As a Christian, ought I kill a man who lives down the road from me, but whom I have never met, only because I have been told by others that he is my enemy and that he has verbally threatened my freedom and my life?
I am convinced that your gut reaction to my issue was an adamant and exclamatory, “No! Of course not!” And, of course, you said this because you know that such a thing is unlawful and is also contrary to what Christianity would mandate of me. But if you will allow me, I would like to go further.
Could I ever convince you that I, as a Christian, would be justified in killing this man with my own hands? What if some of the circumstances were to change? As a Christian, would it be more or less acceptable for me to kill a man, whom I have been told is a threat to my life and freedom and also my enemy, if he lived somewhere else in the United States or in the world? Would I be more justified in my actions if the distance changed? Would I be justified in preemptively killing him based solely upon what others have told me of his threats and the fear i now have that he will make good on his threat of taking my freedom and life?
As a Christian, I am no more justified in killing my enemy when the proximity changes than I am when the man lives across the street from my house. Even if this man really has threatened my freedom and my life… I have still preemptively taken his life into my own hands and it is murder.
But it seems I have found an appropriate loophole to the dilemma of killing this man, whom I now believe is my enemy, which clears my conscience. What if I have another man kill my enemy on my behalf in order to protect my freedom and my life so I do not have to do it on my own?
Being that I do not have the conscience to kill my enemy and being that I find that his killing stands opposed to the tenets of Christianity, it seems a more appropriate and justified action to have someone hired or appointed by the government to kill him -or- to have someone volunteer to kill him on my behalf. In this way, I will be completely absolved of his murder and the guilt of it will not be upon me.
I have to admit that while this sounds appealing…there is something about this logic that does not make sense.
As a Christian, am I any less guilty of killing my enemy by having another man do it… even if that is what he was employed to do on my behalf? Can I so easily put the burden and guilt of killing on this hired man and leave him to deal with the demons of killing for me? In my support of this preemptive action, or in any act of retaliation, am I not guilty of his murder by the witholding or, in the reluctance, of my opposition?
I am beginning to realize that, since I am a Christian and called to love my enemy, no matter how hard I try to manipulate the circumstances or get around my conscience with slick reasoning, justifiable thinking, or creative planning- killing my enemy is no less murder or contrary to the way of Christ. Even if I have someone do it on my behalf, as I stand in silent or vocal support of the action, I am still guilty of murdering my enemy myself.
As a Christian living in a hostile world there is a real struggle by coming face to face with this tension.
In one sense, I fear what my enemy has threatened to do to me so I feel justified in his killing. On the other hand I have committed myself to a higher law of love and have been called to a higher standard of being a peacemaker by Jesus Christ.
“Jesus, as one who follows you, might I have a special exception to preemptively kill my fellow human being even if he might be an enemy who has threatened my freedom and my very life? Or would you at least allow someone to kill him on my behalf?”
You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
“But surely you understand and appreciate that I love my life so my enemy must be killed.”
Whoever loves his life will lose it. For those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
“Jesus, that is such a high standard. Not only are you saying that I ought not kill another man, but that I ought not even be angry with him. What if my enemy attacks me or verbally insults me or damages my property? Am I then authorized to aggress or retaliate against this man who causes me injury?”
You have also heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, for if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
“Am I to sit idly by and not defend myself?”
You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Still holding on to the hope that Jesus would agree with me that it is appropriate and justifiable to kill my enemy, I exclaimed, “But Lord, your requirement of me is much too high! Surely you understand that I am not capable of your way! Your way is naïve and too idealistic for this life. Surely you understand that I am a mere mortal man incapable of such a high standard! You are perfect and I am not!”
It was to this the Lord boldly impressed upon me, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Therefore, I can come to no other conclusion through good conscience, and as one who uncompromisingly follows the way of Jesus Christ, that not only can I not kill my enemy or have someone do it on my behalf or with my support, I can not even hate my enemy, avenge the wrong he has done to me, or be angry with him- for all other laws have been transcended with a higher law of love, non-resistance, and non-retaliation to evil.
And it is to this higher law and it’s legislator that I pledge my allegiance.
As a result, I have no other choice before me than: to not repay evil with evil in any situation, to not seek retribution on my own accord, to not ask anyone to seek retribution on my behalf, and to not implore the court to sentence a man to death on my behalf. I must not avenge myself, but must leave room for the wrath of God. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
The truth is that, no matter how much we have been brought to believe that certain circumstances or situations stand outside the reasonableness of Christ’s law, we have not been given special exception to kill or to have someone killed on our behalf.
As Christians, we have unambiguously been given the command by Christ of non-resistance to evil, to not repay evil with evil, and to love our enemies. And while we, as Christians, ought to hold ourselves to this expectation and standard… we do not hold other individuals or governments (who do not follow Christ) to this standard….even though we believe that the way of love is the best and highest way and the only way evil can be defeated and extinguished.
“A virtue cannot be practiced in all circumstances without self-sacrifice, privation, suffering, and in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who esteems life more than fulfilling the will of God is already dead to the only true Life.”- Adin Ballou
“What really made a mess of the world? Grace? Forgiveness? Turning the other cheek? Or is it guilt, punishment, vengeance, and retribution?”- Robert Farrar Capon
“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his point of view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brother who are called the opposition.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Men who are used to the existing order of things, who like it and dread its being changed, try to take [Christ’s teaching] as a collection of revelations and rules which one can accept without their modifying one’s life.”- Leo Tolstoy
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”- Jesus