Agents of Wrath
As I’ve tried to explore recently, most of us have not gouged out our eyes and cut off our hands. I know Christians who have sold houses and fields and lands, but it’s usually to buy another set of houses and fields, with a little something extra for that mission trip to Baja. I have yet to meet any of my reformed friends who have made themselves a eunuch for Christ’s sake.
I have met a few who act like eunuchs, and that’s what sends me blog-ward today. Some folks sorta see themselves up on the cross, but if they can’t get there, they’ll see you dead instead, along with your children.
In the wake of the Texas church shooting, I’m gratified that most of my faith friends are responding rationally, by buying more guns and more ammunition and taking it to church if necessary, but there are a few who pine for St. Stephen status, which in the face of this particular tragedy actually seems a little comic. How would that work? If you recall the story, Stephen gives an inspired, and rather lengthy, oration to a lot of angry Pharisees. The message is an invitation that carries with it condemnation if rejected. The angry, blind Pharisees stone Stephen to death. He is so full of the Holy Spirit he sees God and Jesus Christ in the heavens above him. The Pharisees were a cold, evil, murderous lot, but at least they let Stephen speak before they killed him. There’s a narration there, a beginning, middle, and an end, because God tells a good story.
Compare that to Texas, where a bearded, rubber-cheeked dolt, dressed in body armor, begins shooting children without warning. What’s a modern martyr to do? Rush to the front of the church and offer up his body sacrificially for the flock? Is there time for a closing speech of some sort, between rounds? Can you get a little witnessing in before your exit wounds explode, lead-filled, on the little girl behind you? In the presence of an evil flab-troll, is there time to put on robe and sandals and die for Christ?
For the distinction challenged, let’s make it clear: there is a difference between a missionary in a solitary face-off against a band of belligerent legalists and a pastor (read “shepherd”) encountering a deranged killer pointing a gun at children, the children he has an obligation to protect. “Our weapons are not carnal,” is NOT the applicable scripture here. “Sell your cloak and buy a sword,” is the one you’re looking for. This would be the time to live out the “agent of wrath” mandate: any Christian with the sense God gave a pineapple would be braining this spawn of the devil with a baseball bat or shooting him in the head with a .357. Any reasonable fellowship, these days, should encourage trained believers to carry firearms, because these are not missionary occasions. They are justice occasions. You put down mad dogs; you don’t hand them a tract.
Now, going back to the earliest church fathers, there are those who disagree. With some of these folks, today–the Amish, neo-pietists, pacifists–you almost get the feeling they think they can add to Christ’s substitutionary death. With others, there is profound sincerity. I don’t think any would question the sacrificial example of missionaries who have endured torture, imprisonment and death for the sake of the gospel — meek lambs who converted thousands with their example. There certainly is a time for love, for tolerance, for peace, for abject surrender. It’s usually the work of solitary men, without families, and without fellowships, who have nothing but their own individual lives to give. Sometimes, as with the early church, this martyrdom takes place under the rule of cruel pagans, when there is no temporal power the church can claim, and no common sense of justice.
My sense is that the Solomonic principle of “seasons” still applies. There really is a time for love and a time for hate, a time to surrender and a time to tie a millstone around the neck of an abuser. There is a time for peace, and a time for war. Different believers approach the problem of danger, and attack, differently, and I think that’s well within God’s purpose for us. Years ago, a home was burglarized in Southern California. A frail old lady was wrestled to the ground by the intruder, and when she struggled against his grip, both of them rolled face up, only to see a painting of Jesus on the wall. The old lady couldn’t fight, but she said, “see Him? He died for me. To save me. He can save you too.” The burglar gritted his teeth, froze for a second, and then left the house. (A true story, made all the more poignant in that it was told on network television. Even the godless left recognized its power.)
I have nothing against the genuinely meek, who are willing to risk their own life, and only their own life, to show the strength of surrender, the power of a soft answer, in the face of danger.
But if you are a parent, or a pastor, or an elder, or a husband, you have a different set of obligations. The sheep are in your care, and you need to know that God doesn’t look kindly on hirelings. You need to be ready for the wolves, and that means having a knife or a club or a gun at the ready. There’s a fool-hardy false piety out there in some quarters. I’ve seen “believers” ask dumb questions like, “is your gun more powerful than God?” This is grossly insulting. No one, among the faithful, doubts the supreme power of God, but Nehemiah didn’t wait for the wall to raise itself. He employed trowel and sword as God’s tools in building that wall. David didn’t wait for God to kill the giant. He picked up some stones.
I asked one correspondent this morning, “if a policeman saves a family by firing upon an assailant, isn’t he exercising God’s wrath upon the wicked?” The answer I received was alarming: “being a policeman isn’t the job of a Christian.”
“Believers” of this sort worry me. I don’t think you can keep a vineyard, and walk around in a holiness trance at the same time. When a nutty pop band from the sixties, (the Byrds) understand the Biblical wisdom of “turning” to every season, of applying God’s Word to the actual occasion at hand, but professing believers would actually stand by and think themselves holy for watching passively as children are slaughtered, well, then something’s wrong, folks. Cowardice is not piety.
The work of heaven begins here, folks, and it includes difficult arenas of jurisdiction in a fallen world, things like keeping bread out of the mouths of people who won’t work and raising the sword against the children of wrath.
The whole counsel of God — or none of it, thank you very much.