Breaking Silence…

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

Peace…

Brandon

10 thoughts on “Breaking Silence…

  1. I saw this on Greg Boyd’s twitter and I am so happy to see such a beautiful piece. Thank you for your intelligent and thought-provoking words that put into sentences my exact thoughts and sentiments. Sharing this with friends, if you don’t mind. 🙂

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  2. Whoa…

    This could not have been written more beautifully. My wife found this blog and immediately shot it to my e-mail. Thank you for portraying Christ’s teaching of non-violence in such a compelling way.

    I actually wrote a blog on non-violence yesterday. While my article, in my humble opinion, pales in comparison to yours, you might enjoy it. Feel free to check it out if you’re ever so inclined. http://www.fourfingerculture.com

    I’ll be looking forward to your future blogs!

    ~Joshua

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  3. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

    18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to release the oppressed,
    19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[e]

    WHO STANDS BETWEEN THE OPRESSED AND THE OPRESSOR ON THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN? ME! And when the opressor is on your street, call me.

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  4. Brandon,

    Really appreciate your post, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last few days.

    My question would be about such conflicts as World War 2, where there is arguably such a palpable evil at play that, for example, signing up to the army (albeit with a heavy heart) becomes not about loving my own life but about loving others’, fully expecting to lose my own…?

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    1. Luke,

      That’s a fantastic question, and it’s one that I found myself facing 10 years ago before I signed up. The fundamental problem is that it is a false dichotomy, and one that, in my opinion, relies on an overly-inflated view of self and an under-inflated view of God. Let me explain, but first, a few definitions. (I’m going to get all philosophical with you here, but if you’ll stay with me, I think you’ll see where I’m coming from.)

      The first thing we have to recognize is that joining the Army is an act of violence. We can (and will, I’m sure) argue about whether or not this particular violent action is justified (such as, in direct defense of self or others), but we cannot deny the violent nature of the action itself. As such, it changes the nature of our decision to take this particular action, because it cannot, by any definition, be considered benign in any way.

      Next, we have to agree on an issue of justification. This is first and foremost a moral issue, and thus, for the Christian, a Christological issue, as Christ is the only earthly example we have of what Godly morality would look like. In an academic context, regardless of your particular theory of morality, certain questions must be asked. We cannot simply ask if the ends justify the means, but we must also decide if the means themselves are morally acceptable, and there must be a Christological component of the last question, meaning as a Christian, we must look to Christ’s example for ascertaining the moral value of a particular action. If we can answer yes to both the question of ends/means justification and morality of means, we can then make a strong argument toward the action being justified.

      With those definitions in mind, and when we set appeals to emotion aside, the argument against joining becomes clearer. The first of the two questions we must ask regarding moral justification is less consequential, in this case, than the second, so I won’t spend as much time talking about it. Suffice it to say, I think I would have a hard time saying that my violent action, which may or may not alleviate any of the suffering of individuals either in close proximity to me or distant from me, would be morally justified. The problem is one of intervening factors, namely, those completely outside of my control. Contrary to contemporary American reinterpretations of history, Good doesn’t always win, and the results of wars are hardly as triumphal as our historians would have us believe. It is indeed, just as likely, that my violent action will achieve nothing (see our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and this is coming from a guy who fought in both of them) or even negative results (see: Collateral Damage). As such, it is difficult to see how such an action could be considered morally justified.
      The second question is, in my opinion, the most critical, and the Christological component is the most important component for the Christian, so that is where I will focus. If I truly believe that God’s nature is the source of morality, and that Christ is the embodiment of that nature and thus our earthly example of what morality looks like, then we have to take into account what He might do in such a situation, and the only way to do that is to look at what He DID do. He could’ve sparked a violent revolution. He could’ve been the conquering king. He could’ve joined any number of groups partaking in violent action against the Roman Empire, actions that by most accounts would have been justified. But he did none of those things. He served, He loved and he gave His life in the ultimate act on non-violent defiance. I have a hard time seeing how I could justify my violent action today if I honor His example.

      Now, someone might object that this seems counterintuitive, that Jesus loved people, and as such, would want to see lives saved so that they could come into relationship with Him. However, this objection has two fatal flaws. First, I am assuming that my violent action will result (or even possibly can result) in lives being saved for relationship with Him, but such an assumption places me in the role of God, speculating the outcome of impossibly complex events and coming to my own conclusions. Put simply, we have absolutely no way of knowing that such an assumption is true, and in assuming its truth, we are assuming to know the Mind of God. While this leaves me feeling somewhat dissatisfied on a visceral level in and of itself (after all, I want to believe that my sacrifice would matter in an absolute sense), when we take into account Christ’s example, it makes more sense, and it leads us to the second fatal flaw. His actions were counterintuitive. To a first-century Jew, Jesus engaging in violent action against the Roman Empire could have been seen as justified or even obligated under traditional conceptions of morality. He could have done all of these things that included violent action, and such actions might have, to a contemporary observer, seemed to save and improve the lives of countless Jews living in Palestine, but what He did instead literally changed the entire course of history. To me, this illustrates the short-sightedness of our thinking, and our desire to take God’s place in situations we deem “important enough.”

      Anyway, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after quite a bit of wrestling. Does that address your question, or do you think I’ve missed something?

      Luke

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  5. luke…

    thanks so much for reading and for your post.

    theologically speaking first… the purpose of Christ was the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the hearts and minds of those who are his disciples. it is God’s reign and God’s rule breaking into our lives and extending outward in everything we do. it is the realization of “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” the disciple of Christ is a present image to the world…of what will be consummated in the future. as such… while the ways, wisdom, and workings of the world operate accordingly to sinful nature…the follower of Christ operates by the Spirit.

    practically speaking… is the way of Jesus difficult? yes. is it a way that will get you killed? yes. is it a way that others will hate you for it? yes. but I believe it is through this way that we find life to the fullest. we are God’s ambassadors in the world…living and breathing his righteousness, compassion, mercy, and love to friend and enemy. in regards to war… the follower of Christ must ask him if he would participate in such activity. I happen to believe that Jesus would not fight against anyone for the sake of a worldly Kingdom no matter the situation or circumstance…nor would he instruct any of his followers to do such a thing. why would we believe otherwise in our lives? the irony of Jesus spreading a message of non-retaliation and non-resistance to evil to the Jewish people of that time was that they were the oppressed AND probably believed they had the right to fight back or defend. yet we find people like Paul (and others in the early Church) glorying in the sufferings he/they take on for Christ. on a practical level…what a testament to the world if the Church ever rediscovered that heart.

    finally… a friend of mine who is former military recently wrote a few posts that deal directly with the call of Christ and the call of war. you might like to read what he wrote: http://lukelivingthetension.blogspot.com/2011/09/on-my-journey-from-vengeance-to-grace.html?m=0

    peace…

    brandon

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