Even though i, as a Christian, am not to return evil for evil and should turn the other cheek, shouldn't i violently defend myself when in life-threatening circumstances?
In the last post, i argued that Christ serves as an example that we mustn't engage in violent retaliation even in life-threatening circumstances. Someone may respond: "Yeah, but Christ had a special mission--Christ was incarnated for the particular purpose of dying on the cross, so of course He didn't aim to preserve His own physical life." That's true. But however uniquely motivated it was, Peter tells us that Christ's refusal to retaliate violently is meant as an example which His disciples are bound to follow (1Peter 2:19ff).
There are additional bases for a Christian commitment to refuse to retaliate violently. (Notice, these aren't additional places where the Bible commands us not to violently defend our mortal lives; these are foundational values upon which that practice is built.)
First, Christ forbids mortal fear:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matt 10:28-31)Believing i have some deeply important need for someone else or myself to protect my mortal life is rooted in fear--a fear of loss. i can quite naturally feel that people who could kill me really have a power over me--a power to take away something i can't get back, a power to take away something very valuable. Thus i may be motivated to make decisions out of fear of losing my mortal life rather than motivated by decisions out of awe for God who is in total control of life and eternity. Christ condemns this very thing.
God sees to the needs of sparrows. i'm worth more than sparrows. If God wants my life spared, He can make it happen. If He doesn't, that's up to Him. If someone wrongfully takes my life, God will sort that out. My responsibility is not fear those who can or intend to do so. Those people do not possess ultimately control over life and eternity. My fearing them and in desperation trying to preserve my own life against them lends creedance to the idea that they have some level of power or moral force over me that they do not, in fact, have.
Paul exemplified this very principle. Paul was faced with perils and uncertainty in his ministry.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (Acts 20:22-24)Further, when his own companions begged him not to go to Jerusalem for fear of his physical well-being, Paul exclaimed he was ready not only to be bound but also to die for Christ's sake (Acts 21:10-14). Rather than some rationale for being ready to fight to protect and preserve his own life, Paul identifies with the notion of a readiness to die if need be. i'm suggesting then that our desperation to preserve our own physical lives to the point of violent retaliation reflects either an inappropriate attachment to our mortal lives, a failure to trust in God's justice and providential control, a fear of those who might take our mortal lives from us, or all of the above. Christian discipleship calls us to learn to grow past such fears.
Secondly, a Christian has a very special hope--the hope of resurrection.
we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:We eagerly away the redemption of our bodies and not even death can stop God from giving that to us. Paul counted everything as loss compared to attaining resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11), and thus did not shrink back from entering rather perilous circumstances on numerous occasions.
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:23-25, 35-39)
The hope of resurrection means that death no longer has tyranny over us. Thus, those who's strongest weapon is death ("do what i say, or i'll kill you") no longer have power over us. Will they kill us? Maybe so. But so what? God will raise us back up again anyway. Even my bodily existence is not something anyone can take away from me.
How much do i trust that God is in control of life and eternity? How far does my trust in His promise to raise from the dead go? If someone threatens to use lethal force against me, what will i do? If i truly believe i have nothing to fear from those who can merely kill my body then do nothing, and if i truly believe that God will raise me from the dead, then how should those beliefs effect my behavior in that situation?