Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthian Believers, Chapter 10, lines 3-6
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (ESV)
“The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ. Once we are sure of your obedience we shall not shrink from dealing with those who refuse to obey.” (Phillips)
“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” (The Message)
This message is in context in a world where Rome rule supreme without the mercy of Lex Talionis, “an eye for an eye,” which was a law of mercy (you can punish only as much as the original offense, and no more). The law of Rome was one where disobedience could be punished with extreme actions; a simple failure to acknowledge Caesar, for example, might result in financial ruin and the death of your family. In Paul’s world, disobedience was met with the sword of the government, corrupt and run for the benefit of those who wore the imperial purple. Justice requested was not justice guaranteed; life in the Roman empire was a mass of petty kings and kingdoms jostling to maintain their power and prestige, with a vast sea of humanity unseen and unserved by government. Government was something that upended your life, something was to be kept away, and life was lived with tremendous uncertainty as to taxes and the essential services of life.
And yet Paul did not advise Christians to fight fire with fire, but to fight the power of this world with the power of God and his overcoming rationality and love. The weapons Paul fitted his compatriots with were the armor of God, defensive and protective; the only offensive tool in the armory of the believer was the sword of truth. There were no hardened bunkers in Paul’s world; in his world, Christians lived their ordinary lives as if God was king, not Caesar. We fail to see this, but the word of Christ and the love of God upended the Roman world. A few dozen men proclaimed his mercy to the entire Mediterranean, and without swords and shields, Christians conquered.
Today we still send our missionaries to the most dangerous parts of the world, arming them only with this word, and with the love of Christ which compels us to speak and to teach, to make disciples of all humanity. We do not arm our missionaries with offensive weapons or even with protection. Our missionaries go forth with the Bible and the heart of God, to every nation and tongue and tribe and land. Christians have transformed society, building hospitals and schools and churches, bringing mercy and love and extending justice. Not every missionary and not every Christian has done right, of course, but the motivating force for outreach has been the love of God reconciling with his world. The Christian church, for all it has done wrong for the past 2000 years, has done some things right, which has meant that a people living in darkness have come into a great light. We can applaud ourselves as Christians for bringing order within chaos, for shutting down awful practices such as slavery and child prostitution (even though these practices have been common among people who called themselves “Christian”). Ever-so-slowly we are understanding God’s mercy and love for all people; ever-so-slowly we Christians are expanding the concepts of universal love and the humanity of all.
These missionaries are protected only with the truth. They do not carry guns or armored vests. They do not arm themselves as teachers with weaponry ready to fire off someone who enters a classroom. They do not stockpile ammunition and trust in force and firepower to bring about the justice of God. They lay their lives down in the most hostile of lands, trusting in God to do right. The battle belongs to the Lord, they say, and they act as if that were true. Some–maybe many–have died to proclaim that truth, but the power of the words and love of Christ have transformed societies. Missionaries in the most dangerous of lands go forth in the confidence of their message and the power of God. They know God will do good for them.
But–somehow in America we Christians think that here we must arm ourselves beyond reason, holding guns and rifles, ready to shoot first and ask questions later, depending upon the power of the rifle barrel to protect us even as we claim that we trust in God and his power. We are fearful of everything and everywhere–schools and malls and theatres and churches and sports fields and restaurants and normal everyday life. We in America live in one of the most violent nations on earth, violent far beyond nearly every other nation, violent certainly beyond every civilized nation, and we continue to arm ourselves more and more, feeling less and less secure, ready to blast a stranger down who bumps into us, ready to find fault and to protect ourselves from the slightest hint that we might be affronted or accosted. We no longer blink at the reports of twenty human lives, every day, which are ended by guns, more lives each day lost here in America than almost every other nation on this planet suffers each year. We are the most churchified nation on earth, and the most overtly religious Christian nation, proclaiming the gospel on hundreds of stations and using tens of thousands of venues, a gospel that we say brings peace and justice. We have God on our currency and in our Pledge of Allegiance. But we continue to kill each other at a rate far above any other nation on earth, as if that gospel and power of God has no power to change hearts or provide assurance.
I don’t get it. Either the power of God isn’t really all that powerful, and he needs help from us using the power of this world and the weapons of this world, or he is all powerful and capable of enacting justice without our assistance of personal weaponry and we are foolish to think weapons are our protection. Either he does really mean it that we wage war in this world with the weapons of truth, or he doesn’t mean it and we should have a backup plan because he is, ultimately, unable to protect us and to provide for us. Either he means for us to arm ourselves with the truth, or we need to have a little extra protection in case he fails, packing some heat because, after all, God helps those who help themselves, and he can’t be counted upon when it really matters.
Someone needs to explain it to me why Christians who follow the Prince of Peace feel they must bristle with guns, and how they can square their love of gunfire with their love of God, because I simply do not get it anymore. I cannot understand how Jesus could look at us in America and think we are representing his sacrificial love and trust in God when we are the most fearsomely armed people on earth.
We are killing each other. We are destroying lives. We are tearing apart families. We are awash in a sea of unseen tears.
In the name of God, people, we must stop this.