Christians and Lethal Force

Posted on: January 12th, 2020

Much has been said in recent days about the ‘church shooting’ in Texas last Sunday ― the right and wrong of it. The initial shooter was clearly wrong. He was evil incarnate, whose history of bad choices ended in a final bad choice to take innocent human life. God’s judicial standard played out in textbook fashion: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Ge 9:6).

Which raises the question, “Is lethal force ever justified?” We are not addressing the war question or whether a Christian can be a cop. Most Christians, I assume, would not object to such, based on Romans 13 and the role of civil government. But what about individual Christians? Is it ever right for a Christian to take the life of another human being?

If killing is motivated by personal hatred, anger, jealousy, or revenge, the answer is clearly ‘no’ for those passions are themselves sinful, and any behavior flowing from them would be sinful as well (Mt 15:18-19, Ga 5: 19-21, etc).

But note carefully God’s reason for justifying the use of deadly force in Genesis 9: “for God made man in His own image”. The reason a murderer deserved to die was not because his life had no value, but because the life of his innocent victim did.

That principle carried forward to the Mosaic age. Though the sixth command said, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13), other laws justified the use of lethal force, both judicially (21:14) and individually (22:2). The unspoken reason for such provisions was clear: the life of the innocent victim, created in the image of God, had value.

The same principle is true today. We, too, are created in the image of God with great worth. No wonder that God, in the NT age, retained capital punishment as a just response to evil (Ro 13:4, Ac 25:11).

But what about Christians? Although Jesus condemned the use of armed force to further the kingdom (Mt 26:51-54, Jn 18:36), He actually commanded the apostles to arm themselves (Lu 22:35-39). Those swords were not used to defend against persecution (Ac 12:1-3). So, what purpose did they serve? They would have certainly deterred evil threats against their lives in their numerous evangelistic journeys.

Some push back, “Turn the other cheek” (Mt 5:39). But this was spoken concerning vengeance (vs 38); and protecting innocent life is not taking vengeance. Others say, “Love your neighbor” (Mt 22:39). To which we reply, “Exactly!”. Is it ‘loving’ for a man to allow an intruder to kill his neighbor, rape his wife and sell his daughter into slavery? Pity the poor family whose head interprets love this way. First Timothy 5:8 is not just about food.

Lethal force does not negate trust in God. David trusted God even as he picked up the stones for his sling. The Psalmist wrote, “Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Ps 82:4). So, let’s do that! – Warren King