AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Guns. Knives. Pepper spray. Martial arts. Burglar alarms. There are many ways to try and protect yourself in this world. There is also a lot of common sense floating around. Don’t go down that dark alley alone. Stay out of the bad part of town. Don’t wear those colors in that gang’s turf. But if we totally cater to those who want to do violence—if we all back off and obey their ridiculous rules—isn’t that giving in? Isn’t that letting fear rule our lives? But then again, are we testing God if we intentionally put ourselves in harm’s way and assume that He will rush to our defense? Is the man who keeps a loaded gun by his bed honoring God by embracing his role as the family’s protector, or is he dishonoring God by putting his faith in his own skills and a manmade weapon? There are no blanket answers to these questions. There are no rules of behavior that we can say will apply to every situation. But there are guiding principles which you can use to figure out how you should handle the concept of self-defense, and that is what we’ll discuss in this post.
GOD IS IN CONTROL
The first key principle to bear in mind is that God is in control. He’s not just in partial control, He’s in absolute control. This means that it will never just be you and your gun saving the day. Your gun isn’t going to be of any help at all unless God coordinates a thousand factors to go just right at the time the armed robber bursts into your bedroom to have it out with you. What if you were in the bathroom? What if you forgot to put your gun back after cleaning it? What if the thing jams? What if you entirely miss? What if the robber fires first? It is utterly absurd to God when a human nails his enemy in the perfect spot at the perfect moment and then says, “Oh, yeah. I’m the man,” as if God had nothing to do with it. When you escape some life-threatening situation, it’s because God saved your behind, and you could use to show Him some serious gratitude. But then again, God is the One who put you at risk in the first place, and that’s where things start feeling strange in our little human brains.
We Christians want God to be very clear about what side of the battle He’s on. We say that He is either for us or against us. But then we go on to come up with all of these narrow definitions of what God being “for us” will look like. When a man finds out his daughter was assaulted in an alley, he doesn’t feel like God was demonstrating His support of the girl. After all, just as a thousand things must go just right for you to successfully incapacitate the armed robber in your home, a thousand things must go just right for the mugger to get to your daughter. Human beings are very closed to the idea that God hurts us to help us. Even though we are familiar with this concept, and even though we often find ourselves putting our own children through miseries in order to secure their health and happiness later on, we refuse to accept that the One who taught us the importance of focusing on the long-term view is doing exactly that with us.
You see, God operates on a principle of “the end justifies the means.” He tells us not to do this, but He does it with us all the time. What’s with the hypocrisy? Well, for starters, we need to stop expecting God to abide by the rules that He gives us. Rules are for humans, not Gods (see Why God Doesn’t Obey His Own Laws). Secondly, we need to own up to the fact that we have no control over the future. When we do shady things today in order to gain major profits tomorrow, we’re just taking a wild gamble. We can’t guarantee that our scheme will work. We can only see immediate consequences, and often our immoral deeds involve intentionally hurting others. God says it is wrong for us to stick it to each other for the sake of some theory we’ve cooked up about how things could all work out for the best. Our theories are always ridiculous, for they never take into account the billion factors which could make them tank. Only God can make future guarantees, because He is the One who controls what the future will be. When God puts us through some misery today and says, “Trust Me, it will be worth it,” He’s making a meaningful statement. But when we say such things to each other, we’re just expressing what we hope will happen—not what we can make happen.
In this life, God hurts us to help us. He also blesses us to help us, but we’re all fine with that program, which is why we don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about it. It’s the hurting that bothers us: we just don’t want to see God as the One setting us up with the creepy stalker, the snarling bear, or the armed thief. In such moments, we want to imagine that God is our powerful Rescuer who will swoop in and save us. But the reality is that God won’t always save us. Sometimes He will intentionally sabotage our every effort to defend ourselves and make sure that we go down with all hands. Before you can reach for your gun, the robber shoots your wife and then flees into the night. Is it your fault? No, it’s God pitching your family into one mother of a trial period. If you hadn’t let your daughter walk home alone, she wouldn’t have been attacked by that rapist, right? Wrong. You can’t stop God from bringing trials into your daughter’s life, and if you really understood what He was doing, you wouldn’t want to. Because as much as you love your daughter, God loves her even more and He knows better than you do what she needs. These are the tough truths that we are forced to grapple with when self-defense measures fail. God is always in control. He is the Creator and Resolver of all crises that enter our lives. So where does this leave us?
When they contemplate the sovereignty of God, some Christians toss up their hands and conclude, “Then why bother to try? I’ll just do what I want and God will have His way. There’s no point in trying to defend myself. Why should I respect any rules or bother with common sense? God is going to do what He wants regardless.” And yet because God is such an interactive Creator, He doesn’t let us off the hook this easily.
God has no intention of letting you play the part of a puppet who is absolved of all responsibility since he is at the mercy of his Puppeteer. You are not just a puppet, you are a creature who has been given some degree of choice in life. Your choices are quite limited, but they are still real, and God says they are extremely significant. God also prevents you from being able to escape making choices in life. Instead, He is constantly pinning you into corners where you are forced to choose whether you will respect or defy His Authority. He then responds to you based on how you responded to Him.
God is like a strong man who snatches a young woman from a crowd of onlookers and forces her to come waltzing with him onto a dance floor. God will not leave you alone. He created you for the purpose of engaging with you, and He is going to force you to dance with Him whether you want to or not. You can either spend the whole time stumbling and lurching about, or you can focus on the subtle signals God is giving you and learn how to follow His lead. If you choose the route of submission, you will end up in a very smooth rhythm with God. And once the movements become automatic, you’ll be able to stop worrying about where to put your feet and you’ll be able to focus on conversation.
This is how it works with God: practicing submission improves the quality of our relationships with Him and as the heart bond deepens, we begin to experience amazing soul satisfaction and peace. But first we have to stop fighting Him, and that means giving up on the notion that He will let us take the lead in our relationships with Him. God will never let you lead Him. He is the most dominant Personality you will ever meet, and He insists on leading the dance. Because He is good, He wants you to enjoy the experience of dancing with Him, and that means He will help you learn how to move in sync with Him. He doesn’t just go flinging you all over the place, but He doesn’t let you sit on the bench in some eternal pout, either. God is continuously acting in your life, and He is constantly prompting you to move in one direction or another. Some of these promptings come in the form of very clear internal instructions which we call convictions. Convictions are not always about sin. Far more often, they are about guidance. “Do this, not that.” How you respond to God’s convictions has a lot to do with how smooth your relationship with Him will be (see Conviction Q&A).
When it comes to the subject of self-defense, God will convict us all differently. Suppose He convicts Sam that it’s a man’s moral duty to protect his family. Sam takes this conviction seriously and he installs a burglar alarm in his home. He buys a gun to keep by his bed, he buys his teenage daughter some pepper spray and teaches her how to use it. Is Sam just giving into fear? No, he’s honoring God, because his motive for doing these things is his respect for God’s Authority. Sam feels he’s doing what God wants him to do, and because Sam’s goal is to please God, God is very pleased with him.
But now let’s take paranoid Paul. Paul is a very worrisome type and he’s always thinking of worst case scenarios. Paul lives in a neighborhood with a lot of crime and just last week his neighbor’s house was broken into. Once he finds out, Paul goes into a frenzy of fear and hops online to purchase a whole range of self-defense products. He’s got big plans for how he can burglar proof his home. He wants to buy a range of weapons and he’s telling himself he’s just being a responsible citizen. But God sees that he’s really just letting fear rule over him and not practicing any trust in God. So God convicts Paul to not purchase any self-defense equipment. He even tells him to get rid of the burglar alarm he just installed and to practice trusting God’s care of him instead. But Paul decides that God can’t be counted on so he goes ahead with his plans. We’ve now got two men who are taking similar defensive measures, yet while Sam is pleasing God, Paul is guilty of willful rebellion because Paul is intentionally disobeying God’s convictions.
Now let’s talk about Amy. After her friend got attacked in a dark parking lot last week, Amy is very afraid of walking out to her car alone after her night class. She buys pepper spray and has it at the ready the moment she leaves her class. Before Amy’s friend was attacked, God was making a lot of good progress with Amy in the area of trust and He doesn’t want to see her lose ground. So He convicts her to leave the pepper spray at home and practice trusting that whatever He causes to happen to her will be for her best. God doesn’t promise to protect her—instead He challenges Amy to practice trusting that even if He allows something bad to happen to her, it will be what she needs to really thrive in the long-term. Amy is extremely uncomfortable leaving her weapon at home, but she really wants to progress with God so she does what He wants and ignores the school’s advice that all female students take extra measures to protect themselves. Even though Amy is going against common sense, she is honoring God because her motivations are right.
But then there’s Jen. Jen’s protective father has warned her repeatedly not to strut around downtown with flashy jewelry and provocative clothing. He’s given her pepper spray to carry in her purse, and a sharp metal stick to carry on her key chain. One night Jen is going to meet up with some friends. As she looks over her outfit in the mirror, God convicts her that she’s not being wise. She’s wearing a super tight and super short skirt, a low cut shirt and some large, flashy jewelry. God convicts her that her outfit is going to attract the wrong kind of attention. He tells her to be more modest. Jen blows Him off. Then He tells her to bring the self-defense tools her father gave her because she’s going to a dangerous part of town. Jen scoffs. She doesn’t want to jam the pepper spray into her super tiny purse, and she doesn’t want to bulk up her keys with the clunky metal weapon. So she leaves it all at home and tells God that He’s big enough to keep her safe. The problem here is that Jen is not trusting God, she’s trying to control Him. She expects Him to shield her from all harm even though she is refusing to obey His convictions. When Jen gets downtown, she immediately attracts the attention of two men who are just looking for an easy victim. They force her into an alley and Jen goes down. So now we have two women who were intentionally not doing the smart thing: Amy and Jen. But though both women looked like they were asking for trouble, Amy was honoring God, while Jen was defying Him. In Jen’s case, God arranged for her to be assaulted in order to motivate her to improve her attitude towards Him. Does this mean every assault situation is an act of Divine discipline? Not at all. God might very well decide to have Amy assaulted as well, and in her case, it won’t have anything to do with discipline because God is very pleased with Amy’s attitude.
Are you seeing why this is such a complicated subject? There are no blanket behavioral rules for how all Christians should handle self-defense. It’s your motivations that determine whether your actions are right or wrong to God. Some of you are going to feel strongly convicted to arm yourselves. Some of you will experience God using your weapons to help save the day. God convicts Stuart to get a permit to go around with a concealed weapon. Stuart does. Then one day Stuart is at a restaurant when a gunmen leaps up and starts firing at people. Stuart whips out his gun and nails the guy. Stuart honored God by obeying God’s convictions, and God used Stuart to save the day. There are many real life stories like this. Plenty of muggers have gotten a faceful of pepper spray before reaching their targets. Other attackers have been crippled by some strategic physical assault moves. When God tells you to take that self-defense course, He might well be planning to use the things you learn to help you out later on down the line. He might never use them. Or He might block your attempts to use them and have you assaulted anyway. There’s no way to predict what God has planned in your personal future. But it doesn’t really matter, either. What matters is that you’re pleasing Him today, and you do that by obeying His convictions.
Self-defense measures cannot control the quality of God’s care of you, nor can they replace your need for His help. These are the two common traps you want to avoid falling into, and both of them are rooted in a misunderstanding of how God operates. God leads, He does not follow. So just because you decide to pack a gun doesn’t mean God feels obligated to help you use that gun successfully. You can’t control how God will handle a situation by putting certain tools at His disposal. You can’t do anything to limit God’s options in a given moment. Just because you’ve taken a bunch of karate classes and you now consider yourself to be a walking weapon doesn’t mean God can’t have someone successfully sneak up behind you and bonk you on the head.
We need to remember that God is extremely jealous by Nature, and that means He wants all of the glory for taking care of us. When we start putting our trust in material objects and learned skills instead of in God, we are asking for trouble. Remember those four soul attitudes that are so essential to pleasing God: reverence, submission, dependency and trust. Your trust needs to be rooted in God’s good Character, not in your vast knowledge of pressure points. You need to be acknowledging your absolute dependency on the One who holds your molecules together, and not start acting like it’s your loaded gun that is your true protector in life. God is not anti-self-defense. He is a very involved Creator who forces us to interact with Him in life. God will convict many of us to take active roles in our own safety, and when He convicts us to beef up our self-defense measures, we need to obey those convictions out of respect for who God is. But at the same time, if God tells us that this isn’t the time to focus on self-defense, we need to let the subject drop and remember that God hardly needs our assistance to protect us from harm.
Statistics & Probability: Learning from the Patterns of God
Managing Fear: Help for Christian Soldiers & Cops
Understanding Fear: The Power of Beliefs
Understanding Your Passive Response to Assault: A Lack of Resistance Does Not Indicate Cowardice or Enjoyment