The Bible, in one sense, is the story of the cosmic struggle of good versus evil. It teaches us that evil is real, that it is in the world to stay, and that, as Solzhenitsyn said, “The line between good and evil runs through the middle of the human heart.” The Bible also teaches us that we have a duty to resist evil, first in our own hearts, and then in the world, and to work for the good of others.
Three events in my past have shaped the way I think about resistance to violent evil. One was a burglary. The other was an attack by a pit bull dog. The third was my older brother’s mental illness. Combined, they took my understanding of this issue from the realm of theory into reality.
A fourth event, the Columbine massacre, though not personal, brought me into acquaintance with the writings of David Grossman, whose article, Trained to Kill, I highly recommend. Find it via Google. Grossman tracks the rising embrace of violence as entertainment with the rising occurrence of mass shootings, especially among youth.
The burglary happened in a garage I operated in Atlanta, Georgia. The garage was part of a large, downtown, property that had an electronic security system monitored by an on-site, twenty-four hour security staff. One zone of the system had been malfunctioning and, when it alarmed one night, the security staff by-passed it and ignored it. The thieves made off with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and a dump-truck.
Lesson: A security system that isn’t in place and operating 24/7 isn’t a security system. It is a false sense of security.
As he neared forty years of age, my late older brother, Mike, suffered a mental and emotional breakdown that was later diagnosed as atypical bi-polar disorder. He was treated with medications and counseling and eventually overcame his illness. But prior to that, and with Mike’s total agreement, we removed all weapons from his home. He knew that he was too unstable to have them.
Lesson: Guns and mental illness don’t mix.
Many years later my daughters were walking a neighbor’s puppy, which was on a leash, around our quiet neighborhood. The puppy was attacked by a pit bull dog. Our town has a leash law, but the pit bull wasn’t on a leash. The man walking with the pit bull denied owning it. I came upon the scene moments later. We kicked the pit bull, hammered it with sticks, but nothing would make it let go. Someone called the police. When they finally arrived to Taser the pit bull dog the puppy was dead. It was an ugly, bloody, dangerous situation. The dog could have easily turned on my daughter, who was bravely kicking it in the head, and killed her.
- Often, law-enforcement cannot arrive in time to prevent crime or death.
- Inadequate weapons will not stop a killer.
- Violence can happen anywhere, at any time, usually when you least expect it.
- You need to be prepared ahead of time.
Those experiences combined with a Biblical theology of evil reinforced the following conclusions.
Violent Evil is Real and Random
Violent evil is real. It will be with us until Christ returns. From our point of view it is also random. We never know when it is coming our way. Therefore, we must be prepared to meet it. We can prepare by choosing passive defense systems, as some have done, or by choosing active defense. But we should not be caught unaware: evil is real and we can never know when it is coming our way, so we must be prepared.
Evil Must Be Resisted
Evil must be resisted, always spiritually, sometimes by force.
Spiritually, the best thing we can do as a culture to resist violent evil is to devalue it as a source of entertainment. It is one thing to watch a police procedural where the good guys must shoot the bad guys, or to watch a history feature that shows the tragic along with the heroic in war. But we have crossed over to the dark side when the entertainment we consume is little more than computer generated blood-sport. This form of entertainment and the people who produce it need to be treated to the same public criticism that tobacco companies have received.
Physically, many people assume that Jesus’ only response to evil was passive acceptance. That is inaccurate as well as inadequate. Jesus actively resisted the hypocritical teaching of the religious leaders of his day, as well as their usurious exploitation of worshippers in the temple, so much so that he used a whip to drive them from the place. He also illustrated some of his teaching with reference to a “strong man, fully armed, guarding his own house,” and with a “King, preparing for battle,” without implying that there was anything wrong with the use of force in those moments. When asked by soldiers how to practice righteousness he did not tell them to lay down their arms and resign their commissions. When preparing his men for his departure he recognized the need for an active defense against evil by urging them to provide themselves with swords (Luke 22:36). He also assured his followers that the only reason he had not called on a legion of angels to deliver him from death was that his Father had a higher purpose, namely the salvation of humanity that could only be accomplished by his sacrifice. He taught us not to take personal vengeance for a wrong committed against us. But by no means did he advocate acquiescence to violent, criminal, aggression. Turning the other cheek to a slap means absorbing a deeply personal insult without retaliation. It does not mean submitting to violent crime without a fight.
Passive Defense is Insufficient
In resistance to physical evil, there is no such thing as a passive system of defense that cannot be compromised. The best defense is a good offense. This is not just a trite truism. It was the analysis given by General George S. Patton of the efficacy of the Maginot Line during WWII. France staked its security on that line, a huge, expensive series of fortifications along its borders with Germany and Italy, and fell to the superior mobility of the Wehrmacht in short order. The standard operating procedure with airline hijackers prior to 9/11 was to try to negotiate with them, a passive defense. Now, many pilots fly armed and negotiation isn’t part of the defense plan. Newtown school had a good system of passive defense that was diligently applied. But as we all know, it was completely inadequate to the task.
It is not yet known if Adam Lanza was on psychiatric medicines. But the history of mass shootings in America indicates that it’s a good bet. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, also known as anti-depressants, have been a great service to millions of people. But they are often prescribed indiscriminately and not properly monitored. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating that, in some patients, they can induce suicidal and even homicidal states of mind. It would be impossible, short of a descent into a Soviet-style government intrusion, to prevent everyone in the country who has ever taken one of these medicines from possessing a firearm. But mental illness and firearms, any firearms, make a lethal mix. If you have mental illness in your home and you own firearms, you owe it to your family and to your fellow citizens to get the firearms out of the house or, at the very least, keep them under lock and key.
The Role of the State
God has ordained a role for the state to play in the restraint of evil (see Romans 13:1-5). But when the state cannot restrain evil the responsibility falls on the individual to defend himself and other innocents. There is a word for people who put all of their confidence in police protection when it comes to violent crime: victim. That is no slight on our public servants. It is a simple recognition of the facts. They cannot be everywhere at once.
The Value of an Armed Citizenry
Many people in our country believe that the best way to prevent more mass shootings is to disarm the public, to take guns away from all law-abiding citizens. I do not fault them for holding that view. I just believe that it is terribly short-sighted because it embraces passive defense as the only defense. But violent evil is a reality we must live with until Christ returns. We have a responsibility to resist it. From our point of view, it is random. Therefore we must always be prepared to meet it. Passive defense systems have limited effectiveness. Criminals and the criminally insane will find weapons. The best defense against violent evil is an equally violent offense. Therefore, the best defense against the next mass shooter is a properly trained person equipped with adequate firepower to meet the threat.
Providentially, we have a large cadre of such people now available to us. As the drawdown in Afghanistan continues a number of dedicated public servants, highly trained in the skills of armed conflict in the presence of dense civilian populations, will be coming home and looking for jobs. Now would be a good time to put them to work in our schools.