The Problem With Shooting People

As a person who often speaks from a nonviolent perspective, I’m regularly asked the following question:

So if someone broke into your house and was intent on harming your wife & family, you’d just let them do it?

Please understand the heart from which I’m about to say this: the people that I discuss this with are people I love and care for dearly. They are people I feel are worth having the discussion with. I’m not minimizing them as individuals. faceless210_Copy1857-759954

The problem is that this question is built on two faulty assumptions:

1. A gun or other means of assault would save my family from harm.
2. Nonviolence means non-resistance.

Neither of those are true, but that’s a discussion for another blog. What I have been thinking about lately is “Why does this question bother me so much?” Honestly, couldn’t I just be content to hold an opinion that it’s fine for people to do whatever they choose and I’ll do what I choose? Why does it turn my stomach to have this discussion?

Driving to the office this morning and listening to Dallas Willard, I got some clarity. In teaching on Jesus’ commandments in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), Willard said this:

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies. Why? Well, because it’s a good thing to do. Now, does that mean that I always give in to them? No, it just means that whether you give in to them or not, you love them. (paraphrase)

Bingo.

The thing that troubles me about this whole discussion is not that one human being would consider killing another human being to protect something that is important or valuable or defenseless. That’s simply the narrative of history. What troubles me most is this: people who follow Jesus, who claim to be redeemed and forgiven by Him, ooze with hate and disgust for the person who wants to harm something important to them. Again with Willard: whether we resist (violently, perhaps) or not, do we love them?

It isn’t an issue of protection, it’s an issue of love. The protection question thus becomes uninteresting.

I see it on Facebook posts, quotes, hear it in conversation – people like me who have been forgiven much are compelled to hate with vengeance the person who would break into their home, threaten pain or damage to their property and their families.

So can we protect that which we’ve been given, which is not an evil impulse in and of itself, without hating the one who would threaten us? Do we have to hate someone else to protect ourselves?

And if we love, then the question becomes how do we protect? We can resist, absolutely, but how do we do it and still love the other person? I sometimes wonder if our “mandate to protect” is simply permission to act out our hate and disgust.

Think about the phrases we often hear surrounding this discussion:

They had it coming to them.

Worthless scum like this deserve what they get.

Break into my house and see what happens.

Only when we’re pressed do we say, “Well, I wanted to protect my family. Don’t you?” We’re past the real issue, from a formation into Christlikeness perspective.

It begins with utter contempt and disgust for the human being – the person who, regardless of what they do to your deadbolt or window latch, is still created in the image of God and loved deeply by Him no matter what – that makes it impossible to love them and far easier to erase their presence from the earth.

I wonder how our world would change if we began to see even those who would do harm to us as lovable. The opposite of lovable is what Jesus calls “contempt,” illustrated by the insult Raca which allegedly came from the sound your throat makes when you clear it to spit on someone. If they are worth spitting on, they are worth killing. It’s a short trip.

How much  would we clamor for the legalization of ways to do harm to people if we were learning from Jesus how to rid ourselves of cultivated, nurtured contempt for other people? How many irritations and disputes would end with a deep breath and a step in the opposite direction instead of a fist fight or an emotionally violent altercation?

If we want to see the level of hate, anger, and contempt decrease in our lives we have to answer this question honestly. If we want to become like Jesus, as His disciples, we have to answer this question honestly.

The question of how to love our enemies, not the question of whether or not it is okay to shoot them.

  • Waylon

    Good thoughts Preacher Casey.

    I wonder how much this lust for theoretical vengeance stems from the deep seated fear that seems to drive so much of our society? I heard someone a while back say that anger is always a secondary emotion that flows from either fear or hurt. Underlying fear would explain the anger in the discussions of what one would do should someone break into one’s home.

    • cktygrett

      Fear, definitely. Contempt for other human beings, definitely. I’m as guilty of it as the next guy, but I’m struck by the hate and anger that fear gives birth to. Thanks for the comment and the overt Steinbeck reference. Love that book.

  • Donavan Vicha

    This “hypothetical” situation recalls that quote from Gilead I left on a previous post. When confronted with that person who has broken into my home, if I respond in kind, that person has taken control of my actions. If I confront that person and ask, Why has God put this person here? I am no longer under that person’s geas of kill or be killed. I am under God’s geas, which is about love and participating in the grace that saves us.

    Great thought-provoking posts!