Non-Violence and Self-Defense

Recently, your favorite Fumbler engaged in some conversation about those two topics. The original question was:

I know it is a rather controversial topic, but do you believe that Christians have the right of self-defense? The classic question is whether you have the right to defend your family from someone who breaks into your home?

Some mitigating factors are as follows:

  • Retaliation and self-defense are often different concepts (Romans 12:17).
  • Scripture speaks of being non-violent (Matthew 5:39).
  • We are told to overcome evil with good (Matthew 5:44; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).
  • Exodus 22:2-3 under the Law of Moses allowed you to defend yourself against an intruder and to kill them, if necessary.
  • Vengeance belongs to God and He has given a measure of it to government (Romans 12:19-13:4).

My initial response:

In what ways can we be proactive about our lives, so as to dissuade others from attacking us?

I do not think that it was purposeful, but it seems very telling to me that the only passages we can find to support violent responses are given to the Israelite nation in the Hebrew scriptures.

What passages on Christians and violence do we find in the NT? What early church examples of self-defense do we find? Do we apply CENI as vigorously to those passages as we do to passages about the assembly?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first great commandment. And the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

What tempts people to do violence? What can we do in our lives to lessen such temptations as they might come our way?

Another participant asked for some clarification:

“Nick, if someone attacked you, and/or your family, what would you do?”

My response is as follows:

I am a prior-service Army officer, so because of my training, I have a broader variety of options than most people. Training and discipline allow a person to respond to all sorts of challenges with a greater level of freedom.

So when I begin my answer to your question with “I don’t know,” it is not a cop-out, nor should it suggest either naivete or a lack of preparation. I don’t know because I do not plan to respond the same way every time. I will strive to love my attacker as much as possible. I operate from the stance that I own NOTHING that is worth anyone’s life.

Prayer is our first line of defense and offense. We pray that God will deliver us from evil and that we will remain true to our Lord in all circumstances, including life-threatening ones.

Simplicity is our second line of defense. Therefore, we do not own anything expensive. The most expensive things we own are a beat-up Ford Focus and my wife’s new Zune MP3 player. I do not own a suit, nor do we own any clothing that suggests enough wealth do attract attention. We have no credit cards and carry very little cash.

Pro-active planning is our third line of defense. Our home has an evacuation plan, in the event that we are at home during a burglary. We will avoid confrontation at all costs. If necessary, I will provide a diversion to allow my loved ones to get out of the house. If possible, I will talk to the attacker calmly and lovingly, helping them understand that there will be no threat from me or anyone else.

No sane (or sober, or uninfluenced by drugs) person will maintain a violent stance in the face of such responses UNLESS they have an ideological motive for their aggression.

Against the insane (etc.), non-lethal force is our fourth line of defense, and lethal force is our last resort.

The ideologically-driven aggressor is not truly attacking me, but my King. In those instances, intentional and interactive strategies of non-violence (such as those taught and modeled by the followers of Gandhi and King) will be employed. At no time will I respond to an attack on my Lord with violence.

What do you think? Tomorrow, I will share the next exchange in this dialogue, but right now, I’m interested in how you deal with these thoughts and issues. So please share!

in HIS love,



About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 4 September, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I love the second line of defense. It really is freeing not to be so attached to something that your love for it will control your need to love others.

    I like the escape route idea, too.

    I appreciate your observation that it is from the old law that we find specific boundaries for self-defense. I believe so much is given there because God was shaping their hearts. He did not want his people to be vengeful, or murder. That is a reflection of an unloving heart. I am obligated to take care of my family. Does that mean i should be proactive and engage in war? Did God promise me a democracy to enjoy? I know there is much talk of defending freedoms, but I am not convinced that God wants us to go that far and engage in warfare under the banner of self-defense.
    However, the government is God’s servant for vengeance — Rom. 13:4. So, my head goes back and forth with this one.

    gotta love the fact that Shane Claiborne can get you to question some stuff.

  2. Living in Argentina, we suffered a home invasion, something that is unfortunately all too common there.

    Your answer of “I don’t know” is very real to me. For weeks afterwards, I prayed not to see the man who had held a gun to my 18-month-old daughter’s head, because I feared that I would try to kill him (run him over, etc.). I wanted to respond with forgiveness, but something very instinctive in me wanted vengeance.

    I admire the way you’ve thought all this through. I wish more of us, self included, would have such foresight.

    Grace and peace,

  3. Nick, These are good thoughts (as you usually give) on a very tough topic. I believe strongly that a disciple should not kill in military service, but the idea of defense of family is a somewhat different matter. In military service, you do not control the amount of force no the circumstances under which it will be exerted. All of that is in the hands of superior officers who usually have no respect for God. In defense of family, those issues are in our hands.

    Having said that, I’ll agree with you that scriptural evidence is sparce. (I wonder if the swords of Luke 22:38 were for personal defense, but not sure. What do you think about that text?). It is instinctive to protect our families, even with force is necessary, yet I suppose I’ll just pray that I never have to face a situation like Tim faced in Argentina.

  4. James,

    Thank you! The escape route seemed like a natural idea to me: God gives us an escape route to help us bear temptation, so why shouldn’t I provide myself and my wife an escape route to help us bear temptation in this area?


    God bless you, and I hope that my answer did not seem condescending or disrespectful to you. I do speak knowing that I have not been in this particular crucible. However, we share a common prayer that more of our brothers and sisters would use the foresight God has given them to prepare to obey him. Far too often, we reject the wisdom of planning and discipline, that will prepare and train us to be ready to do God’s will when difficult times appear, BECAUSE we’ve practiced obeying him while things weren’t so hard. As one of my Army influences once said, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”


    Thanks for that! Now I’m going to be up half the night chewing on what Jesus might have meant! Seriously, though, I’m glad you raised that point, because I’d forgotten about it. I will try to address it tonight or tomorrow morning, after some prayer and study.

    in HIS love,

  5. Alright, let’s talk about Luke 22!

    Jesus reminds the disciples of their previous mission, and begins to make some startling contrasts. The general theme seems to be that where their every need was cared for in the earlier venture, things will be very different this time. They will not be popularly accepted, they will need to buy their own food, and they will be in such peril that normal men would rather be armed than warm. Also, Jesus quotes Isaiah tellingly at just this point to explain the need for the swords: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.”

    When Jesus mentions swords, the disciples are FINALLY hearing something they understand! Now it is time for them to take over the Temple grounds and establish the new Kingdom of David! When the disciples produce two swords, even after three years of following a Messiah that has turned every violent Messianic expectation on his head, Jesus ironically says, “That’s enough.”

    That’s enough? For WHAT? Two swords among twelve men going against armed and trained soldiers of Herod and the Temple guards? Matthew Henry says, “Two swords among twelve is only enough for those that need none.” Two swords will be enough for the Sanhedrin to accuse Jesus of leading an armed revolt.

    Luke then leads us through the Garden and into the “ambush,” where we see the same heightened sense of anticipation among the disciples. When Judas leads the platoon towards them, they say, “Now shall we strike with the sword?” NOW, FINALLY, can we get this revolution started?

    Peter, as one might expect, needs no command. He attacks! Jesus replies, “That’s ENOUGH!” Here we might also interpolate a quotation from Matthew, “He who takes up the sword shall die by the sword.” Jesus heals the servant, and goes willingly and submissively, though still with a regal air about him.

    Much of Jesus’ entire mission, in word and deed, strives to convince his people that their ways of trying to be Israel, be it via the violence of the rebels, the collusion of the rich, or the ruthless purity of the Pharisees and Essenes, will fail. The most popular way to be a Messiah in the 1st century was to round up a bunch of wild and rowdy followers and storm the Temple courts. This happened at least a dozen times between 70BC and 70AD. Jesus’ non-violent teaching and actions serve to say, “This way lies madness.” There is ALWAYS someone stronger, and Rome would grind the life out of Israel without a second thought.

    So while this verse is very interesting on the lips of such a non-violent teacher, I believe this is an honest and plausible explanation that answers the dilemma.

    in HIS love,

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