One of the things I have come to realize in my first few years of pastoral ministry, is that unexpected questions of all kinds come, and often as a pastor my job is not to provide an answer so much as provide a road-map to help the questioner come to a biblical answer for themselves. Lately, I think because of events that have recently been in the news, I have been hearing a question I never anticipated, “Pastor should I, as a Christian, get/carry a gun?”
Now before I get into the nitty gritty, in the interest of full disclosure, let me give you a little bit of personal background. I grew up with guns. Because of my father’s background we always had guns in the house. I was taught gun safety at a very early age, I honestly can’t remember ever not being comfortable with guns. I received a bb gun for my 8th birthday, .22 rifle for my 10th birthday, and a .22 pistol for my 12th birthday (although my father kept possession of the firearms; I was allowed to keep the bb gun myself). I was taught always to regard guns as I would a sharp ax (not like the dull disused one in your garage, but like the razor sharp ones used in timbersports or in a bygone era by lumberjacks); an inanimate tool that needs to be treated with respect and can be very dangerous if used improperly or by someone who doesn’t know how to properly handle it.
Also having grown up in not the best neighborhood, I knew people, both criminals and otherwise law abiding citizens alike, who carried guns, in fact more than once I had a gun pointed at me. I have known people who have been the victim of gun violence, I have known people who have defended their home with a firearm (all without ever firing a shot), and my best friend in high school used a handgun in a suicide attempt.
Before my Californian seminary sojourn I was an avid shooter. Nary a month went by that didn’t see me heading to the range, the woods, or the sporting clays course to enjoy the shooting sports. And truth be known I miss living somewhere I can break out my .22 and safely plink around in my yard. I like shooting and I am still very comfortable with and around guns.
That all said, none of that matters, because Scripture is our authority, not our (or my, some other blogger’s, or your pastor’s) experience. Of course nowhere in Scripture is there a prohibition of owning or carrying a weapon nor is it ever commanded (yes I know what Luke 22:36 says, and no it is not about being armed), which puts this question squarely in the category of a grey area. (And you can read some principles for glorifying God in the grey areas here)
But when it comes to this issue I think the big question is not if you as a Christian should carry or own a gun, but why you want to own or carry a gun. “Self-defense” is not a good enough answer.
The real issue, at least in the conversations I have had lately, is fear and anxiety. Just as getting married is not a cure for the sin of lust, strapping on a sidearm is not a cure for the sin of anxiety. Yes I called it sin. Paul does too. Philippians 4:6 commands, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” If you are wracked with fear and anxiety about the possibility of a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, or garden variety violent crime you are in sin. If that fear is driving you to arm yourself, that is a decision rooted in sin.
Scripture is also clear that anxiety is not an effective way to prolong your life or to ensure your safety. Twice (Matt 6:27; Luke 12:25) Jesus is recorded as asking who through worry can add one single hour to the span of their life. Of course the implied answer to the question is no one. While in the original context this question was asked in relation to worry about food, water and clothing we must remember in that culture, for the poor, food security was deadly serious, and a far greater threat to Jesus’ hearers lives than terrorism or gun violence is to any of us.
Scripturally speaking God is absolutely sovereign over the length of our lives. Consider the words of Job 14:5 “…his days are determined, and the number of his months is with You, and You have appointed his limits that he cannot pass” and 1 Samuel 2:6 “The Lord kills and brings to life; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” and Deuteronomy 32:39 “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” The clear testimony of Scripture is that God alone determines the length of our lives, and we can do nothing to alter what He has declared before the foundation of the world (Isa 46:10).
Rather than looking at this truth negatively, I would suggest understanding it this way; you cannot die before the exact instant that God has ordained. No terrorist, mass shooter, or common criminal can rob you of one second that the Lord has given you.
Does this mean that it is wrong for a Christian to own or even to carry a gun? No. I say that with certainty because of the example of the Peter, who even when walking with Christ carried a sword (or at least a very large knife). We know that he carried this weapon, because on one occasion he took it out and used it, at the arrest of Jesus, striking off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:10) who Jesus immediately healed. While no comment is made about the carrying of a sword, nor is he told to drop it, he is rebuked for thinking that using it will affect the outcome that God has ordained. Matthew 26:52-54:
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
And notice the warning that all who take (up) the sword will perish by the sword. This is not just a piece of rabbinic wisdom. Judas had procured a band of soldiers according to John 18:3, and the word translated “band” there is speira, a 10th of a legion. In the face of hundreds, most likely, of Roman soldiers not to mention a compliment to temple guards, Peter chose to trust in his sword rather than the sovereignty of God. Had Jesus not intervened, I imagine that it would have gone as might be expected anytime a fisherman starts flailing away at a mass of trained and hardened fighting men. Jesus said essentially put that away before you meet the end that comes to those who rely on force.
All of this to say, as a pastor, when someone broaches this subject with me, I am not so concerned with the question of “if” they should have a gun, but “why” they want one. In recent months I have had two conversations on this subject one of which concluded with the person saying, that as part of providing for his family he felt that they should have a gun in the house, one of which concluded with the family deciding that not having a gun in the house was an opportunity to grow in reliance on the sovereignty of God. Those were both good and biblical decisions that were made not out of fear, but out of a desire to please God and to live in light of His word.
Should you own or carry a gun? I don’t know, that is a question to be discussed with your spouse, family and elders. But I do know that whether you do or don’t, your decision must be free of fear and anxiety and made in total reliance on the sovereignty of God. Anything less is simply not God honoring.