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Can Christians defend themselves and their families?

Ruth from Alaska asked: Can Christians defend themselves and their families?

Ruth, 

Let me begin by affirming that God can, does, and will defend His people. The Old Testament contains many accounts of God fighting on behalf of His people. You’ve probably heard more modern stories about God protecting missionaries, just like He protected Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in Babylon.

But I also want to clarify that while God provides for our needs, He often uses the family members to be that means of protection. We are to trust God to provide for our needs, but still take responsibility for our God-given role.

Here are a couple passages that teach this principle: 

1 Timothy 5:3–8 [3] Honor widows who are truly widows. [4] But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. [5] She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, [6] but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. [7] Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. [8] But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (ESV).

2 Thessalonians 3:10–12 [10] For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. [11] For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. [12] Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (ESV).

Likewise, though God is the ultimate protector, He has also ordained the husband and father to be the guardian of the family. Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 don’t merely speak of spiritual matters. Mothers too have a call to defend their children as part of their nurturing care.

With that background information, let me take your question to the extreme, which is what I suspect you have in mind. What if defending your family resulted in taking the life of an intruder in your home? The teaching of God’s Word would not consider someone guilty in that situation. 

God gave the command in Exodus 20:13 to not murder. But the Old Testament law does not equate all taking of life as murder. For example, consider  Exodus 22:2-3:

Exodus 22:2–3 [2] If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, [3] but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft (ESV).

The idea behind this law is that if a thief is breaking into your home at night, you would not know if he was armed, or if he was trying to commit a murder, or what his intentions are. If you took his life, there is no guilt since it is self-defense. However, if it’s during the day when the situation is more clear, then the goal is to apprehend and not kill the criminal. The consequence of losing his life does not match the crime of theft.

Let me be clear that this principle involves a Christian’s guilt before God. That’s a very different thing from guilt regarding civil laws where you live. It’s possible for God to consider you not guilty, but your civil authorities to consider you guilty. You need to understand the laws where you live. 

To summarize, God does protect and provide, but He often does that through human agency, especially in and through the family and the body of Christ. You should pursue all other reasonable measures such as trying to escape or getting protection by law enforcement. But, if the only means of protecting your family from imminent harm is to take the life of your attacker, God would not consider that murder. 

Thanks for your question,

Stephen

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