My “The 12” colleague Jeff Munroe has a mighty fine blog from yesterday (July 23) that I urge you to look at. I’ll try to dovetail with–and not merely duplicate–his sentiments on the vaguely (or not so vaguely) over-the-top ways by which the gun lobby insists on each person’s right to bear military grade arms.
The particular question that vexes me and that has confused me for years, however, is a little more specific and it has to do with all the Christian folks I’ve run across–relatives of mine, former parishioners, and others–who are enthusiastic about being members of the NRA and who loudly condemn most gun control laws. Some of these fellow believers are also drawn to gun shows and have a curiously fierce interest weapons of many kinds. I’m not talking per se about deer hunters or skeet shooters and maybe even not about people who feel safer if there’s a pistol in the bedside stand. I’m talking about fellow Christians who seem really infatuated with weapons and who bristle at a pastor like me in case I come out supporting an assault weapon ban in a sermon or anywhere else in life.
Here’s what puzzles me: that kind of enthusiasm just doesn’t seem to jive with the Bible.
There is so very much we don’t know and can’t know about the New Creation but if there is one thing the Bible makes clear it is that one of the first orders of business when God makes all things new is that swords will be beat into plowshares. As Neal Plantinga wrote years ago, in more modern parlance that’s Howitzer tanks being turned into John Deere garden tractors; it’s AK-47 assault rifles being turned into stakes up which tomato vines can grow; it’s handguns being turned into sprayers to be affixed to the end of hoses with which to water vegetable plants. What had been designed to take life will be transmuted into things that will grow life and feed life and nourish life.
Of course, that will be then. In the meanwhile and so long as evil people are afoot in this world, I don’t want police officers to carry hose attachments and I don’t want President Obama sending John Deeres up against the Taliban. For now guns–like prisons and war and judges who pass sentences on pedophiles–are necessary to have and to maintain. True enough.
But the trajectory of the kingdom of God–into which we should be leaning as hard as we can as believers even in this present and difficult world–shows that such things are on their way out. We may still need prisons for now but people who look forward to the day when God will work the ultimate justice should hope even now for fewer prisons, not more even as the prisons that do exist should not elicit enthusiasm from those of us who long for a day when all wrongs will be righted such that prisons will be no more. Prisons are at best an unhappy reality for now but are not, therefore, things that should generate lots of interest and enthusiasm.
The truth is, this gun enthusiasm–including a desire to protect people’s rights to buy weapons whose only purpose is to kill as many people as quickly as possible–has bothered me for years. Another truth is–and some of you readers will have already sensed this from reading this blog–I have never come up with a quite apt analogy for this. If guns have no place in God’s new order of things–and if the Bible itself celebrates the anticipated day when swords will get turned into gardening tools–then what is contemporary celebration of all kinds of weapons like for Christians? Most analogies seem to go too far. Is it like being in love with war when war is the opposite of the desires of our beloved Prince of Peace? Is it like being interested in somehow supporting a form of sexuality or family dysfunction that the Bible also says will be no more when God makes all things new?
I am just not sure. I just know that for now my trying to treat all persons as God’s beloved imagebearers–especially in cases where that image is hard to spy in certain folks–is part and parcel of what I know will be true of God’s new order. I treat people this way now in part because I know I will treat all people that way later (even as I will be so treated by all others). Some of you remember C.S. Lewis’s famous line from his sermon “The Weight of Glory”: if we could see each person now as the luminious creature he or she will be in God’s New Creation, we’d be tempted even now to fall down in near-worship of such a creature. The fact that we cannnot quite see that today, however, is no excuse not to look for it in each person we meet–our enthusiasm for what we know is coming up in God’s kingdom is more than motivation for doing so in the here and now.
I cannot wait for the day when swords become plowshares, when guns become garden stakes. This is my God’s vision of what is to come, no less, and it’s celebrated quite lyrically in the Bible. Seems to me that for now that should mean that seeing assault weapons should churn my stomach, not quicken my pulse. Seems to me that should mean that seeing fewer people waving such weapons around and taking innocent lives with them is a holy goal I ought to pursue now. It fits with what I know is coming.
However, doing whatever I can to keep such weapons in good supply and in the hands of more people instead of fewer just makes no kingdom sense to me. It just seems wrong to me to read the line from the Bible about the glorious day when weapons become garden spades but then think to myself, “Yeah, but until that day we’re going to let ’em rip!” It’s hard to imagine having that reaction to anything else that the Bible predicts will be no more when Christ shall come again.
So why here?