is credited with helping Nichols peacefully surrender to police. You can read more details here.
So now we have two stories with major similarities. Both stories have an evil man with a gun who had murdered multiple people. Both stories have a Christian woman who is confronted with dealing with the evil man. But here the similarities end. Each woman decided to deal with her crisis in a different way — which led to radically different results for the evil men involved.
One woman chose the way of violence, saying: "I just prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide me. I said, 'Holy Spirit, please be with me...' My hands weren't even shaking." She took her gun and shot the man, who ended up dying.
The other woman chose the way of non-violence, saying: "Throughout my time with Mr. Nichols, I continued to rely on my faith in God. God has helped me through tough times before, and He will help me now." She told the man about God and read to him from the Bible, and eventually he surrendered peacefully to the authorities. Imagine if Ashley had had a gun in her apartment and had tried to shoot Nichols — the story would have ended in tragedy and bloodshed.
One woman lived out the values of the New Testament, while the other lived out the values of this world. One woman responded with love and compassion, while the other responded with violence. One woman shared the Word of God, which is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires — while the other woman shared a bullet. One woman brought honor to God and Christianity, while the other woman brought shame. One woman had faith in God's power to act, while the other woman had faith in the power of human violence. One woman was a true hero — the other a false hero. What would Jesus do? Ashley Smith shows us the way, while Jeanne Assam totally misses the boat.
The reality is that for the most part Christians in the West are really no different than the pagans. The lifestyles of Christians conform pretty much to this world's standards. As we have seen over and over again on the news, sexual sin and divorce are just as rampant in the church as they are outside of the church.
We are just as in love with our lives as the pagans. That's why we think we need to have guns, so we can supposedly protect our property, our possessions, our families, our friends, our congregations, our selves. We can't trust God to take care of us and protect us. We aren't ready to die for the sake of obedience to God. So we have to have guns in order to take care of ourselves and our interests. People, this is NOT the Christianity of the New Testament. This is a perverted, deceptive, false Gospel.
Once again, we need to go back to the words of Yeshua Himself to discover what the truth is:
If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake and for the sake of the Gospel, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Mark 8:34-36)
Referring to the victory of the followers of Yeshua over the devil in the Last Days, it is written:
They defeated him [the devil] through the blood of the Lamb and the bold word of their witness. They weren't in love with themselves; they were willing to die for Yeshua. (Revelation 12:11)
In the late second century, the famous Christian apologist Tertullian wrote the following to the Roman governor of his provence:
Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. Therefore God allows that we thus suffer. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.
Perhaps the reason why we don't see large numbers of Muslims coming to Yeshua is the same reason why we have guns in our churches and shoot those who attack us. We are too much in love with our lives on this earth, and not ready to follow Yeshua's example of laying down our lives so that sinners can be brought back to God. With our eternity secure in Heaven, we should not be worried about dying here on earth for God's purposes. Yeshua is honored when we lay down our lives for Him; He is dishonored when we cling to our lives and use violence against others to protect it.
This discussion brings to mind the words from an old John Michael Talbot song:
When the fields yield full harvest, it's easy to share;
And when you're ensured this world's friendship, it's easy to care.
But when every nation has crumbled to dust,
Will you still reach to give the Lord's mercy, or will you kill if you must?
It seems as though the Christians who think they need to use guns to defend their rights have turned their back on giving the Lord's mercy, and have chosen the path of killing instead.
I'm also reminded of that scene from the first Star Wars movie, Episode 4, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi is having his last battle with Darth Vader. As they are dueling with their lightsabers, Obi-Wan says to Vader, You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. And then after a couple more minutes of fighting, with a little smile on his face, Obi-Wan let's Vader strike him down. Obi-Wan sacrifices himself for the sake of Luke and the others. You can watch it right here:
The words of Obi-Wan to Darth Vader are the same words that we Christians have for the Muslims. With a smile on our face (because we know that we have already won the victory, and so are not afraid to die), we can say to the Muslims: "You can't win. If you strike us down, we shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." We have the example of Obi-Wan to show us how we should live, and how we should die. More importantly, we have the example of Yeshua Himself for how we should live and die. Living in love and kindness, not hate and violence. Giving our lives so that others may come to know God personally.
It would be infinitely better for us Christians to be struck down by the Muslims, like lambs to the slaughter, than for us to take up arms and defend ourselves violently. Such violence — and loving our own lives — is NOT the way of Yeshua. Therein is our victory: not that we live at any price, but that we die nobly as Yeshua did.
I would like to quote again from a book I reviewed in a previous article:
It is faith that unlocks the power for the mission of God. [But] there is one other indispensable element Jesus said was necessary for salvation to come to the world. OUR DEATH.
The "life" of Muslims will only come through the "death" of the church. The gospel will go forward in Muslims only through our wounds. Wounds are not simply an unfortunate byproduct of our witness to Muslims, but the means by which they will hear and believe. For the gospel to really live in Muslims, we will have to pour out our lives for them as Jesus poured his out for us.
When the gospel begins to flourish among Muslims, persecution will come. Some believers will suffer and die. It's always been that way. God brings the harvest through the sacrifices of the church.
If we are really serious about seeing Muslims come to Christ, we must be willing to pay the price. Reaching Muslims cost Jesus his life. If we are to reach Muslims, it will cost us ours as well. I am certain of two things regarding Muslims turning to Christ: 1) IT WILL HAPPEN; and 2) IT WILL HAPPEN THROUGH OUR FAITH AND OUR BLOOD. Perhaps mine. Perhaps my children's.
Well, that's it for part two of this three-part series. The final article is called The New Testament and Violence. I've also been thinking and reading a lot about the topic of suffering and martyrdom. You can expect quite a few articles on these topics in the future.
In addition, I have written a seven-part series of articles reviewing pastor Gregory Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation, which extensively covers this topic of Christianity and violence. The first article in the series is called The "Power Over" Kingdom. One of the later articles deals specifically with the Biblical view of violent self-defense, called Overcome Evil With Good — don't miss it!