I want to paint an uncomfortable picture for you. Are you ready? You’re sitting in church service, music just ended and the minister is about to begin the message. You hear gunfire going off near the entrance of the building. You wonder if it was gun fire or a car backfiring. Soon you hear a person scream and shout. The shooting sounds closer to the door, you are sure it’s gunfire now.
[I said this would be uncomfortable.]
How are you feeling right now? I’m a bit on edge putting that story out there.
It’s even worse because it’s inspired by a real story I was recently told by former Law Enforcement Officer, Brian Buckmaster. I interviewed him this past week to gain insight for this message. I wasn’t prepared for this story of the church shooter.
Back to the story: before anyone comes through the door, you hear the distinct sound of a shotgun followed by two cars driving away from the church very quickly. One delayed, as if it might have been chasing the first car.
No one in the church was hurt, but they certainly could have.
How are you doing? Still on edge? Did you sleep through my introduction? Let me tell you what really happened in that story. The shooter was outside in a neighborhood church parking lot. He began to fire his weapon outside the building. A neighbor, who did not go to church, was mowing his grass that morning. He heard the gunshot, saw the shooter and ran into his house to procure his own gun. He fired at the man who intended to harm church people. When the man saw his target wasn’t as easy as he thought, he hopped in his car and drove away. The neighbor got in his car and gave chase, eventually running the shooter off the road.
Brian told me he shared that story when giving presentations on active shooter readiness training. What do to incase of that type of emergency.
Though we will discuss firearms, gun safety and maybe even gun legislation, that’s not the UnComfortable topic today. If it were, the bible would have very little to say about it. Today’s UnComfortable topic is Self-defense. Why are we talking about this? We’re talking about this because human life is sacred and matters to God. As we look through scripture today, I’m confident that one truth will be something we can all leave here agreeing about. What we might not agree on is how to best preserve human life in order to honor God.
Early accounts of Self-defense
Self-Defense could have saved a life
The very first murder victim never saw it coming. Until Cain killed Abel in Gen 4, the only death that had occurred was that of animals.
“8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”Gen 4:8 NIV
To lay the setting for us, Cain was disappointed – probably mad that God accepted Abel’s offering but seemed to shirk Cain’s. God knew what was brewing in Cain’s head and heart. He wanted to do something to Abel. Something evil and wicked. Prior to the verse we just read, God speaks to Cain.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”Gen 4:6-7 NIV
Cain’s murder of Abel was premeditated. He was given fair warning by God.
Could Abel have defended himself if he saw it coming? We don’t even know if he tried. Cain lured him into the field and killed his brother. That’s what we get.
Here’s a little observation I picked up from reviewing this in light of the topic: murder seems to stem from a place of Anger.
God’s defense of Cain
Cain kills his brother and he is cursed for his crime. He won’t be successful at growing food anymore. He’s gotta get out of his parent’s basement and become a wanderer. But he’s also going to be famous – first person to take the life of another human.
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.Gen 4:13-15 NIV
So God places a mark on Cain to defend, him in a way.
Do the crime, pay the fine. Kill Cain?, you’ll suffer even more vengeance than what you did on him. And Cain’s story goes on. As far as scripture tells us, no one tries to or is successful at taking his life. This Curse or pledge of vengeance even flows down Cain’s family line.
It is here, Gen 4:23-24 we have the first record mention or instance of Self-Defense
It comes from a man named Lamech. Old Testament fans may be thinking, Noah’s Dad?
Nope. Cain is this Lamech’s Great Great Great Grandfather. The other Lamech can be found in Gen 5 in Noah’s family line, which stems from Seth, in case you were wondering.
Now, back to Chapter 4 Lamech. He talks about killing a young man for wounding him. Could it have been self-defense or vengeance?
This presentation of facts can be confusing. It was a declaration by Lamech himself and not from the point of the narrator.
If you didn’t realize how the Old Testament was put together, Jewish history was passed down verbally until the time of Moses. Moses is credited with recording much of the first five books of the Old Testament.
So Lamech, instead of telling us a detailed story with names and locations, he gives this kind of poetic declaration. Let’s dig into it:
Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”(Gen 4:23-24 NIV)
Again, we have only Lamech’s word that this happened and why he killed someone. Someone injured him, wounded him. He killed the person who injured him. He then invoked God’s mark on Cain and said anyone who kills him, will be worse off than if they had killed Cain.
With all this killing starting up, it makes you contemplate, “what is so important about human life?”
Self-defense: Priceless or Costly?
Is the right to live, or the ability to defend one’s self a priceless or costly? Let’s look at how it is priceless.
Everyone should and be thankful for the ability/right to defend one’s self.
When I spoke with Brian Buckmaster this past week, I asked him his opinion on Self-defense and self-defense laws, such as “stand your ground” laws.
He said he agreed with those laws and with self defense. To quote him, “No one has the right to beat you up, stab or shoot you.”
In Genesis 9 – Noah and his family are getting off the Ark. God gives instructions about the sacredness of human life.
5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.Gen 9:5-6 NIV
So God clearly codifies what will happen to someone who sheds the blood of another human and also why. Which makes me wonder about laws and the founding fathers’ understanding of “God Given Rights.” It is a statement that seems to come up alot in this topic, so I thought we could take a moment to address it. I want to credit Stand Strong ministries for consolidating the following details in their writing on God-given rights. The introduction to the Declaration of Independence reads:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This is one of the main places people point to when clarifying their rights, whether they are written down in a law from Congress or not. Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness. It identifies that government exists to secure those rights and government only exists because the people consent to be governed.
Going deeper into the God-given rights rabbit trail, personal rights were highlighted by none other than Alexander Hamilton when he wrote:
“Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind: the Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety…The Sacred Rights of Mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of the Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”Alexander Hamilton, “The Farmer Refuted”
Even though we do enjoy musty documents declaring our freedoms and identifying them, it goes deeper and wider into the whole of mankind. If all men were endowed with these rights, they apply all across the world.
Back to Noah: God declared to Noah man’s importance to God. People have a right to live. The Declaration of Independence identified what God already intended for us.
Fighting back can cause unforeseen consequences (death of attacker, arrest, imprisonment. Spilling another human’s blood.)
In the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, our use of self-preservation in the form of self-defense can have costly, unforeseen consequences.
Brian shared with me this story of a call involving a firearm being used in self-defense. A woman was home and her ex-husband came over and broke into the house. She shot her ex-husband. Thankfully she just shot him in the leg, but when the police came to the scene, both the woman and the man were arrested.
When I first heard that, it surprised me. She was defending herself and her home. But when police arrived at the scene where a firearm was discharged, they didn’t know what the true story was. That’s why both got taken into custody and let the courts decide what to do.
Even if you do not kill another person, defending yourself may get you into some trouble. But would you rather be in trouble, or dead? The woman in the story chose trouble.
Defending your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is a priceless gift, no amount of money can be given to compensate for this right we have. But it is also costly. When we utilize this right, we are making a choice. A choice to accept the consequences of our actions, even if it was because we were defending ourselves.
So we may agree that if necessary we would do what we have to to protect our family and friends. The biggest debate on this topic is about a specific method used for self-defense: the firearm. A gun.
New Testament – Buy a weapon or Put it away?
One main reason I wanted to chat with Brian was his background with firearms. He is very familiar with guns. He has been hunting ever since he was able to. His desire to be in Law Enforcement came from wanting to “Help people, drive cars fast, and shoot guns.”
When it comes to role models leading him to a career in law enforcement, he personally knew some police officers, but he also had a fictional role model in Marshal Dillon of Gunsmoke. Brian had to explain to me who that was. It seemed he planned on this career choice a long time ago. In 6th or 7th grade he wrote a paper, “I want to be a police officer when I grow up.” He told me he had done other jobs, but only received enjoyment from working in law enforcement. When he was fresh on the police force in Westby, his dad had to buy his ammunition for him, as he was too young to buy any but not too young to serve as an officer.
When I asked him about people owning guns for self defense, he let me know that to carry a gun safely, you need to be trained in gun safety. He also commented that the amount of firearms or types shouldn’t be restricted in general. Many who own numerous guns are gun collectors, just like anyone else can collect items as a hobby.
Access to defensive weapons. But only used in the correct setting.
Here in America, we have a constitution. It’s the guiding rules and principles that helped to form us into being independent from Great Britain, established rights for individuals and the country as a whole so as to maintain this independence. The Second Amendment to the constitution is part of a grouping of 10 initial items referred to as “The Bill of Rights.” The Second Amendment reads,
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”Second Amendment, Bill of Rights
Even though it was passed by Congress September 25, 1789 and ratified on December 15, 1791, People still disagree on the emphasis of this amendment. On one side, You have the focus on the Militia – essentially the state based military. The focus here is not one of individual rights but rather rights of the state to have a military. They would do so by having citizens in the Militia, and they would provide their own weapons for defending their state. So bearing arms, in this viewpoint, is really a benefit or side effect of being part of the local military.
The other side is that the right is first and foremost about the individual’s rights. The other rights around this one all point to an individualistic application. Freedom of speech. Freedom of Religion. It’s personal choices and rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.
And the purpose for keeping and bearing arms is to keep governmental control overreach, under control.
Where one side seems to lean heavily on gun laws to curb or cut off the sales or the locations guns are allowed to be in society, the other sees it as an absolute right and a way to keep safety happening in all your usual places.
The majority of Jesus’ ministry, no weapon was needed or implied. People tried to kill him, but as the scripture says, “His time had not yet come.” So those folks who wanted to kill him were not successful. He slipped away into the crowd. The only time we have a record of Jesus brandishing a weapon is when he made a “whip of cords” and drove out money changes from the temple courts.
However in Luke 22:35-37 Jesus is preparing his disciples for his arrest.
35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”Luke 22:35-37
His betrayal and crucifixion. He wants them to be protected. And besides, if Peter didn’t have that sword on him after the prayer meeting, how would he cut off the soldier’s ear?
Back to my interview with Brian, he told me he fully supports the second amendment. As part of his oath as an officer, it was to uphold the laws. That principle of faithfulness seemed to guide his whole career.
Just because anyone has the right to a firearm, not everyone should have a firearm.
People who can’t safely handle a firearm put themselves and others at risk. People who do not understand the ramification of the choices, such as children. But just because you have the right and maybe you are a good candidate for such a weapon, guns are not the only weapon available.
As Brian and I were talking, he said anything in the area of my desk, such as an ink pen, could be picked up and used as a weapon. He shared a story where a wife defended herself against her abusive husband. She clocked him with a frying pan. He said “People complain about guns more than frying pans or pens.”
So maybe it again goes back to the intent of the person and the ability to be responsible for their actions, whether they are defensive actions or criminal actions.
Besides Cain’s famous first murder, there was another killing that seemed to be a heat of the moment situation. We had no indication that this person desired to kill the other.
11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.Exodus 2:11-13 NIV
Moses’ intent was to get away with this kill. If he didn’t care and his position within Egyptian leadership gave him the right to take another’s like willy-nilly, then he would not have looked left or right. We don’t know if he it him with a rock, a stick, his fists or as the film, “The Prince of Egypt” portrays, shoving him off a scaffolding. We don’t know the weapon. We do no that Moses wanted to cover it up. Even if he thought he was righteous, there was just something about taking the life of another – even in defense of another – that gave him guilt.
We don’t have any additional evidence but I wonder if it was that he was more looking for trouble than he was just being a “good neighbor” to the other Israelite.
Why Talk about Self-Defense?
Human life is sacred. This isn’t to say that other forms of God’s creations don’t matter, but they are not made in His image.
Shedding the blood of another, even in self-defense, has its costs. It can leave you with an emotional scar you might never work through. It may cause tension between you and your family. Between you and society. Therefore it shouldn’t be done lightly. Hunter and gun safety courses teach “whether it is loaded or not, you never aim a firearm at anything you don’t intend to kill.”
There’s the rub. Intention. It’s the difference between a Good Samaritan and a vigilante. A Good Samaritan stops and helps when they see trouble. A vigilante goes looking for it. Both may stop crimes from happening, but they operate from a different place in their heart.
Human life is sacred, it shouldn’t be snuffed out without consequence.
Now, of course this leads into a whole slew of other uncomfortable topics such as capital punishment and the government’s role in our lives, but that’s for a different message.
Human life is sacred, we have a personal responsibility to defend ourselves in order to pursue life. It shows up in the instincts of animals, but humans have it too. If we defend ourselves there will be consequences. Some of them good, like “not being a murder victim” and some of them not so good. Living with the knowledge you had to hurt or kill another person to do it.
Pastor, why the empathy for the attacker? I’m not sure I’m fully empathetic. But to close one’s heart off, to make that person into a thing to hate rather than a person who’s made a wrong and sinful choice, destroys the image of God all over again.
Here’s my final words about this topic. I didn’t come here today to convince you about gun control in the U.S. I placed an uncomfortable topic before us today and said “let’s examine it.” The most uncomfortable topics in life are the ones we know aren’t as cut-and-dry as we’d like them to be. As black and white as we’d pretend they are.
Human life is sacred. I can choose to defend my life. Defend your life. It’s possible someone who doesn’t value my life or yours may try to “take it.” In that moment I might make a choice, despite the sacredness of life, to defend one life by ending another’s.
We can point to laws and say that the criminal gave up their rights to freedom, even to their own life when they committed a crime, when they hurt or attempted to hurt another. But at the end of the day, God still preserved Cain. God still protected Moses and called him back into a place of leadership, even though his attempt to free others seemed misguided and cost an Egyptian his life. Why talk about this topic?
Because it is as cut and dry as Jesus saying “sell your cloak and buy a sword.” And very little time later he tells Peter, ““Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” this right after Peter cut off the ear of someone arresting Jesus.
Reflective Time – Comments section
Take a moment and write in the comments section: What do you feel most uncomfortable about this topic?
Are you willing to surrender your comfort to God and trust Him?