While I don’t think I would qualify as a “news junkie,” some might consider me one. I do keep up pretty well with what is happening in the world, and much of what takes place is painful to hear about. This last week I have felt especially hit in the gut by two stories in the media. I want to tell you about them and then share with you my heart and my convictions.
The first came on January 20 and was the story of a 5-year-old Missouri boy who found his parents’ gun in the headboard of the master bedroom and, within moments, accidentally killed his 9-month-old brother who had just been put in his play pen.
The second came two days later and described a 2-year-old Florida tot who found his father’s gun in the glove box of the car and shot and killed himself.
At that time, I was still hurting over the story of another 2-year-old boy who twenty days earlier was with his 29-year-old mother who was doing some after-Christmas shopping at a Walmart store in Idaho. While sitting in the shopping cart, the little guy managed to take his mother’s gun from a special compartment in her purse, and accidentally fired it, immediately killing her. She had a license to carry and was a gun-safety advocate.
When I investigated to see how many stories like this are out there, I found it was almost too much to bear. A three-year-old boy is playing with a gun and shoots himself in the face. A four-year-old girl discovers a gun and shoots her four-year-old cousin, killing him. A three-year-old boy shoots himself in the head. A five-year-old accidentally shoots a three-year-old girl. A five-year-old boy accidentally shoots and kills himself. A four-year-old boy accidentally shoots himself. A two-year-old boy shoots and kills his 11-year-old sister. It goes on like this, story after story
I write this not as a political ideologue. I am not a liberal or a conservative. My only interest is in the politics of Jesus. I write this as a follower of his and one who believes in living the kingdom life he taught. I write as one who believes that we must pay close attention to Jesus’ words in what we call the Sermon on the Mount. My belief is that if we did, a lot would change. For one thing, we would not be a part of these and other such gun-related tragedies involving children.
But before we talk about those teachings, let’s get some more perspective. In the six months following the Sandy Hook shooting which ended twenty-seven innocent lives, 100 more children were accidentally shot and killed in the U.S. That is nearly four times the number that died in the Connecticut tragedy. In 57 percent of cases, the victim was shot by someone else. In 35 percent of cases, the victim accidentally shot himself or herself. In such cases, the youngest victims were most likely to shoot themselves. The eldest were most likely to be shot by peers. The shooter is typically a friend or family member, often an older brother. Eighty-four percent of victims are killed in their home, the home of a friend, or the family car, according to one study. In 76 percent of the cases, the gun belonged to a parent or other family member.
With these realities, it is little wonder that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that the safest policy for children is not having a gun in the home.
But now back to Jesus. He didn’t live in a gun culture. So we might suppose he has nothing to say to those of us who do. But let’s look closer. Most all of the guns that are used in the accidental deaths of children (not to mention many other family members) are being kept in homes, vehicles and on persons to protect individuals or family members from some potentially evil person. These guns are weapons of self-defence, but sadly, in the cases we have mentioned, they are used to take the lives of those that they were bought to protect.
But Jesus enters our world and speaks these words: “You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)My friend Steve Brown and I have written much more about this passage, in our book The Kingdom of God, Vol.2: The Sermon and the Life. We frame the discussion by saying that this is a challenging sermon that often makes us uncomfortable. However, we must not come looking for reasons to avoid the teaching, but we must come looking for how to obey.
Jesus teaches a revolutionary non-resistance, which is not just true of this one statement, but is found in this whole section in the Sermon on the Mount. We have a natural instinct to guard and protect what is ours. Our conditioning has reinforced that. Jesus emphasizes a whole new way.
He teaches that God’s kingdom is not of this world and requires a radical mind change. His kingdom message is one in which the thinking of the Age to Come breaks into and is lived out in the present age. In this new approach to life, God shows a whole other way of getting things done. It involves non-resistance, non-violence, loving enemies, and being abundantly and shockingly generous to those who would take from us. It looks foolish to the old mind but it is God’s wisdom and the upside down kingdom.
Therefore, those who seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteous and new ways of doing things, look at life in a different way. They love their families and want to protect them, but they love God, and then obedience to God even more. Is this shocking? Was Jesus not saying this when he taught that we must love him more than son or daughter (Matthew 10:37)?
However, another way to say this is that kingdom-seeking people trust God when they seek to love their families. So they use wisdom and good judgment in protecting their loved ones, but they refuse any option that cuts against God’s wisdom. In so doing they reject weapons and lethal force. While caring for those in their charge, they seek God’s way to show love, even to those who would cause harm.
So, when disciples of Jesus, act out of faith, they say no to the “sword” and refuse to put guns beside the bed, in the glove box or on their persons,. They make a conscious decision to follow
in Jesus’ steps. Some think that is to do nothing, but that is far from the case. They are arming themselves, but not with the weapons of this world. They are using faith, prayer and love, which are hardly nothing.
This is another way to protect one’s family, and at the very least, it will save a spouse, a teen, a child, a baby or someone who innocently comes into their home from a tragic accident that can leave long-lasting wounds—both physical and psychological. Might they or their loved ones still die at the hands of an evil person? Yes, it has happened. God has not promised it will not. But in my experience and reading, that is far more rare than are these tragedies that happen in this country at least twice a week.
Is it still possible in a gun culture focused on self-preservation, for us to follow a man who taught revolutionary non-resistance and love? When we are captivated by that man and compelled by his love, it is. And then light shines in the darkness.