God, Guns, and Good Government
The world watched in horror what is becoming an all too common scene
in America’s cultural landscape. Surely most Americans, Christian or not, were disgusted, angry, heartbroken, and desperate for answers in the wake of this horrific tragedy. It should not escape our notice as Christians that we possess answers, wisdom, and (importantly) hope for broken, angry, and disgusted people. We ought to strive to rise above the media driven noise getting to the heart of the matter; and through our robust theology speak also to political questions. Theology that speaks only
to political questions is merely justification for a particular political point of view. Just as theology that cannot inform our political choices is in many ways hollow; useful only for a mere “personal faith”. The Bible resides in neither extreme; giving Christians a deep and well rounded world view – granting us “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:2-3). Our task, as always: apply that world view to everyday life; and especially to abominable tragedy.
Let’s begin this application at home, within the American Church itself; which is entirely too political, and in many places, entirely too enamored with guns and gun culture. I have encountered several Christians with a deeper understanding of the Second Amendment and the NRA’s talking points than of basic Christian theology. It’s easy to spot and exclude extremists. Much harder is it to realize the impact political alliances, to which most Christians join themselves willingly, have upon the priorities we choose to amplify. As someone who is not steeped in gun culture, I find it most distasteful when fellowship is centered around owning a firearm or when firearms proficiency becomes part of the definition of being a mature Christian (or more to the point, a mature Christian man). Our brothers and sisters in foreign lands and foreign times would most certainly be disturbed by this mindset. We would do well to purge it from our thinking.
Moreover, it ought to be of great concern when most churches can count more concealed carry advocates on their rolls than they can count crisis pregnancy volunteers, foster parents, hospital visitors, and street evangelists. Rare among us are the classes to train people to council abused kids and women in the gospel, few are the efforts to raise up evangelists and teachers, seldom is occasion to even discuss action to oppose the holocaust of abortion. But often I hear of “self-defense classes” and “NRA gun safety courses”. Each year I’m handed voting pamphlets by one church or another that declares a politician our friend if he makes a statement opposing abortion, even if he fails to act. Yet similar publications carrying similar importance to many Christians quickly condemn a politician an enemy for not supporting guns in EVERY relevant act; ignoring nearly identical statements often found sufficient for abortion. I dare say if we were to become as fixated on preaching the gospel and serving others through Christ as we are on maintaining our firearms rights, we might even see our culture turn around. The topic of gun rights has proven Christians can die on a hill and successfully defend it, but have we chosen the right hill on which to die?
A sinner desperately in need of a Savior
Nonetheless, as deserving as the above criticisms may be, the American Church is not at fault in any way for what happened in Florida. Quite the contrary. The fault lies with one culprit alone: sin. It is sin in the heart of the shooter that caused him to so callously murder people and destroy the lives of many more. He cultivated sin in his heart. He fed it. He loved it. His world was dark; his heart evil. As Christians, this foundation must be our starting point. We must boldly declare that it is but the common grace of God that we are not all school shooters. We must declare the condemnation of sinners under the wrath of God, and the merciful hope found in He who willingly took our place on the cross. We must call sinners to repentance. Any effort that does not begin with the unadulterated gospel is nothing more than secularism couched in religious words.
When sin hurts another person, we must be as our Lord often was: “moved with compassion” (Matthew 20:34, Mark 1:41). The church’s outreach to survivors must be to have answers to their tough questions. We must press the point that the very sin that so violently destroyed their lives is present within them, and us (Romans 3:23). Through it all, our Lord calls on us to weep with them (Romans 12:15), to go the extra mile for them (Matthew 5:41), to demonstrate God’s great love for us by loving them. For the survivors, for the grieving, what we have in Christ fits as a hand in a glove to what they need. Oh how the church is so equipped for this task! How powerful the Gospel! How gracious our God is to those who seem to have no hope!
Yet, we mustn’t think compassion means yielding to falsehood. Aside from the lives lost, the most disturbing aspect of this tragedy has been the speed with which our culture turned from grieving to politics. It took a mere few hours for the (now routine) mockery of “thoughts and prayers” to begin, and by the next day the calls for President Trump to “do something” were in full swing. Within days, these seeds of political discontent blossomed into full blown demands for political action against guns. Soon, all we had remaining was politics. That reality is unhealthy for a culture and sadly dismissive of the grief many feel. It is nonetheless the reality. Christians should be blessed with a clearer head than to be so reactionary. Our response must be to resist the speed of this politicization, not forgetting the people whose lives have been altered forever that day. Yet in dealing with the political realities, we promulgate the idea that sin persists in the world until our Lord returns. We must advise that the best response is one that deals with that reality instead of trying to make that reality go away.
New laws preventing mentally disturbed individuals from owning firearms isn’t going to prevent one from obtaining a weapon. Laws preventing drug use don’t prevent the use of drugs. Murder was already against the law and yet several school children and teachers were murdered. To believe that we can pass a law that will stop behavior is foolishness, and untenable for a believer who understands total depravity. This does not, however, mean such laws should be abolished. We must properly understand law as a tool to prosecute offenders, not as a means to change behavior.
Christians are right to resist the control of arms among law abiding citizens. We should not be so naive as to believe removing guns from those who obey laws will remove them from those who never obey them. An armed government against an unarmed citizenry has led to much persecution not only of our own brothers and sisters, but of many other image bearers of God as well. Caring for ourselves and others most certainly means allowing the means to make a defense, including also everyday situations like attending school. It should be unlawful, and it is wrong, to ask people to care for children and to prevent the means to defend those children. Surely our call to love others is not summed up entirely in the ability to defend others; but the ability to defend others is not absent from that call either. Gun free zones are childishly simplistic, and insanely foolish. Force must be, and can only be defended against with force. As long as sin exists in the world, so also will ill-intended force. Wisdom dictates that we must plan accordingly.
These are not easy times to live as Christians in a world that hates us. Our wisdom will be rejected and our answers mocked. It is “out of season” to preach God’s word and articulate His answers. Yet, our duty remains. Let us put our hands to plow and not look back. May God have mercy on this sin sick culture that produces such horrors as the regular shooting of school children.