Q&A: Foolish Martyrs

Foolish Martyrs

Question

I am still troubled with whom to follow, you and the rest of the world, or Tolstoy and the small minority of foolish martyrs. In the Romans 12:17 passage it also says, "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengence is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord." This seems to put the responsibility of justice rightly on the able sholders of God. If God says, "Vengence is Mine,"why should we worry about protecting ourselves? Do we not trust that God will protect us? Also, in Luke 22 Jesus' statement about buying swords could either be a figure of speech about "rough waters" ahead, or if he really meant to acquire swords, this was only so that he would fulfill the Old Testament prophecey that "he was numbered with the transgressers." In other words, when taken captive Jesus was considered to be a normal kind of rebel (with swords, and loot, and loose women). I understand that this doctrine is hard to take, especially after two thousand years of fighting for what is right, but I find myself drawn into it almost led into it. It is this kind of otherworldliness that makes the gospel good. What other man but the very son of God would be able to admit to such a selfless way of life and death?

Answer

First, on the subject of martyrdom, I don't think most ancient martyrs were foolish. Most of them were really suffering for the sake of the witness of the gospel. Many other martyrs throughout history also suffered in righteous, non-violent ways. But a martyr is a witness, and there are plenty of sufferings that people have endured throughout history that have not borne witness to the gospel. These are the things that I don't think we need to suffer.

Now, let me take another run at Romans 12. In Romans 12:19, we are told not to take our own vegeance, just as in Romans 12:17 we are told not to repay evil for evil. Both of these verses speak of withholding personal vengeance, not of defense. Taking vengeance is exacting justice from a situation. Defense, on the other hand, is protection. These are very different concepts. Violence used in defense is not a means of justice, but a means of protection and salvation. The passage does not prohibit protection and salvation.

Also, in Romans 12:17, Paul adds that we must do what is right in the sight of all men. By your own admission, it is a small minority that thinks it is right to let evil people work their wickedness unhindered. "All men" in this case would seem to advocate the proper use of violence in self-denfense and in the defense of others.

Further, as Romans 13:1-4 demonstrate, God has delegated some of his authority to execute justice and to defend. Some of this authority he has delegated to human governments. Thus, it is not categorically wrong for human beings to execute justice against other human beings, or to defend them. In all countries, the government has assigned certain portions of its delegated authority to various citizens, such as the military, law enforcement agents, prisons, etc. In many countries, the governements have even assigned portions of this delegated authority to its common citizens. For example, in the United States (where I live), the governement has assigned me the right, and in some cases the responsibility, to use violence to oppose evil. If, for example, I were to hand over my infant to a child molester just because he asked if he could rape her, I could not justify my actions on the grounds that the Bible teaches me not to resist evil. Rather, the criminal courts would rule that I had been extremely neglegent, and that I was culpable for the horrible crimes committed against my daughter. According to Romans 13:1-4 and the laws of my land, I have been assigned the responsibility to defend my child. Courts have also found people culpable for crimes who observed rapes in action (e.g. in bars) and did not try to interfere.

Of course, we must trust God to protect us. But that does not mean that we should not also defend ourselves. I trust God to meet my earthly needs, but that does not mean that I have the right to sit on my haunches all day and expect him to bring me food and clothing despite my laziness. On the contrary, the biblical exhortations to trust in God for earthly needs assume that we will demonstrate common prudence in attempting to attain those things for which we trust him.

Moreover, the Law actually makes provision for the violent resistance of evil. For example, in Exodus 22:2-3, a thief may be resisted with violence, but the violence must not be purposefully excessive. Ecclesiastes 4:12 demonstrates that common wisdom affirms our right to defend ourselves with force. The Bible (even the New Testament) also praises violent actions of self-defense, such as Moses' slaying of the wicked Egyptian (Acts 7:24-25). At this point it may be worth repeating the case from Deuteronomy I mentioned last time, regarding rape. Specifically, Old Testament Law stipulates that a woman who is raped is to call out for help, i.e. she is to resist the rape, and those who hear her call are also to resist the rape (Deut. 22:23-27).

Luke 22:36 might be taken to mean that Jesus' disciples faced rough waters ahead, but this does not eliminate the fact that Jesus told them to take swords to handle those rough waters. He was instructing his disciples in how they would have to provision themselves as he sent them into the world for the second time (compare Luke 10:3-4), as his apostles. It cannot reasonably be interpreted to mean that his disciples were to procur swords at that very moment in order that they might have them when Jesus was arrested. The main reason for this is that in the context Jesus is telling them that he is sending them out to do ministry. The point about his being numbered with the transgressors was not that the disciples needed to become those transgressors, but rather that Jesus himself was about to be led away from the disciples as a common criminal. He would no longer be there to protect them, so they were going to have to take certain measures to protect themselves. The first time he sent them out, they were to be as sheep among the wolves (Luke 10:3-4), but this was not to be the case the second time around.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.