Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Would Jesus Snipe!?

To even ask such a question borders on mocking our Lord. We do not wish to do so but we should point out the folly of using Jesus and God to sanction the cause of war, even a just war. This essay comes as on Monday, I first read about sniper scopes with Bible verses engraved on them over here, then I saw it actually made Nightline last night. You can read the article at ABC NEWS. Here's the basic gist in a nutshell:
Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the United States military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.

U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan and were drawn up in order to prevent criticism that the U.S. was embarked on a religious "Crusade" in its war against al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents.

One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Other references include citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as "the light of the world." John 8:12, referred to on the gun sights as JN8:12, reads, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

What concerns me is this remark from the companies founder:
Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions "have always been there" and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is "not Christian."
Let me just be blunt: as a Christian I think it is inappropriate. Let me add as a theologically conservative Christian who also leans to the politically conservative side of things (the two are not the same) I am saddened and troubled by this misuse of God's Word.

Unfortunately far too many politically conservatives have so equated God and country that they cannot imagine anyone who is theologically conservative being offended as such remarks. Even more shocking, I'm sure, is someone who is theologically and politically conservative finding such use of God's Word unbecoming.

I do think this is a misappropriation of God's Word, and I am going to argue why Christians should think so.

Introductory Theological Positions
Let me lay a couple of my cards on the table:
(1) I believe strongly in a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Within the powers given to men here on earth I believe in sphere sovereignty. That God delegates certain roles to the family, to the church and to government. I believe that God has instituted governments--even corrupt and unjust governments.

(2) I firmly believe that God has granted governments the sword (Rom. 13). I believe that this gives them the right to enforce the rule of law within their sovereignty and under the right situations fight in just wars.

(3) I believe in a just war tradition within Christian theology--not that the church fight wars but that the church recognizes that countries may fight wars for the sake of justice and to resist evil. Although a just war is a "right" it is never something to be hastily entered. Even using war to "restrain" evil must be exercised with caution--indeed American can and does engage in military action that is not always just. Might does not make right--neither do national interests.

(4) I believe God has set the standard for justice. While all OT laws should not be applied to American government and in fact many of the OT laws were established specifically for the dispensation of Israel's national manifestation of the kingdom of God and as shadows and types for the Kingdom reality of the eschaton, nevertheless the moral law should be based on God's Word.

(5) While I respect the Christian heritage of many but not all of our American forefathers, I believe in a strong distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. America at best is the product of men with Christian conviction although not necessarily pure Christian convictions.

(6) There are aspects of the moral law of God which bind Christians which should not necessarily bind citizens of the kingdom of man. By this I mean that winning the so-called "culture wars" does nothing to advance the kingdom of God where the Holy Spirit writes God's law on our hearts. This is not to say that we should adopt radical libertarianism on ethics or that we can adopt radical socialism to manifest kingdom ethics in care for the poor.

(7) With all due respect to Hauerwas, Yoder and the Anabaptist tradition, sometimes Christians must stand against evil by the use of force. While personal nonviolence is the ideal, Biblically we must also take stands for the stake of the weak, afflicted and destitute. Sometimes we must physically defend people precisely because we value life. So for example, I do not think that Yoder is right to argue when someone breaks into our house we cannot defend life with force--that being said far too many are zealous to defend property by being trigger happy. There is of course a difference between exercising a right by reason of necessity--something I would be justified in doing if it is my last and only option-- and using a right by reason of license: because I can do it, it is therefore my first and best option.

(8) Finally, and maybe I should have began with this, I believe the kingdom of God comes in an already/not yet fashion. I believe Jesus has inaugurated it. I also believe that when He returns He will save His children and judge the world. This includes a triumphal return and, I believe, a millennial reign. This reality should make me more humble, repentant, and desirous to preach the gospel. While I believe in a apocalyptic vision of the future, I believe that right now the kingdom of God advances 'in secret' in the midst of an evil world. Therefore, we do not and never can advance the kingdom of God by force, particular the force of human arms. In fact quite the opposite, the character of the citizens of the kingdom should imitate the King. The way we "fight" for the kingdom is by suffering for its sake (1 Peter 2:21-25). While America can be a beacon for freedom and liberty as human rights, we are not untainted or uncorrupted. Even more, if we promote peace and liberty we are not de facto advancing the kingdom of God and if we promote social obligations for human beings via government means we are also not advancing the kingdom of God--it is not politics and political solutions or even just wars that advance the kingdom of God.

While these eight points ground my argument, I am not going to argue for them or defend them Biblically beyond stating them. Rest assured I think that careful reflection of Scripture bears these point out.

Let me just add, the issue is not about supporting or not supporting our troops. The issue is not about praying for our troops and even the protection of our troops and our loved ones. The issue isn't even about running a company by Biblical standards. While it is not without dangerous peril to avoid, a company can make weapons and scopes and abide by Biblical standards. In fact, we might agree with the companies own website statement as quoted by the BBC:
"We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals."
The problem is about turning war into a spiritual cause--even if we believe some wars are just. Not only do we tritely use the Word of God, we use it to justify our cause a priori. In essence I agree with Rev. Paul McCain's remark:
Now, before we get the pacifist clap-trap going on this, the point is not the lawful and legitimate use of weapons to discharge one’s duty as a soldier, but the tomfoolery of putting cryptic references to Bible passages on weapon parts sold to the government by one its vendors.

My real concern.
While there are political ramifications that are involved by going to war with Bible verses on your weapons in that in no doubt enhances the stereotypes that the conflict between the West and the Middle East is coterminous between the religious difference between Christianity and Islam, my main concern is theological.

If we believe in the gospel and the kingdom of God we should abhor using Bible verses on our weapons. We should not even remotely imply that the light of Jesus and His gospel has anything akin to the light a sniper scope brings. While wars may be just we do not use the gospel and the kingdom of God to justify war.

(1) Paul teaches us Christians citizens should love their enemies:
Romans 12:17-21 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. 20 "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Christian is both a citizen of this world and citizen in the kingdom of God. While Christians are not prevent from military service: Christians have a responsibility not to take vengeance. Of course, this comes contextually right before Paul tells us governments have been instituted by God to enforce justice. At this point our dual citizenship weighs upon us. A governor may be a Christian who must enforce a law of the state--but equally as a Christian he understands he is not a righteous warrior prosecuting the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God offers mercy and grace for eternal salvation which does not mean that man should always be excused for breaking a just law of man. It also mean that enforce a just law of man is not prosecuting the kingdom of God but only maintain earthly justice which God has granted to right of government.

(2) Christians do not fight to advance a kingdom by the weapons of the world.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
Treating earthly weapons as if they are part of a divine fight and sanctioned by God is simple wrong. While God can use an earthly weapon for ultimate good (cf. Abram defending his family in Gen. 14), the kingdom of God does advance by waging war with human weapons. There is "spiritual warfare" but we are not waging war as Christians the way armies have since the dawn of time. It is proclamation--proclaiming the gospel--that seeks to win hearts. This involves clearly setting force God's Word and even vigorous debate and reasons (cf. Acts 17) not coercion.

(3) The hope of the kingdom of God is the end of violence and weapons.

(a) Glimpse of the future:
Isaiah 2:3-5 3 And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. 5 Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
The reality of the kingdom of God, a reality that while inaugurated awaits a consummation, is that the Lord's justice and righteousness will put an end to human violence, weapons and war. Of course, the Bible does not portray the Lord's return as peaceable for those who oppose Him but it is quite clear that the citizen in the kingdom in the here and now do not pick up weapons in order to fight for the kingdom of God. This is precisely because we understand the realities of the kingdom that await. The reign of God causes peace--peace with God and peace with men.

(b) The kingdom cannot be brought in by force:
Jesus understood that the kingdom of God would be brought in by his sacrificial death. He resisted any notion that it could be defended and/or advanced by violence.

Matthew 26:50-56 50 And Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. 53 "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 "How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" 55 At that time Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. 56 "But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets." Then all the disciples left Him and fled.
This becomes, of course, the paradigm for Christians (1 Peter 2:21-25). The evil that opposes the kingdom of God is not conquered by the sword--but by love and Christ-likeness. We confront our enemies with love, Romans 12:17-21.

(4) Jesus teaches that affect of the eschaton should force us to respond without retribution:
Matthew 5:38-46 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' 39 "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' 44 "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
(1) The ethic of the kingdom is not lex talionis. Rather it is sacrificial love.
(2) The citizens of the kingdom have a duty to respond with the gracious character of God.

While this, along with Romans 12, is not a mandate for the state, where just wars are a necessary response--even the ethics of the kingdom should temper a states response. Without going into an entire just war theory, there is a difference between enforcing justice and self-defense over retribution and revenge killing.
Again, it is notable that the Christian response of Romans 12 is followed by a defense of the right of government to bear the sword in Romans 13.

(5) The kingdom of God must advance peacefully and by proclamation in this age:
To this end we could cite 2 Corinthians again. But the kingdom comes through the proclamation of peace that is to be had between God and men through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is good news, a very concept which comes out of Isaiah 40-66. As one example of the importance of proclamation for the spread of the kingdom:
2 Corinthians 6:1-7 And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain-- 2 for He says, "AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU." Behold, now is "THE ACCEPTABLE TIME," behold, now is "THE DAY OF SALVATION "-- 3 giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, 4 but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, 6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, 7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left,
Notice that it is proclamation, the appeal of words that Paul sees as advancing the kingdom in the very context where as minister--dare we say warrior--of the kingdom he embrace this ministry and the necessary entailment of coming under affliction, hardship and distress. This strikes at the heart of a prosperity gospel and a triumphalist gospel both which announce health, wealth and human triumph in ease apart from the true marks of the kingdom in these age: suffering, affliction and hardship.

While we can debate the meaning of the genitive phrase 'weapons of righteousness' it probably serves a close parallel to Paul's phrase as 'instruments of righteousness' in Romans 6:13. Righteousness here probably then denotes the moral character of transformed believers which while coming from the Word of truth and the transforming power of the gospel is part of what commends Paul's ministry to the Corinthians.

The kingdom of God advances through proclamation and the equipping of the believer is the transformation of them manifest in righteousness. Paul is clear that the believers battle--but it is unlike any earthly battle and war--as we noted above. In fact, the kingdom of God advances now by proclamation and that proclamation brings the transformation of people as the Word of God is powerful and effective.

(6) America is not God's elect and therefore is not a 'Christian nation'. We are not a city of a hill and a light to the nations. We are not a 'kingdom of priests'. To think otherwise is just a gross misinterpretation of Scripture.

(7) The light of the Gospel cannot be spread through the sword, or a gun. The saddest thing about the quotations of verses on weapons of war that the verse used make trite the light of the gospel. The verses include:
2 Corinthians 4:6 6 For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
John 8:12 12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."
The first passage is about God's effectual grace that causes the heart to be opened. It returns us to our point that the kingdom advances through proclamation. Contextually, Paul is showing us that when he is active in proclaiming the gospel, God is active in effectual calling people to Himself by opening their eyes. He lets the 'light' of the gospel emblazon their hearts.

It might seem like a quirky humorous analogy to say "light" and associate it with the light a sniper scope brings--but the reality is that such association trashes what we understand the gospel to be. It is the power of God. Indeed Jesus says:
John 12:46 46 "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.
(8) That latter day will judge all our actions.
In the culmination of the Kingdom of God, God holds all our actions accountable. In fact, he exposes them in the final judgment. One of the last dangers of putting a Bible verse on a weapon of war is that we assume that our cause is righteous and just. We are noble fighters for truth and light but that is just not true. While we might be fighting in a just war we are indeed not advance God's kingdom or bringing the light of the Kingdom. The latter day God will judge our actions, motives, and thoughts--some of them entirely evil, others mixed.

While we would not follow all Shakespeare may insinuate about men who were just "following orders" as those bearing no guilt--he is right to remind us that judgment awaits and God will weigh the action of kings and governments, including the wars they fight:
"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for asurgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard [sic] there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it;" --Henry V, Act IV, Scene 1
Even a defensive war or a just war, by a Biblical Christian definition of just, is not a war of the kingdom of God. Even when an enemy has religious motives for fighting and that religion is unBiblical and opposed to the Kingdom of God--there is a difference between the way the Kingdom of God advances: with weapons and fighting not of this world--and the way a soldier or citizen of this country may have to protect life or fight evil. Fighting in this realm for the cause of a just war may fit into the sovereign plan of God--but it is not the means by which God advances His true kingdom. The last day will be a reckoning over the wars, crimes and evil perpetrated in this age.

In short, if I haven't lost anyone yet, or made you a schizophrenic God does call some to be soldiers, police officers or governors in the governments. They may bear a sword of this age and enforce justice or resist evil by force as their duty and vocation in this age. And while 'justice' and 'evil' are defined by adherence to God's moral Law, we must be clear the kingdom of God is not of this age it is wholly other and it advances in an entirely different means. The kingdom currently advances in secret and through proclamation which shapes a new people. The culmination of the kingdom will bring all things to light judging our actions in the interim. Placing verses on a weapon of war, especially verses about the light of the Gospel, makes a mockery of that which the Christian holds dear. It sullies the water of Life in the toilet water of death.

Undoubtedly their are Christians who are politically liberal (not necessarily theologically liberal which is another animal) who will think I have not gone far enough. There are Christians who are politically conservative who think that I have somehow betrayed both God and country--as if the two were coterminous. The reality is that they are not. Treating deadly weapons of this world as if they are spiritually sanctioned is not Biblical.

By all means a company can respect, honor and obey God and make sniper scopes to be used in war. Without sanctioning all war, it is an unfortunate effect of the fall that we must take up weapons to defend the weak and helpless. Yet this is not the kingdom of God. While it is commendable that this company runs on Christian convictions and Biblical standards, and it is noble to make them known, when fashioning such a dangerous weapon it is dangerous and irresponsible to put such Bible verses on them precisely because such weapons can be used in the name of great evil even under sometimes noble intentions.

We make trite and infective the Word of God confusing God's means which is not a weapon of this world, nor a war of this world, with the weapons of this world and the combat that is never ideal but sometimes a necessary effect of the fall. Even a just war, by Biblical Christian definitions, is not a holy war. While Christian believe in just wars, we do not believe in holy wars fought by divinely sanctified guns and swords. With all due respect to our soldiers, do not confuse your duties as a citizen and solider of this country with your higher calling as a citizen and soldier in God's Kingdom. I understand that this puts you in difficult positions at times where we must choose to obey God rather than man but most often there is often ample occasion to faithfully discharge your duties to both.

There is no such thing as "
spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ"--even if the company never intended to insinuate that, some on both sides of the war will. When one thinks it is acceptable in God's eyes to fashion weapons bearing His name, one stands contrary God's Word and has not allowed their Christian convictions to reshape their politics. Indeed, your Christian convictions are being driven by your American conviction and not the other way around. Our higher loyalty must always be to Christ first. Whether you are politically liberal or politically conservative confusing the kingdom of God with the kingdom of man in this high degree of equation is deadly both spiritually and physically.

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