When not to defend one's life

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Confessor, Sep 25, 2009.

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  1. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I am aware that the sixth commandment requires us to defend our own lives against attackers, but there is clear Biblical warrant for not always doing this, e.g. Jesus and Stephen.

    (1) What are the various conditions which make it permissible not to defend one's own life, and (2) do these conditions make the non-defense of one's own life not only permissible, but obligatory?
  2. Montanablue

    Montanablue Puritan Board Doctor

    I think that it is permissible to neglect your own life if you are doing it to save another life. For example, a parent running in front of a car to push their child out of the way; a pregnant woman opting out of the treatment that could hurt her unborn child; one person throwing themselves in front of a bullet for another.

    I think there is pretty clear scriptural warrant for this. First of all, you are still following the sixth commandment because you are defending a life (its just not your own). It would also seem that you are following Christ's example in sacrificing your life to save another.
  3. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    That's a good point; it's clearly permissible to sacrifice one's life for another. Do you think that would ever be obligatory?
  4. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I'm not sure that Jesus or Stephen gave no defense. They both testified to the Truth but darkness hated the light they had to offer at their respective trials.

    Is your question along the lines of physical resistance?
  5. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

  6. Montanablue

    Montanablue Puritan Board Doctor

    Hmmmmm.... I'm actually not sure that I know the answer to this question. Its hard to say without having a specific example in mind. I wouldn't rule it out, but I can't think of a situation in which one would be required to sacrifice one's life - although there are many in which it would seem to be the right or more favorable thing.
  7. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    If you are unlikely to be successful in your self-defence or escape bid, it may bring more glory to God to go passively like your Lord to the stake or the gibbet.

    If you were unsuccessful in your escape bid/struggles with the hangman, people might say this Christian is a coward; his Lord isn't giving him strength to die well.

    You may also get the opportunity to say some last words that may glorify God down through the centuries.

    I've just read Jochem Douma's, "Responsible Conduct". The word "euthanasia" used to be connected with the Christian's prayer that he/she would have a good death i.e. a death that would glorify God. I suppose this is related to your Q of how far to take self-defence.
  8. Rich Koster

    Rich Koster Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    In a case of being put on public display after capture and offered to deny Christ or hang, I'll take the rope.
  9. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    We don't believe in "vitalism" as Christians which means clinging on to life or preserving life at all costs, as if life was some kind of god.

    E.g. the Christian who has undergone treatment for cancer and knows that the next treatment will be very painful and arduous and yet will only yield a very short extra period of time on this Earth. Are they obliged to take the treatment to save their lives for a couple of weeks?

    E.g. Samson who knew that he could spare his life and miss an opportunity to take a good number of God's enemies with him, or risk almost certain death, and do a great deed for God's Kingdom. He was commended for doing the former.

    Christ of course is in an ethical realm of His own here, because he told us that He had a command from His Father to lay down His own life (John 10:18).

    Why did Christ ask if there were any swords, and then say that two were enough? Although He wasn't going to defend Himself because of the above command, and because He was carrying the guilt of His people, did He expect His disciples to defend themselves if they needed to? (Luke 22:35-38).
  10. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Clearly if those are our only two options, then death is to be chosen -- but what if the options are recant, die, or fight back?
  11. gene_mingo

    gene_mingo Puritan Board Junior

    I would think that if your act of self defense actually would cause the death of innocent people, then you are obligated not to act in self defense.
  12. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    So you don't believe in the theory of just war, since there will always be collateral damage?
  13. gene_mingo

    gene_mingo Puritan Board Junior

    I am unsure how war equates with self defense. Perhaps you mean national defense?
  14. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Quote from Richard
    This may not be the correct expression for the ethical position that places considerations of one's life or that of others' above all else (?)
  15. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm not sure that we could say that Stephen didn't put up physical resistance and went passively. I mean, he was clearly outnumbered and I can't imagine that physical resistance would have gotten him anywhere. That's like facing the firing squad unarmed. Sure, you'd fight if you could, but what can you really do except utter some final words?

    I would think that there were some cases in which people were morally obligated to sacrifice their life to save someone else--if, for example, they were the ones who got them into the situation to begin with (example: I was the one who let the tiger out of his cage, and now it is after me and my friend George, who can't run as fast as I can). Or if it is someone who is under my care and protection. As a parent, I feel obligated to save my children at the cost of my own life, and as a teacher, I would feel obligated to protect the students in my classroom with my life. I cannot imagine, for example, if there was a gunman on campus, that a teacher with any moral values would dive out the window and leave the students to the mercy of the gunman.
  16. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    I've never made a moral distinction between collective defense and individual defense.

    So it's ok to kill innocents if it is done on a large enough scale? And what about the case where innocents will be killed in defense of yourself and others?
  17. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    Good question! I know there are many ppl in other countries who are dying for Christ and they don't fight back. Are they sinning for not trying to defend themselves? I have a hard to believing so.
  18. gene_mingo

    gene_mingo Puritan Board Junior


    Only if you say so.

    Not sure what your point is here.?
  19. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    If the issue has been plainly decided, and the attack is against Christ, that is, against me (or my family) for being Christ's, for being Christians, then I think the biblical and historic example that carries the greatest instruction is patiently bearing and suffering a martyrs death.

    This was the policy that brought the heathen Roman empire to its knees. It is obvious to EVERY human moral conscience that brutality in service of power is indefensible. The Roman empire fell to Christ and the Christians (in the proper sense) because it lost on the only battlefield that matters: the moral "plain".

    And that is the one place that the Christians fought. They didn't take up arms, they didn't play the insurrectionists. They hid or disappeared when possible, or they bravely faced the lion, the fire, the sword. They died as sacrificial lambs, in imitation of their Christ. And in so doing they exposed the BEASTLY nature of human empire. This is what they were supposed to do.

    The Word of God is our only sword, as Christians.

    Self-defense, or its corollaries, fall under a separate head, the DUTY to keep the 6th commandment, in your personal area of responsibility. Note, too, the distinction between keeping and enforcing the 6th commandment. Duties respecting the first may be very different from duties related to the latter, which are ordinarily the exclusive purvue of Ministers of Government (law) and their legally defined deputies.

    Ordinarily, passive and non-violent resistance, peaceful non-compliance is the Christian citizen's sole recourse. With the addition of the doctrine of interposition (the concept of lesser magistrates, equally beholden to the highest Law as the the king above), one may discover a right to resist evil powers has been provided by God, on occasion, as relief from oppression. But this right is not always available to the oppressed. God doesn't always provide a judge to benefit his people or the rank-and-file citizenry. Actions do have consequences in the cause-effect world God made, which aren't always interdicted by Providence.

    In any case, there is an antithesis between the Christian citizen's inalienable right to self-preservation (life), and his calling to die for Christ's sake. His willingness to defend his life, or his families life, or his civil brethren may result in a few (good) lives saved at the expense of one or many (evil) foes. This is an extremely difficult and awful decision, which will frequently be decided differently by those of the same faith commitment.

    However, as a Christian on trial for his faith, his willingness to be crucified a victim for Christ's sake is certain, in the long run, to result in vastly more lives saved at the cost of nothing but his own pain, and ultimately recoverable body (in improved condition).
  20. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    If it's wrong to collaterally kill innocents when you act in self defense, is it less wrong or equally wrong to have the same body count if you are defending not only yourself but others? Do you count how many could be saved vs killed with and without the act of self defense? Or were you just shooting from the hip and haven't really developed your position?
  21. gene_mingo

    gene_mingo Puritan Board Junior

    I think I stated my opinion. Whatever conclusion you seem to be driving toward is of your own creation. I really see no point, since you can't distinguish between some one being mugged and an act of war.
  22. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    Since I don't know your definition of an act of war, I agree we have no basis for discussion. I can't see the moral distinction between an army vet bombing a building in OKC, a muslim trying to bomb a building in Dallas, or the same events happening in Iraq. Would the moral imperatives change if the woman driving down the suburban expressway waving a grenade had been from a street gang rather than a suburban muslim housewife?

    You, not I, are the one drawing lines, and I've asked you where the lines are drawn. You haven't been able to show that.
  23. kalawine

    kalawine Puritan Board Junior

    :agree: If I am arrested and condemned for Christ's sake I am going to go to my death for His glory. On the other hand, if a criminal attacks my children (family, self) with the intent to kill them (which I would have to assume) and it is within my power to do so, I'm going to put a bullet between his eyes.
  24. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Can I muddy the waters a little more? I have a friend, (a huge, hulking, manly Marine friend to be precise) who has taken the position that if he were to be attacked he would not defend himself by stopping the assailant. (Even though he has more than enough strength and experience to stop someone.) His thought is this, if I kill my attacker he will go to hell. If he kills me I will go to heaven. In essence he sees that he is laying down his life sacrificially for someone else, (i.e. his attacker.) Now of course he is a Marine so he's not a pacifist. He would gladly fight and defend the rights and lives of others, but what about in this kind of situation? What do y'all think? Have I stated my question clearly?
  25. kalawine

    kalawine Puritan Board Junior

    Exodus 22

    2 “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.

    I interpret this passage to mean that if a thief breaks in at night and you don't know whether or not he is trying to kill you and your family you should fight, not with the intention of killing him, but to defend yourself. If he dies so be it - you are not guilty. If he breaks in after sunrise (in broad daylight) there is much less confusion and you may be able to avoid such violence and allow law enforcement to takecare of the situation.
  26. Brian Withnell

    Brian Withnell Puritan Board Junior

    While I might be caught short of supporting verses at the moment, I would think that a man that would not at least risk his life (even if it were near certain he would die) in order to save his family is close to being a coward. I know I would feel valid guilt and shame if I were not willing to do whatever it takes to save my wife and children from harm.

    -----Added 9/27/2009 at 02:01:27 EST-----

    Bruce, I'm truly amazed. I cannot disagree more. If the threat to life is from an authority (the government) as was the case for the Christians and the Roman government, then there is submission to authority which is a duty. But if one of my neighbors looses it, and decides to attack my family, then it is Christian duty to protect them within whatever limits I can within the law of God. The passage in Exodus 22:2-3, quoted by kalawine, is just as valid today as any other time in the sense of the principle behind it (yes, it was law to the nation of Israel, and passed with that nation, but the principle taught is still the same).

    When an evil man kills a good man and done with nothing but passivity, evil has won that battle ... and we should strive to have good win. If your life were lost, it is not just your life, but those that you support that are also diminished by that loss.

    The testimony of scripture is not uniform on this either. Acts 16.37-38 show that Paul and Silas did not just mutely submit to the illegal acts done to them, but made demands of even those who were authorities, when those authorities acted illegally. In Act 9.23-30 shows Paul not just submitting to violence, but finding a way of escape. In both of these cases, the violence was explicitly because Paul was preaching the gospel of Christ ... yet he did not go as a sheep before the shearers or a lamb to the slaughter. And just as Paul, I believe we have an obligation to defend our life as well as those around us from evil.

    From a practical standpoint, if someone were to break into my house, I would not wait to find out if the person was attacking my home because I call on the name of Christ, I would defend my home from violent attack because it is the right thing to do.

    -----Added 9/27/2009 at 02:13:52 EST-----

    I do not shoot from the hip. I take the gun in both hands; I take quick, but careful aim, and use all the skill and training I have to dispatch the criminal while minimizing the risk to others.

    I do feel it is necessary for to learn carefully the tools one uses in all endeavors, especially when those tools could be lethal to innocent people if they are used improperly. When you first get behind the wheel of a car, you need to be careful and properly trained, practice under the watch and control of an experienced driver. You need to train so the 2000 pound bullet that flies down the road at 70 mph does not become lethal to those around you. The same is true of defensive tools. One should train, practice often, and learn how to minimize collateral damage. It is not possible to be 100% positive when you drive a car that you won't make a mistake or that some unforeseeable event will cause a fatal crash; 100% certainty is not needed to drive a car. Neither is 100% certainty available in any area of life, but that does not excuse inaction.
  27. gene_mingo

    gene_mingo Puritan Board Junior

    You seem to try to drive my position to your own conclusion. Which is fine for you, I guess. I do find your illustrations to be pointed as if those examples are the only situations one would find themselves in to act in self defense. I realize you can't make the distinction, but the it seems that the thread is about self defense not group defense. You claim I have drawn lines, but I don't think I have. Maybe you have misunderstood me. I really see no need to argue with you about the moral distinctions between self and national defense. You have made your position clear and that is not what the thread is about.
  28. ewenlin

    ewenlin Puritan Board Junior

    That was what was said of Jim Elliot and co. When facing imminent death from the hands of the people they were trying to reach, they chose not to defend themselves even though they were armed with rifles and the attackers bows and arrows. Reason being they knew they (Elliot) were ready for heaven but the people were not.

    I think this is admirable, the highest missionary call and sacrifice. But facing a deranged man on the streets of USA? If it's possible to subdue without causing death I think that should be our first mode of action.
  29. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    with all due respect, I'm not sure you read my post closely enough to catch the three-fold nuance to my reply.

    I think we have to start by figuring out first when and where, under what circumstances we will follow Christ to the cross. We should be very clear to ourselves on this point. If you haven't decided how to be a lamb led to the slaughter, or you are frankly unwilling to EVER be (or allow your wife and children to be!) this submissive under any circumstances, without violent refusal--now would be a good time to think about it, not when the potential suddenly comes upon you.

    Other (criminal, warfare, etc.) situations will draw forth from each of us a variety of responses, bearing in mind self-defense, self-preservation, family, brotherhood, etc.
  30. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Maybe we should all just start carrying these:


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