Monday, August 06, 2007

Why Hell?

Hell may be a strange place to begin a discussion about self-defense, but we all know sometimes it's best to start with last things (Schweitzer!?). The more I think/read about hell according to the NT, the more I'm beginning to see a two-fold purpose: to punish disobedience and to stop evil. Beyond question, God takes violent measures to stop evil (John's Revelation is filled with such imagery). And, according to Paul, God even uses evil empires (Rome!) to stop evil (the infamous Ro. 13 passage). In fact, Revelation tells a similar story: the kings of the earth destroy the Harlot and the heavens rejoice. In other words, even from a NT perspective, God takes violent measures to stop evil.

But, here comes the real question: does that give us precedent for doing the same?

The only scriptural justification in the NT that I can see to support using violence for self-defense is Luke 22:36. Here Jesus seems to imply that his disciples are going to need to take care of themselves since he will no longer be with them. Thus, the advice: if you don't have a sword, sell your coat and get one. But, before we build a case on such cryptic advice, we must consider the rest of the story. When one of his disciples reveal the swords they have already been carrying around (I haven't heard a single sermon stressing this part of the story--but, what does that say about the sword-carrying disciple? Maybe he wasn't so sure Jesus would protect him from evil? Where's the faith?), Jesus reveals a reason why he made such a request: having sword-toting disciples will fulfill Scripture when he is arrested. Is this the only reason Jesus gave the advice to buy a sword? I don't think so. It strains at credulity to think that Jesus expects his disciples, so late in the evening, to secure a sword before they get to Gethsemane. Something else is going on here. (I think Jesus knew a few of his disciples were carrying swords--what, were they hiding them in their pockets? Jesus made his statement to draw out the implications of what would transpire in the garden. He wouldn't need their help. But, at the same time, they wouldn't have his anymore.) But, I don't think this one text stands up very well as a proof text for violent, self-defense--especially against the sea of evidence we call the NT. No where do we have stories of Christians using violence to defend themselves. Not even in the Revelation of John do we have scenes of God or Christ marshalling forces on earth to conquer evil. The only armies that do violence come from heaven. Instead, throughout the Revelation, the faithful on earth are encouraged to remain faithful witnesses (martyrs).

So, would God allow me, a follower of Christ, to use violent means to stop an evil attack on me, just like God does/did?

I don't think so. But, that doesn't mean I won't. After all, I'm evil, too (Mt. 7:11).

Which is why, when it comes to stopping evil, I can eventually count on hell.