Speaking of God, Guns, and Biblical Manhood, Stephanie wrote in to ask: “Pastor John, my husband is a police officer and we both want to know what is the best advice for a Christian police officer in regards to violent or lethal action towards perpetrators of the law that the police department itself would see as justified?” And then we received a number of questions specifically about the killing of someone who is a non-Christian.
Joe, in Okinawa, Japan, is one such listener. He writes: “I’m a fighter pilot in the US Air Force and the point you mentioned in episode 306 about possibly sending someone to hell by killing them, sometimes weighs on me and other Christian servicemen I know. For a Christian, how is defending your nation by killing in war different than defending your family by killing? Would you ever advocate Christians not serve in the military due to God commanding Christians not to repay evil for evil?”
Related, Taylor Drummond in Harleysville, PA asks: “In episode 306 you said that you would rather be killed, than kill another, because for you it would mean instant joy, and for him it would mean instant hell. How can capital punishment then be justified, because killing a nonbeliever assures that they will not come to Christ?” So there’s a mix of related follow-up questions here for you Pastor John.
It seems to me, Tony, that there are two crucial queries here as to what I said about guns and my not having one. One is whether the possibility of someone going to hell if you kill him is a sufficient warrant for not killing him. And the other is whether the New Testament command, not to return evil for evil, is a sufficient warrant for a Christian not to be a soldier or a policeman. And it seems to me, as I have thought about those two queries, we should probably split them up, because they are both pretty heavy and complicated. So let me tackle the first one and maybe we will give a second podcast to the second one.
Sacrifice to Show God’s Value
So the first question is [in regard to] the possibility of sending someone to hell if you take his life. When I said that I would rather be killed than kill, and then I mentioned that my assailant may not be ready to face eternity and I am, I didn’t mean that was my primary reason for not killing him. I would say the same thing, I think, if I knew that my assailant was heaven-bound as a Christian, that I would prefer to be killed than to kill. And the key here is how Jesus argues for returning good for evil. His main argument is not that our adversary will benefit from our behavior. He may, or he may not. Jesus doesn’t make that the issue. The main way Jesus argues is that when we sacrifice ourselves and our goods for others, we show the value of God himself as our reward. And this would be true whether our enemy is a believer or an unbeliever.
“Sacrifice shows the value of God himself as our reward.”
So, Luke 6:35: “Love your enemies . . . and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” There is the motive. Or, Matthew 5:46: “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” Or, Matthew 5:11–12: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” So the reason that we sacrifice our lives for our enemies is not only in the hope of saving them — Oh, yes, we do, we pray for those who persecute us — but to show the world where our treasure is. Where our reward is.
So I didn’t mean to argue that I would rather be killed than kill because it is always wrong to take the life of a person who may go to hell. I didn’t mean to do that. If I gave that impression, I gave a misimpression. In fact, I think the Bible is pretty clear that there are situations in which taking the life of another person without even knowing his spiritual state is right. One of those situations is in military defense against aggression, and police defense of citizens against criminals. And another is capital punishment. God has ordained that the state share in God’s divine rights, for example, to take the life of murderers. Romans 13:1: “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” The ruler “is God’s servant for good. . . . He does not bear the sword in vain, for he is the servant of God” (Romans 13:4). So the sword-bearers, the billy-club-bearers, the gun-bearers are servants of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
What Sacrifice and Justice Displays
When the soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do in response to his command to bear fruits worthy of repentance, he did not say: Stop being a soldier, for goodness’ sakes, who carries a sword and goes to war. He didn’t say that. He said, in Luke 3:14: “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” In other words, you have got a sword in your hand. Beware. Don’t use it that way. It has a limited place. You are a servant of God to work his wrath on the wrongdoer. You are not to abuse your authority and your power in order to aggrandize yourself.
“Christian self-sacrifice declares that our God is all satisfying. He is our treasure.”
So yes, to policemen, and yes, to soldiers. And with regard to capital punishment, nothing in the New Testament that I can see overturns the principle of Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” In other words, the dignity of man and the value of man, created in the image of God, is not what hinders capital punishment. It is what requires it.
So here is the summary of what I just said: Christian, enemy love that sacrifices itself, and official, state-enemy punishment that protects citizens, both declare truths about God. Christian self-sacrifice declares that our God is all satisfying. He is our treasure. He is our reward. He will fully satisfy us in the end. He will settle all accounts in the age to come. And, secondly, state punishment declares God is a God of justice. He ordains that there is a limit to evil even in this world. He will not tolerate it to go beyond certain means and he is a God of justice, now and in the world to come. Both of those are true. And Christians are involved in saying both with their lives in the way that the New Testament prescribes.