Pacifism: Whom Does God Defend?

pacifismThere many passages in the Old Testament where God promises to defend his people without regard to the power of the people.

(Judg 7:2)  The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her,

(2 Ki 19:34)  I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”

(Isa 31:4-5)  This is what the LORD says to me: “As a lion growls, a great lion over his prey– and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against him, he is not frightened by their shouts or disturbed by their clamor– so the LORD Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights. 5 Like birds hovering overhead, the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will ‘pass over’ it and will rescue it.”

(Zec 4:6)  So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

I think these verses are true. But then, so are verses such as —

(Deu 2:32-34)  When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, 33 the LORD our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. 34 At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them–men, women and children. We left no survivors.

(Deu 25:19)  When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

It’s easy enough to find pages of passages where God promises his people special protection, and it’s easy to find pages of passages where he orders them into battle, even to the point of compelling his people to eliminate entire nations from the face of the earth.

Now, correctly I think, we argue that the killing of women and children in a military campaign is not an example we should follow, as the capture and purification of the Promised Land was a special case. Israel, as God’s chosen people, acting under God’s orders, could take actions that would not be proper for others to do. Therefore, we rightly condemn genocide when not specifically ordered by the Lord of the Universe.

However, some within the pacifism camp make this argument: God has promised to protect his people. Therefore, we should rely on God’s promises and not on our own strength. Hence, it is wrong to use violence for self-defense. Hence, it is wrong to serve in the military.

Indeed, God promises his protection in the New Testament —

(John 17:11)  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one.

(1 Pet 1:5)  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Even assuming these verses promise physical protection (as opposed to protection from damnation or temptation), does that mean we should not participate in the military or the police or use violence to repel criminals? Does God’s promise to protect his people mean we have no obligation to protect others from violence?

Consider the following:

1. God’s protection is promised to his Chosen People — to citizens of the Kingdom — not to everyone. If my country is being attacked by an evil person, I can certainly figure that God will protect me. I’m a member of his family. I’m a son! But what of my neighbor? What of those I’m commanded to love who aren’t Christians? Do I allow them to suffer death, imprisonment, etc. because God will protect me?

You see, the line of reasoning that I shouldn’t pick up a sword because God will protect me strikes me as just a tad selfish.

My unbelieving neighbor’s home is being attacked by a rapist and killer. My neighbor cries to me from a basement window, “Get a gun and save my family!” I respond, “God will protect me!”

That’s not love. That’s something much, much worse.

Perhaps I should, instead, dial 9-1-1. But not if I believe the police sin in using violence. And, of course, not if we live in a nation where nearly all are Christians and therefore there are no police.

You see, the thought process that leads to the conclusion that God’s protection means I should never pick up a weapon assumes that we Christians (at least, the real Christians) are in the distinct minority and so do no harm by refusing to participate in “worldly” affairs. We can safely live as strangers in a strange land, suffer the consequences of our decisions, and yet do no harm to others. But that’s not true in a land where the majority are Christians. In such a case, our refusal to defend both ourselves and our neighbors has serious consequences to our neighbors.

Imagine a democracy where nearly everyone is a Christian and all Christians are committed pacifists. Who defends the weak against evil people?

2. Even in Old Testament times, where God frequently made a point to defend his people with astonishingly small forces or with no army at all, he also often allowed Israel to prevail with a large, even an overwhelming army.

(1 Sam 11:8, 11)  When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and the men of Judah thirty thousand. … The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

Sometimes God leaves it to his judges and kings to fight with strength, and sometimes he fights through a small force, and sometimes he fights all on his own.

It’s true, I think, that God’s protection of Israel assured them of their survival without regard to their own strength. They were protected by God — as a people — even when their enemies prevailed. God always preserved a remnant. But I can’t find an over-arching Old Testament principle that God would do all the defending and his people had no reason to lift a weapon to protect themselves.

If we must exclude the militarism and violence of the Israelites because they are a special case, how do we argue that they are not a special case when it comes to God’s protection — when even they had to raise armies and build fortifications to be safe. I mean, why did Nehemiah build a wall if God was going to handle their defenses all by himself? And — more to the point — how does the special protection of God for the spiritual Israel — the church — mean we have no duty to protect our neighbors from criminals and invaders?

It can be argued that because life is not the highest value (true), we need not worry about the lives of our neighbors — but the logic fails when we are considering unbelieving neighbors. For them, death means both physical and spiritual death.

You see, it’s just a lot more complicated than we often like to argue.

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16 Responses

  1. I agree that such an argument fails to take into account much of what the Bible says. I’ve been writing on suffering this week; it’s amazing how much the Bible has to say about Christians suffering and being willing to suffer. How could anyone make a case that God provides physical protection for the believer?

    I believe in God’s protection: spiritual protection.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Jay,

    First, i don’t expect God to offer me special protection of my physical life. i don’t see where that’s necessarily promised to Christians. i do see where He took measures to specifically protect the lives of those whom He had special plans for in terms of kingdom work. If God chooses to take special providential measures to keep me from getting axe-murdered, that’s up to Him. But i certainly don’t expect it. Paul said he didn’t count his life dear to himself (Acts 20:24).

    Second, whether the particular violence used by police or military is intrinsically bad, it is not always instrumentally bad. Thus, calling the police to punish an evildoer is exactly what i would do because that’s what Paul says they’re there for.

    Third, your “1.” assumes that violent retaliation is the only possible way to defend others against violence. What if i took an unloaded gun and bluffed the guy out of their house? No violence intended, no violence used. To be honest, i don’t think that’s ethical either. My only point is you’ve presented a false dichotomy.

    Fourth, i’m not totally sure what to say about this Christian majority stuff. i see hints that we’re always gonna be a minority (Matt 7:13-14). But regardless, i definitely haven’t claimed that the minority point gets pacifists off the hook. What i do see is once again the assumption that using violence is the only way people get protected or things get done. To be fair, shouldn’t you at least give a cursory examination of some of the non-violent revolutions in history?–what the tactics were and how effective they were? i know you’ve mentioned Yoder. But what about Ghandi? What about MLK’s work in the 60’s? Were they not “defending” their respective peoples? Yet they didn’t need violence to do it.

    –Guy

  3. What those might do that don’t want to be part of violence is have someone come place a trap in your house that will kill any intruder.

    That way, you’re not responsible, the setter of the trap is and you and your family still get the benefit of the protection.

    Be protected while laying the blame somewhere else! Wow, what a concept?

  4. Guy,

    While there are verses that suggest Christians should expect to be in the minority, there are no verses that say they will be in the minority in each country. In 301 AD Armenia became the first nation to make Christianity its official religion. Rome soon followed. Since then, many nations have been majority Christian. In fact, Rome was likely majority Christian long before Christianity became legal.

    Imagine 4th Century Armenia — a tiny country — with various pagan states all around. They are, say, 90% Christian and 10% Zoroastrian, and the government is Christian. A pacifist would argue that they should be pacifistic both in terms of personal defense and the military. So who defends the 10% Zoroastrians? Are they required to form their own police force? Does the government disband the military or staff it entirely with Zoroastrians? Wouldn’t there be something deeply unseemly about the 90% conscripting the 10% defend them? Wouldn’t it be just as wrong to entirely disband the military (which was also the police) and leave the nation defenseless against evil doers both internally and externallyl? As you said, the police are charged with protecting us from evildoers — but if Christians can’t be the police, what happens when nearly everyone is a Christian?

    In the town where I grew up, population 7,782, if the Christians had refused to serve as policemen, there’d have been no one to take the job. We had one Jewish citizen, who was well into his 70s, and one atheist, who was in high school with me. They wouldn’t have made much of a police force.

    The history of non-violent revolution is important, but it doesn’t address these sorts of questions. Rather, it comes up when we consider Paul’s injunction against rebellion in Rom 13. And as you point out, there have been some remarkable examples of dramatic social and political change fostered this way. I’m not sure the method works in truly totalitarian regimes. It doesn’t seem to be working in Iran. I doubt that it would work in North Korea or under Sadam Hussein. Some governments are so inhuman that they just shoot them all.

    And so, I’d agree that non-violent resistance against an evil government is permitted to Christians and sometimes effective. It’s one of those “the time is right” things. Martin Luther King’s work might have had a very different outcome in the 1930s before the invention of TV.

    However, I don’t see non-violent resistance as responsive to the questions I’ve been raising in the posts. I don’t think sit ins and peaceful rallies would protect the innocent against criminals or protect a peaceful people from invasion.

  5. “Imagine 4th Century Armenia…” – Jay

    If you do have a majority Christian nation for real, then there is a lot more going on spiritually then you allow for in your example. To agree with your conclusions, I would have to make the assumption that safety was completely in man’s hands, and you’re obviously not arguing for that either, since you say that physical protection is a promise to the believer. I suppose that’s a nice way to say I see at least one contradiction in your position.

    We have interesting examples of civil and national defense with Hezekiah and Nehemiah, though with large prerequisites: leadership completely dedicated to God, or a nation completely on mission for God. I read those accounts as “how it should be”. In one case, weapons were brandished, but not used. In another, weapons were not required. In both, God is being obeyed before the trouble started.

    Obedience, though, does not prevent attacks, as with Hezekiah, John The Baptist, Jesus, Paul, Stephen, et unnamed al. In fact, physical harm is what godless people do to people they hate. And Jesus says, “If they hate me, they’re also going to hate you.” And then He says to turn the other cheek.

    I’m afraid we may not be the right people to answer these questions you’re posing, anyway. After many many years of having a “gospel but denying its power,” we suddenly can discern these spiritual moments? Think of what Jesus said in Mark 13:

    “You must be careful. People will arrest you and take you to be judged. They will beat you in their synagogues. You will be forced to stand before kings and governors. You will tell them about me. This will happen to you because you follow me. Before these things happen, the Good News must be told to all people. You will be arrested and judged. But don’t worry about what you should say. Say the things God gives you to say at that time. It will not really be you speaking. It will be the Holy Spirit speaking.”

    Perhaps, if we were on mission and in tune with the Spirit, these answers would be give to us in the right time. It might be to sit still, or it might be to kill. God says there is a time for each. Knowing which is which is a matter of knowing God intimately. If we focus on that, all these other things will be added to us as well. And when the time comes to defend our neighbor or bring relief to a people group, it will be the Holy Spirit doing it, not us, to God’s glory.

    I would love to say that I can figure out these answers in advance. But I feel much like Moses – my culture has rubbed off to the point that I don’t think clearly anymore. With the authority and position he had, killing the Egyptian was not necessary to stop the violence. And like Moses, we have either forgotten or never known the authority we actually have on the Earth to both stop and prevent violence.

  6. It can be argued that because life is not the highest value (true), we need not worry about the lives of our neighbors — but the logic fails when we are considering unbelieving neighbors. For them, death means both physical and spiritual death.

    So we cause the physical and spiritual death of one unbelieving neighbor to prevent the potential physical and spiritual death of another neighbor, based upon our own subjective evaluation of their relative sinfulness at the time?

    it is very complex indeed!

  7. Jay,

    (1) There is still a latent assumption that if i refuse to engage in violence, that means i’m demanding or personally expecting other people to do it for me. No i’m not. God said He established governments to punish the wrongdoer. But we both know governments fail to get all the bad guys and prevent all the damage done by bad guys. Whether the government is successful in protecting me or not, so be it. That’s up to God’s providence and i’m not sitting around expecting unbelievers to come stand guard at my front door. Pacifism (particularly that believers should stay out of violent government positions) doesn’t imply this assumption you keep making.

    (2) Just because an individual or a group or even a nation *claims* Christian identity on themselves, that does not necessarily imply that any of them actually are Christian.

    (3) My job is not to make things happen or make things work or only do the right thing when it makes sense to me. My job is to obey my Lord. Plenty of His instructions sound downright crazy and anti-common-sense. But what that demonstrates is that there is something wrong with *me* and the *world,* not with His instructions. My job is to do what He asks of me even if it doesn’t make sense to me and even if i find it anti-pragmatic. If i’m doing what God prescribes, then i have to trust that God will bless me and my actions and they will accomplish what He intends for them to. Whether or not non-violence makes sense to me as something that would work in particular world-situations doesn’t get me off the hook to do what i’m told. Having sex with Sara made no sense and seemed anti-pragmatic to Abraham. But that’s what God expected nevertheless, and it was Abraham’s job to simply trust that God knows what He’s doing when He gives us instructions.

    (4) “Protecting the innocent”–i’m not sure what to do with this idea you keep mentioning. First, the vast majority of “innocents” are not innocent. They are lost and amenable. *Every bit as deserving of God’s wrath as the perpetrators of voilence from which they need protection.* Christ died for *both* the victim and the perpetrator and neither deserved it. Second, not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father. God knows in each case who was right/wrong/innocent/wicked etc., and He will make all things right. That doesn’t mean we’re stuck doing *nothing,* but it does not give us the green light to build God’s kingdom using the devil’s tools.

    –Guy

  8. Guy wrote,

    There is still a latent assumption that if i refuse to engage in violence, that means i’m demanding or personally expecting other people to do it for me. No i’m not. God said He established governments to punish the wrongdoer.

    To me, this line of reasoning seems to fail to acknowledge the importance of the protecting others. It’s fair enough to say that we shouldn’t care whether government protects us. But shouldn’t we care whether the government protects others?

    Just because an individual or a group or even a nation *claims* Christian identity on themselves, that does not necessarily imply that any of them actually are Christian.

    True enough, but does that mean there’s never been a nation that’s majority Christian and never will be? Maybe I’m over-reacting to my sectarian youth, but it seems awfully hard to say that, for example, the Massachussetts Bay Colony wasn’t almost entirely Christian when founded by the Puritans. And so who would have served as policemen for that colony (later a commonwealth)? Should they have operated without police until they had enough non-Christians to staff a police force?

    My job is not to make things happen or make things work or only do the right thing when it makes sense to me. My job is to obey my Lord. Plenty of His instructions sound downright crazy and anti-common-sense.

    Here we have an issue where good Christians have disagreed over the ages. I don’t know how to decide whom to agree with other than by this kind of analysis.

    First, the vast majority of “innocents” are not innocent. They are lost and amenable. *Every bit as deserving of God’s wrath as the perpetrators of voilence from which they need protection.* Christ died for *both* the victim and the perpetrator and neither deserved it. Second, not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father. God knows in each case who was right/wrong/innocent/wicked etc., and He will make all things right. That doesn’t mean we’re stuck doing *nothing,* but it does not give us the green light to build God’s kingdom using the devil’s tools.

    I entirely agree that we may not build God’s kingdom using the devil’s tools, and I’ve not argued to the contrary. We should not use military conquest to spread Christianity. I’ve just argued that we need to help those who need help and not turn away from victims of violence.

    Had the Good Samaritan seen the bandits’ victim being attacked with his life being threatened, should he have stood by, waited for the attack to end, and then, if the victim was still alive, helped him? Or should he have run to Jerusalem to call the Roman soldiers garrisoned there (it would have taken several hours)? Found some travelers who did not worship God and asked them to rescue the man? Told the man that the God he worships loves him? Or prayed for the man while he was being beaten and robbed and left for dead — and nothing else? Or found what help he could among the other travelers to protect the victim of the thieves? Or told the man that only God can judge innocence and so we shouldn’t presume to know whom to defend?

    (1 John 3:18) Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

    To me, it’s as simple as the Golden Rule. If I were the man being attacked, I’d want someone to come help me. Moreover, if I were the attacker, the worse thing you could do for such a person is enable him to continue in his criminal behavior — which leads to damnation. It’s loving to restrain him and so encourage a better life and perhaps deter others from seeking to live by thievery.

    The much harder question is what if the only way to restrain the evil-doer is through lethal force? Here you will very likely be sending the man you kill to damnation, but (a) we can trust God to judge aright and (b) how many others will he kill if we don’t restrain him?

    I can’t help but think of the many men who’ve brought guns into military bases, schools, and post offices intent on killing dozens of people and doing so until they are killed. Some even go from place to place killing until they are finally shot. I think all agree that they should be restrained non-lethally when possible (as happened a Ft Hood, a military base!), but obviously it’s not always possible. As in the true example I cited in the first post of this series, sometimes you have to make a horrible choice — kill the crazy shooter or let the crazy shooter kill a school full of children.

  9. (1) Fair enough. i think Nick Gill already pointed out that there’s a conflating of two issues that maybe should be addressed separately–one, *self*-defense, two, *others’*-defense. Maybe we should be careful in our discussions to make that distinction. i’m not sure my answers would necessarily change, but i think it’s worth it to be careful there.

    (2) Okay–the first point was that people or organizations of people claiming to be Christian doesn’t necessarily make it so. Here’s a second point: individuals having a certain property does not necessitate that the organization of those individuals will also have that property. If each brick in a chimney weighs two pounds, it does not follow that the entire chimney weighs two pounds. If each empoyee at a local bank were a member of the communist party, it doesn’t follow that it’s a communist bank. If each individual in a country were a Christian, it still doesn’t necessarily follow that the nation is Christian. Regarding the early colonies–supposing every member of one of those communities were Christian, then theoretically they shouldn’t need a police force, because they wouldn’t be wronging each other. If they did, Paul says (1Cor 6) they ought to be able to settle it within the church rather than ever needing to take each other to court.

    (3) In your Samaritan scenario, this still assumes that the only alternative to doing nothing is violently engaging the robbers. It assumes that “helping the weak” necessarily implies violently engaging the attackers. That is a false dichotomy. Gunmen have been negotiated out of hostage situations. Agents of the state have even traded spots with civilian hostages. Paul’s companions helped him flee in a basket through a wall. Jesus fled dangerous situations. Why does protecting the victim necessarily mean i have to physically fight the attackers or shoot the shooters?

    Further, in that first post about culture of life, you argued that keeping everyone alive is not the uttermost valuable goal. Yet you’re approaching these very hypotheticals as though that’s exactly what counts.

    Let me present you with one hypothetical. i read this in an ethics paper my freshman year at OU. Suppose you were a tourist in South America where there is two rival factions in a city. You are kidnapped and thrown into a back alley where members of “Faction A” are standing around holding guns. Members of “Factions B” are lined up against a wall in firing-squad-victim fashion. One member of “Faction A” shoves a gun in your hand and tells you that if you shoot and kill one of the “Faction B” people, then they’ll let the rest go. But if you don’t, then they’ll gun all the “Faction B” people down themselves. Suppose the Faction A people are telling the truth.

    What do you do? What are you obligated to do? If you say that you are obligated at the point to kill one of the Faction B people in order to save the rest, you imply that a person is obligated to prevent particular harms when it is in his power to do so. But if that’s true, God does wrong about a jillion times a day.

    –Guy

  10. “It assumes that “helping the weak” necessarily implies violently engaging the attackers. That is a false dichotomy. Gunmen have been negotiated out of hostage situations.” – Guy

    Gunmen have been negotiated out of hostile situations, though there are many gunmen who have not and will not negotiate. Doing nothing to stop an attack on another person is not loving our neighbor.

    I agree with Jay.

    “If I were the man being attacked, I’d want someone to come help me. Moreover, if I were the attacker, the worse thing you could do for such a person is enable him to continue in his criminal behavior — which leads to damnation. It’s loving to restrain him and so encourage a better life and perhaps deter others from seeking to live by thievery.

    The much harder question is what if the only way to restrain the evil-doer is through lethal force? Here you will very likely be sending the man you kill to damnation, but (a) we can trust God to judge aright and (b) how many others will he kill if we don’t restrain him?

    I can’t help but think of the many men who’ve brought guns into military bases, schools, and post offices intent on killing dozens of people and doing so until they are killed. Some even go from place to place killing until they are finally shot. I think all agree that they should be restrained non-lethally when possible (as happened a Ft Hood, a military base!), but obviously it’s not always possible. As in the true example I cited in the first post of this series, sometimes you have to make a horrible choice — kill the crazy shooter or let the crazy shooter kill a school full of children.” – Jay

  11. Guy wrote,

    If each individual in a country were a Christian, it still doesn’t necessarily follow that the nation is Christian. Regarding the early colonies–supposing every member of one of those communities were Christian, then theoretically they shouldn’t need a police force, because they wouldn’t be wronging each other. If they did, Paul says (1Cor 6) they ought to be able to settle it within the church rather than ever needing to take each other to court.

    I’ve not spoken of “Christian nations” because the term means different things to different people. Rather, I’ve spoken of nations where most citizens are Christians — and there have been plenty of them. And even if some are hypocrites, if the pacifistic community were to be persuasive so that all Christians should come to understand that Christians are required to be pacifists, then even the hypocrites couldn’t serve in the military or police as their Christian identities would be blown, right?

    Nor have I spoken of nations where everyone is a Christian, but even if there were such a nation, Christians commit crimes and engage in violence against their spouses requiring police intervention. They shouldn’t, and I think the frequency is dramatically lower among Christians, but it’s still true. Yes, Christians sometimes commit crimes. Like the bumper sticker says, we’re not perfect, just forgiven.

    In your Samaritan scenario, this still assumes that the only alternative to doing nothing is violently engaging the robbers.

    I’ll grant that there are times when there are alternatives to violence. I’m just not willing to concede that this is always the case. I don’t think it is. For example, I don’t think the shooter at Ft Hood would have been dissuaded by anything other than violence. He was shooting two guns at a room full of unarmed men and women who’d done him no harm. What alternative was there?

    If you say that you are obligated at the point to kill one of the Faction B people in order to save the rest, you imply that a person is obligated to prevent particular harms when it is in his power to do so. But if that’s true, God does wrong about a jillion times a day.

    I try to avoid unrealistic hypotheticals and leave them to the ethics professors. The shooter and Good Samaritan examples happen and have happened many times. But in answer to your question about God …

    God is not like you and me. We are commanded to love and we must do so using the limited means at our disposal — without perfect foreknowledge and even without perfect knowledge of the present. We don’t have the power to save and damn — nor can we ever know for sure who will be. Sometimes we get fooled.

    We just have to muddle through the best we can with the imperfect knowledge and limited power that we have — but knowing we serve a compassionate, trustworthy God who is fully aware of and sympathetic to our limitations. We just can’t let our limitations freeze us into doing nothing for fear of making a mistake. That’s the Parable of the Talents, and I don’t want to be the character too scared to take action. This is what grace is for.

    On the other hand, God has powers and knowledge beyond our imaginings, and this means the ethical rules are entirely different for him. We quickly go from here to the thing about free will and all. The end point being, however, that God has the ability to make it all right in the end — whatever “right” is — which he gets to define.

    Therefore, it is a category mistake to assume that what I’m obligated to do is what God is obligated to do. We are not the same.

  12. “We just can’t let our limitations freeze us into doing nothing for fear of making a mistake.” – Jay

    Is this a characterization of Pacifists? It sounds like you’re lumping the argument into a basket labeled, “Afraid of God”. Hopefully not. I’ve found every pacifist argument here well spoken, and has me reconsidering things I thought I had decided long ago. None of which sounds like, “I’m afraid of God,” to me. Most, if not all, of which have sounded like, “I want to be like my Master.”

    “Therefore, it is a category mistake to assume that what I’m obligated to do is what God is obligated to do. We are not the same.” – Jay

    Assuming that you have the ability to judge who lives and who dies in a given situation is the same category mistake, so what do you mean here?

  13. Jay,

    i admit i really don’t know what to say about your Christian nation scenario. i’ll just have to chew on it.

    Brad already picked up on a biggie for me–“doing nothing” is not something i’ve heard any pacifism-advocate on this board suggest. i can act as a human shield for my son. i can pick up my son and flee the scene of an attack. i can draw the attacker’s attention and give my son a chance to flee. i can call the police. i can always choose to take a bullet and die for the sake of giving others some sort of advantage. None of those possibilities constitute “doing nothing.” You’ve even admitted that there can be multiple options. Yet you still say here at the end “doing nothing” as though it’s the only alternative to violent retaliation. That is not the claim of pacifism. That is caracature.

    Ethical norms are not the same for God and us–YES, agreed. The reason i bring this up though is that you keep presenting situations where we are trying to let our intuitions judge the case. What are our intutions based on? We are attempting to discover how universal ethical norms apply. i don’t know what we could be “tapping into” at that point except for the character of God. If you say, “well given circumstance C, it’s obvious we should X.” i said, “well, that condemns God.” You said, “well, God’s not the same.” Right! So if it’s not obvious that God should “x” in “C,” then it’s not *obvious* we should either. It may be *true* that we should “x,” but it won’t be *obvious* based on raw intution, if our intuitions are sourced in the universal ethical norm (God’s character). We need more information than just intuitional-responses.

    Like you said, God has perfect foreknowledge and will make everything right in the end. That’s exactly why i’m unwilling to decide that someone else should die by my hand. i’d rather die than take a life.

    By the way–the hypothetical i mentioned was based on actual events occurring in South America where guerilla-style rebels were trying to keep their hands clean by forcing others to kill for them. And in such a situation, i can always volunteer to be the one who dies in order to let the others go.

    –Guy

  14. Guy and Brad,

    If you take the classic Mennonite position (Yoder was a Mennonite) position, so far as government action is concerned, you do nothing. Lipscomb would be the same. Those who argue that government violence (war) always leads to worse results or that the results are too unpredictable seem, to me, to also be saying that therefore the government should do nothing. All the above would argue that individuals should take personal action to remedy injustice — provided it’s non-violent action. That is not doing nothing but it is the government doing nothing.

    Guy,

    Regarding intuition, I’ve not intended to argue for intuition. Rather, I find certain principles foundational. Christians are created (or re-created, if you prefer) by God for faith expressing itself through love. This is the sum of Christian ethics. Governments are created by God to reward good and punish evil. These are where we have to begin.

    Both individuals and governments are capable of great evil and great good. Neither is the final source of truth. Both are charged by God with doing the best they can with the information and power they have — “best” being defined per the above. And even the very best of both will sometimes make mistakes.

    And so my reasoning is really pretty simple. What does love require in a given scenario — that love being informed and shaped by the gospel? And in the very first scenario I posed several days ago, I think love requires shooting the crazy gunman threatening to kill children in an elementary school. Yes, that is intuitively obvious, but I’m not always on the side of intuition. I have good friends who think my position on illegal immigrants is crazy. It’s, you know. counter-intuitive. But it is loving.

    All,

    The CIA is not on trial here. All should concede that the US government has at times done some pretty nefarious things. It’s true whether we agree on just which nefarious deeds it’s done.

  15. Brad wrote, “Assuming that you have the ability to judge who lives and who dies in a given situation is the same category mistake, so what do you mean here?”

    By that logic, as God decides what’s good and evil, I should not make such decisions. Obviously, the correct answer is that I let God tell me how to live to please him and follow those principles. Of course, no finite set of principles can give absolutely clear answers to all the nearly infinite fact patterns that sometimes emerge in life. This is where the Spirit and grace come in. We prayerfully make the best judgments we can with the information we have.

    Does that mean I get to decide who lives and dies? Rarely, but sometimes. The soldier who saw the crazy psychiatrist killing people at Ft Hood had two choices. Do nothing and let his victims die or shoot him and hope to spare innocent blood (and risking her life in the process). She didn’t ask to make such a horrible choice but she had no choice but to choose. I think she made the right choice.

  16. “Of course, no finite set of principles can give absolutely clear answers to all the nearly infinite fact patterns that sometimes emerge in life.”

    And yet, it seems that’s exactly what is trying to be described here. When any of us say, “I don’t see how that would work in that situation,” it’s true! Perhaps there are outcomes to the pacifist *lifestyle* – rather than the situation – that can not be included in the cold calculations.

    Before I let go of my own ambitious, I could not understand how that could possibly work. The rule of the world is to work hard and fight for number one. I could present case after case wherein it seemed that this answer was the best. And yet, letting go and letting God was the best answer when I was 20.

    I have no condemnation for anyone who finds themself in a do-or-die situation, no matter what they choose. I still could not tell you how I would react in a given scenario. I hope much like Jeremiah Knights, in my home town of Fort Worth:

    “…a youth by the name of Jeremiah Knights confronted Askbrook and said, “You can kill me if you like, but I know where I’m going if I die, do you?” Upon hearing those words, Jeremiah’s youth leader, Adam Hammond was expecting to see Jeremiah shot then and there, but instead Askbrook went to a pew along side the wall close to the main doors of the sanctuary and shot himself dead. Upon that occurring, Jeremiah Knights said out loud, “it’s over, he just shot himself.”
    (Wedgewood Baptist – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Gene_Ashbrook)

    There is power and life in the lifestyle and communion of God that we don’t understand. In practical terms, the above scenario doesn’t make sense. Jeremiah should be dead according to all the anti-pacifistic calculators here. And yet, when confronted with the very image of Christ, the violence stopped.

    There is power promised to the believer that the churches of Christ have denied for years, that do not enter into these discussions. Yes, it’s better these days, but we’re harvesting what we’ve sown, and it shows in discussions like this.

    Just because we can’t figure out how it would work, doesn’t mean it’s not right. Sounds like a bible story to me.

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