Wednesday, December 09, 2015

PROTECTING THE INNOCENT



“Greater love has no man than this; that a man may lay down his life for his friends” – Jesus [John 15:13]

It’s honestly a real struggle for many American Christians to process Jesus’ commands to love our enemies. Especially when we try to filter that through years and years of indoctrination from our society about what it means to be a “Good American”. We have been raised from infancy to glorify violence as a redemptive act. All of our heroes growing up used violence to stop evil. Most of my heroes were holding guns.

So, it’s very hard for us to look at Jesus through that paradigm. He is sort of a hero, but he didn’t kill anyone. He laid down his life for us, to set us free, and we see that as a noble sacrifice. That fits into our American hero grid a little better. But when Jesus commands us – His followers – to walk away from a fight, or to go beyond that to actually bless the person who hates us, or to demonstrate actual love to someone who would like to see us dead – that is another story.

In fact, for many American Christians, it’s just simply impossible to even consider. There’s no way Jesus meant that we shouldn’t fight back. What about using violence to protect the innocent? [Like maybe our spouse or our children are being held at gunpoint by an armed intruder, for example. What then, Jesus?]

I get it. This isn’t easy. But believe it or not, Jesus was serious about loving our enemies. 

Dead serious.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asked a powerful question. He asked “If you love those who love you in return, what credit is that to you? Don’t even the tax collectors do that?”

This question highlights what sort of love Jesus has in mind. He expects us to love extravagantly. We’re not allowed to settle for ordinary love. We’re called to be filled with His brand of extraordinary love that extends to every single person around us.

I hate to break it to you, but killing an armed intruder to protect your family falls under the category of “Loving those who love you in return”. It’s simply not good enough. 

As Jesus goes on to say:

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for those which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain upon the just and on the unjust.” [Matt.5:44-45]

Surprisingly, Jesus has very little to say to us about how we should respond to protect the lives of the innocent. Here’s what we do see:

*Peter used a sword in an attempt to protect the life of Jesus and Jesus rebuked him for it.
*Jesus told Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight.”

And that is about all the New Testament has to say about the subject.

Maybe the reason Jesus said so little about our need to protect others is because he knew that doing so would necessarily involve violence?

At any rate, Jesus gives us no commands about protecting one another's safety. 

What we do see for the first 300 years or so of Church History is that Christians who were putting the words of Jesus into practice were put to death all the time for their faith. We have no examples of other Christians stepping up to protect the lives of their brothers and sisters. What we see is that everyone was expected to be responsible for their own life. Sometimes Christians would offer their lives in exchange for their brothers or sisters in Christ. Other times they would offer to die alongside of their brothers and sisters so as to share in the sufferings of Christ together. But we see no evidence – not even once – of Christians fighting to protect the lives of others during almost 300 years of intense persecution.

Why is that?

Well, maybe because they understood that their lives were already forfeit to Christ on day one. They understood that anyone who seeks to save their life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for the sake of Christ will save it and keep it forever. [See Matt. 16:25]

My question is: Why don’t we understand this?

Perhaps because we are American Christians who have been told that being American and being Christian are nearly synonymous [even though the two ideals couldn’t be further apart].

We’ve been told to salute our flag, pledge allegiance to our nation, applaud the military, carry a gun and fight for our rights. Jesus told us none of those things. In fact, Jesus is dead against Nationalism, swearing oaths, using violence and demanding our rights.  Jesus told us to love everyone – including our enemies. 

If you love someone you don’t kill them. That’s pretty obvious.

Unless, of course, you don’t want to see that. Then, it’s practically impossible to convince you that loving your enemies and using violence are incompatible concepts. [Believe me, I’ve tried].

“But what about when someone is in danger and we have the power to stop the violence?”

Great question! But stopping the violence can be accomplished without more violence. One way to stop someone from hurting another person is to insert ourselves in between the attacker and the victim. We absorb the violence ourselves and allow the victim to escape. We might even be able to convince the attacker to stop and win an opportunity to explain what compelled us to take such a bold, and dangerous step. [Hint: It’s the love of Jesus].

Honestly, I don’t know if the Church in America will ever really awaken from Her dream of retributive, redemptive violence and embrace the self-sacrificial love of Jesus. I don't know if we can ever really accept the idea of fighting without weapons or defeating evil without violence.

What I do know is that I can’t stop reminding the Church what Jesus said, and what Jesus called us to do in the face of evil.

Our only hope is Jesus. Our only weapon is Love. And if it comes down to it, we are the only one's who die.  
-kg



1 comment:

Paul Rodgers said...

Keith, this is spot on. But I wonder why you've not provided even a hint at how this mind set is made possible. Perhaps you do in another post but here, the reader is left without further encouragement toward the surrendered life in Christ. The "how" inevitably asks for the "how to".