The Christian’s View of Self-Defense
IN A world so filled with crime and violence, the protection of one’s life and property is a matter of increasing concern.
This problem confronts everyone, including you. If you are one of Jehovah’s witnesses you also have to contend with an additional problem in this regard: the opposition that comes as a result of your faithfulness to Jehovah God.
To determine how to handle matters connected with self-defense, the Christian, dedicated to do the will of Jehovah, goes to the highest source of wisdom, God’s Word. Through a study of the Bible, he is aided to appreciate the laws and principles by which he is to be guided.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
Does this mean that the Christian is to pay back wound for wound, blow for blow, as mentioned in the Law that God gave to ancient Israel, since that is in the Bible? (Ex. 21:24, 25) No, for Christians are not under that Law. After Jesus Christ died, that Law arrangement came to an end. It was succeeded by something better, the Christian system of things. The apostle Paul showed that Jesus is “the mediator of a correspondingly better covenant, . . . he has made the former one obsolete.” (Heb. 8:6, 13) Paul also said: “You are not under law but under undeserved kindness.” (Rom. 6:14) Of course, where a Christian requirement has the same underlying principle as a requirement of the Law, then it can be helpful to note also how that particular matter was handled then.
“LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF”
Jesus said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) As a person is to love his neighbor, he is also to love himself. That means he ought to take care of his mind and body. The Christian, therefore, should not needlessly jeopardize his life, for that would bring no honor to God. Since a Christian has dedicated his life to do God’s will, he is to protect it so he can serve his Creator.—Rom. 12:1.
Jesus did not give up his life needlessly. On one occasion, those listening to him “became filled with anger; and they rose up and hurried him outside the city, and they led him to the brow of the mountain . . . in order to throw him down headlong.” Did Jesus try to get away? Yes, he did! The account tells us: “But he went through the midst of them and continued on his way.” In the turmoil, Jesus was able to get away to safety.—Luke 4:28-30.
The apostle Paul likewise loved his life and protected it. He fled from dangerous situations many times. (Acts 9:23-25; 14:5, 6) Even when he was taken into custody by the authorities, he worked for his release by appealing to Caesar.—Acts 25:11.
The principle involved in these examples was given by Jesus when he said: “When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.” (Matt. 10:23) Thus, it is the Christian course to try to avoid difficulty, when possible. Then the problem of how to defend one’s person will not arise.
Even when there is not persecution because of one’s faith, the same general principle applies. For example, you may live in a city that undergoes rioting or other disorders. What are you to do? You can choose to flee the danger. How? It may not always be possible to leave the area, but you can retire to a safe place indoors and stay there until the danger has passed. As Proverbs 26:17 says: “As one grabbing hold of the ears of a dog is anyone passing by that is becoming furious at the quarrel that is not his.” A person who heeds this advice does not get involved in the disturbances of this wicked system of things. He does not get near them even out of curiosity, but avoids them whenever possible. This serves as a protection to him.
Similarly, it is wise to seek to avoid being drawn into a situation where you may have to defend your person. For instance, you may meet a belligerent person on the street, when using public transportation, or perhaps even at your place of work. The principle to follow when confronted by such hostile person is: Do not add fuel to the fire. “Where there is no wood the fire goes out.” (Prov. 26:20) Instead, “an answer, when mild, turns away rage.” (Prov. 15:1) By talking in a kind, mild tone you may be able to turn away the wrath of the aroused person and avoid difficulty.
And if such mild answering does not quell the other person’s antagonism, then what? Proverbs 17:14 answers: “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” Thus, as in the case of fleeing persecution when it is possible, the Christian way is to get away from unreasonable persons to avoid difficulty whenever possible.
This avoiding of difficulty also means not taking unnecessary risks when traveling. Be cautious in dangerous neighborhoods, particularly at night. You might even change your secular occupation if it endangers your life by making it necessary to come home late through dangerous areas. Thus application of Christian principles can help you avoid difficulty.
WHEN PERSONALLY CONFRONTED
However, there are times when difficulty cannot be avoided. For example, even in daylight hours you may be accosted by a robber who has a weapon. What can you do? You might try to reason with the robber, perhaps identifying yourself as a Christian minister, if you are one of Jehovah’s witnesses. Many times this has resulted in Christians’ being left alone and safe.
But what if that will not suffice, and the accoster is determined to get some money at all costs? Ask yourself: Which is more important, my money or my life? Can I continue to serve Jehovah without the money I may have in my wallet or purse? Can I continue to serve Jehovah without my life? The answer is obvious. Life is far more valuable. Hence, it is extremely unwise to endanger your life just for money. And since many robbers today will not hesitate to use violence if the victim resists, it is the course of practical wisdom to let them have the money.
This same thought holds true if a thief enters your home. If he has a weapon, you may have no opportunity to call the police for assistance. The thief may be after money or other material items only. Resistance could end up in injury or death for many members of the family, so it would be unwise to resort to what some might consider “heroics” to defend material things. The safety of yourself and your loved ones comes first.
But what if you are accosted by a violent person, one who begins to attack you? Then reasoning and peacefully handing over material possessions may no longer be enough. In this extreme situation the Christian is justified in protecting himself. If unable to get away, or if in his own home, he can ward off blows and defend himself, doing what he can to restrain the attacker. Of course, if there are several, or many attackers, even this defense may prove unsuccessful.
True, a blow struck in self-defense might injure the assailant. But if it resulted in killing the attacker, this should not be intentional. A Christian who might thus accidentally kill his assailant should recognize the seriousness of what has happened. Realizing that he may bear bloodguilt for what has happened, even though it was unintentional, he ought to go humbly to God in prayer to seek his forgiveness through Christ Jesus.
What can be done if your family or spiritual brothers and sisters come under physical attack in your presence? You could undertake resistance as much as possible if there were no other means of assistance available. Such may bring your life in danger, but as Jesus said: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) It might prove practical, depending upon the circumstances, to go for help instead of trying to handle the situation alone. If there is a large group attacking one’s family or Christian brothers, the wise course may be to get police help if that is available. So the course to follow depends upon the circumstances. And even the same situation may be handled in different ways by different ones. Each person will have to decide the best course to take depending upon what he knows of the situation at the moment.
If you are a Christian woman, what should you do if, in spite of all precautions, you are set upon by a rapist? If you cannot deter him by reasoning, or by calling upon the name of Jehovah, then what? As a Christian you are under obligation to resist. This resistance includes screaming and creating as much disturbance as possible to try to frighten off the attacker and attract help. If the attack continues and you cannot break free to flee, then you would be justified even to inflict damage on your assailant if necessary. Resistance is imperative, because the rapist is after, not just money, but your virtue. An issue of integrity to Jehovah’s laws is involved here. So by no means would it be proper quietly to submit to rape, as that would be consenting to fornication.—1 Thess. 4:3.
The principle is like that set out at Deuteronomy chapter 22. There it states: “In case there happened to be a virgin girl engaged to a man, and a man actually found her in the city and lay down with her, you must also bring them both out to the gate of that city and pelt them with stones, and they must die.” Why would the girl have died under that Law covenant? The scripture continues: “The girl for the reason that she did not scream in the city.” If she did not make the effort to scream, she was viewed as consenting to fornication. But if the woman screamed and resisted and nonetheless was overpowered, then she was not guilty of complicity: “The girl . . . screamed, but there was no one to rescue her.”—Deut. 22:23-27.
Would it be different if the man had a weapon and threatened to kill you if you did not submit? No, the Scriptures plainly state that Christians are under obligation to “flee from fornication.” (1 Cor. 6:18) It is true that you face the possibility of death in this case. But you have no guarantee that if you meekly submit, your assailant will not kill you anyhow to avoid identification.
Christian women are wise if they do all they can to avoid making themselves targets for rapists. Knowing that the morals of this generation are sinking to new lows, take every precaution. In unsafe areas avoid traveling alone after dark. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 states: “If somebody could overpower one alone, two together could make a stand against him. And a threefold cord cannot quickly be torn in two.” Also consider how you dress. If a woman adopts the provocative, suggestive styles of dress now so prevalent, she indicates that she is a woman of loose morals, and in so doing she may invite trouble.
Yet, in spite of all precautions and resistance, it may occur that a Christian woman is seized by one or more assailants and raped. This has happened in recent times in the country of Malawi. Many Christian women were raped by mobs of vicious, animalistic males, mainly youths. This came as persecution; because they steadfastly refused to join in political activities that would compromise their integrity to Jehovah, they were attacked. Despite their defense, and the defense of husbands and other Christian brothers, they were all overpowered by sheer numbers. Yet, by resisting even under such circumstances Christian men and women show where they stand in the matter.
In such cases, Christians need to work hard to keep their balance and not resort to physical retaliation after such an attack, thinking this is the same as self-defense. It is proper to seek justice through all legal means, but it is not Christian to seek personal vengeance after the attack is over. “Vengeance is mine, and retribution,” says Jehovah. (Deut. 32:35) Remember, Jehovah knows full well the hurt that has been inflicted upon his servants. Are we to think that the great God of Justice will not settle accounts in his due time? We can be certain that Jehovah will soon crush unrepentant wicked ones out of existence.
We can also be certain that Jehovah will reward his integrity-keeping servants with everlasting life in his new system of things. Mental and physical health will be restored to them in perfection, so that any hurt that Christians have received for maintaining integrity to God’s laws will in time fade from memory. God will compensate for the hurt of his people, so that the horrible deaths in Roman arenas, German concentration camps or humiliations at the hands of beastly individuals such as in Malawi will not be remembered. “The former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.” (Isa. 65:17) It is always beneficial to remember what Jesus said: “Five sparrows sell for two coins of small value, do they not? Yet not one of them goes forgotten before God. But even the hairs of your heads are all numbered. Have no fear; you are worth more than many sparrows.”—Luke 12:6, 7.
RESORT TO ARMS?
Such persecutions of Jehovah’s servants cause some to wonder whether they should consider arming themselves with weapons such as revolvers and rifles to protect themselves and their loved ones.
True, in ancient Israel carnal weapons were used at times. But as noted previously, Christians are not under the Law covenant. They are under the superior Christian system of things, particularly the law of love. (John 13:34, 35) They have beaten “their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears.” (Isa. 2:4) How, then, could they reverse this process and take up arms and still consider themselves Christians?
If a Christian armed himself for protection, might he not kill some innocent person and incur bloodguilt before Jehovah? Additionally, in some cases the sight of a gun has caused robbers to fire their own weapons, taking the life of the victim. If the victim had not pulled out a weapon he might have been merely robbed, not killed. Also, in many cases having a gun in the house has resulted, not in protection for the family, but in death when the gun was accidentally fired, such as by young children.
Did Jesus arm himself in anticipation of attack? Did his followers? It is evident from 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 that the apostle Paul was often in dangerous territory. Yet, did he feel the obligation to carry a deadly weapon to protect himself or young Timothy, who traveled with him? Can we imagine the apostles, or Jesus, preaching the superior law of love and at the same time carrying on their activity armed with swords and lances?
The only reported occasion when Jesus’ followers had weapons was before receiving the holy spirit at Pentecost. This was on the Mount of Olives. Why did they have weapons here? Because Jesus had told them to! (Luke 22:36-38) Why? So Jesus could demonstrate powerfully that, had he desired to resort to carnal weapons for self-defense, he could have. But he did not! Rather, he reprimanded the one who used his weapon, saying: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:51, 52) Thus, among other things, Jesus showed he would not seek protection by means of such deadly weapons. It is as Paul later said: “The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.”—2 Cor. 10:4.
This principle of not bearing carnal weapons for self-defense really serves as a protection in many instances. How so? Because resorting to deadly weapons to defend persecuted Christians would likely result in far greater hurt than by not using them. If God’s servants were to carry arms, and fire at their assailants when persecuted, it is very likely that the full wrath of the police, or even government troops, would descend upon them. Many more Christians would probably be killed than if they had not carried arms. And if Christians, such as those in Malawi, had been armed, would countries such as Mozambique have allowed them entry as peaceful refugees?
But what about training in such ‘arts’ of self-defense as boxing, karate and judo? With such skills a man can kill another person with his bare hands, which is why the hands of those so trained are viewed by many as lethal weapons. When Jesus was attacked he did not resort to vicious karate blows, nor did he try to flip his opponents on their backs judo-style. Jesus and his followers did not spend time training to fight physical battles. Thus, the Bible counsels Christians: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, . . . keeping himself restrained under evil.” (2 Tim. 2:24) And keep in mind too that one who trains in physical self-defense is far more likely to resort to violence in difficult situations than to do what he can to avoid violence. No, such preparations are contrary to the spirit of Romans 12:18, which says: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”
KEEP YOUR EYE ON EVERLASTING LIFE
A Christian does what he can to defend himself and his loved ones on a personal basis in harmony with Christian principles. Yet, he also appreciates that his present life is not so important that he would compromise Jehovah’s laws to try to save that life. Obedience to Jehovah and everlasting life in his new system of things are far, far more important.
So the prime consideration in these “last days” is the keeping of integrity to Jehovah, not the hanging on to the present life at all costs. Compromising God’s laws to save life now would really cost life, for as Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save his soul will lose it.” Jesus added: “For what benefit will it be to a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?” But if we do not compromise, if we keep integrity to Jehovah, then, as Jesus said: “Whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it.”—Matt. 16:24-26.
So if you keep Jehovah and everlasting life in view at all times, you will be an integrity-keeper. Even when opposition or persecution endangers life, you will firmly pursue what pleases God: “For if someone, because of conscience toward God, bears up under grievous things and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing. For what merit is there in it if, when you are sinning and being slapped, you endure it? But if, when you are doing good and you suffer, you endure it, this is a thing agreeable with God.”—1 Pet. 2:19, 20.
Hence, stand firm. Grow mighty in the faith. Trust in Jehovah to give you strength to withstand any opposition or persecution that comes. “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Ps. 55:22) Thus, if you are a Christian there is no need for you to live in constant fear of assault or persecution. You can confidently face the future as you pursue your Christian course, knowing that, when difficult times come, Jehovah will sustain you.
Rejoice too in the knowledge that very soon Jehovah will bring his power to bear against this wicked system of things and will crush out of existence all those who cause hurt. And without fail he will reward his integrity-keeping servants: “For the upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.”—Prov. 2:21, 22.
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Resistance includes screaming and creating as much disturbance as possible