The incarnation. It sits at the heart of the Christian faith. It is this belief, this theological tenet, that forms the bedrock of Christianity. Without the incarnation Christianity is nothing. Without the incarnation Christianity is pointless. Without the incarnation Christians are to be pitied more than any other people for our faith is senseless and without foundation. Take away the incarnation and Christianity falls. Remove the incarnation and our faith is no longer apostolic.
Without a doubt, most Christians, especially those who self-identify as evangelicals, hold the view that the incarnation is of the utmost importance. Well, that is what they say anyway. The question is: Do they really believe it? And further, what are the implications of such a belief? In this post, I want to explore just once aspect of the incarnation, one that many people born into our American culture of violence simply overlook.
When Christians think about the incarnation, they tend to think of one thing and one thing only: The divine became human. That, of course, is correct; Christians believe and affirm that God became man in Jesus, who was, at once, fully divine and fully human. This is an orthodox Christian belief and it is at the core of the Christian faith. Yet, one of the implications of this, an implication that is much too often overlooked is that if God is the God of peace, when God became incarnate, he was now not just the God of peace but also the human of peace. Put differently, Jesus is the incarnation of peace.
Or to put it yet another way, the incarnation was an act and event of peace. In Jesus, the one both God and human, was the fullness of peace. This, we are called to imitate. In fact, we might say that the incarnation is a model of peaceable living in this world. Of all of the things in the apostle Paul's theology, it is his concept of "mimesis" or modeling one's life on the the life of Jesus that is not only one of the most powerful ideas but also one of the most practical. How and why is it, then, that Christians so easily ignore, overlook, forget, or fail to understand this? How is it that so many have no desire to emulate Jesus?
When it comes to a matter such as guns, Jesus would never have given his followers the "green light" or "go ahead" when it comes to owning, carrying, or using them. I know, I know, that rubs many people in our culture the wrong way, especially when our culture of violence upholds, first and foremost, the principle that "This is a free country, I can do whatever I want." That, however, is not a principle of Christianity, not in the least! In fact, Christianity offers a different mentality: Self-sacrifice for others, yes, even the act of sacrificing one's own rights.
In my previous post, I showed how the passage in Lk 22:35-36, which is often used in an attempt to show that Jesus was "pro-weapons," did not and could not finally bear the weight of such conclusions. It has also been wrongly suggested that in Lk and Mk, when Peter draws his sword, this suggests that Jesus knew all along Peter had a sword on him. It is then concluded that since Jesus knew this but said nothing, Jesus must have been okay with his followers carrying weapons. Here, I want address this matter from a number of different angles to show how this argument just does not hold water.
First of all, let's keep in mind that this is a logical fallacy known as an "argument from silence." In other words, since Jesus says nothing or is silent on the matter, the pro-gun advocate or pro-weapons advocate rushes to the conclusion that Jesus' silence is affirming of carrying weapons. For most people who make such arguments, however, if you try to use this faulty line of reasoning with other things Jesus does not say, they will not accept it. For example, it is often argued today that because Jesus never said anything condemnatory about homosexuality or gay marriage, he must have been okay with it or even an advocate of it. While this is a popular argument, in the end, it is terrible terrible logic. The point is this: If we use the "argument from silence" approach, we can essentially make Jesus say whatever we want. The contradiction that pro-gun advocates find themselves in is they want to pick and choose when to use the argument from silence. They will use it for their cause, but usually not for other causes such as the pro-gay movement. The reality of the situation is this: The argument from silence is a fallacy that should be avoided altogether. Thus, the "Jesus knew about Peter's sword but never said anything about it" argument, is just a horrible, illogical attempt at reasoning.
Secondly, we know that Jesus actually did say something about Peter's weapon. In fact, in Luke's story, as I have shown, Jesus says that he has had enough of the weapons and commands Peter and others to finally be done with the carrying and use of weapons altogether. Interestingly but not surprisingly, gun advocates overlook this fact! Why? Because it disproves their arguments. Instead, they want to try to build a case from silence, which, as we have seen is a terrible route to go down and a route that eventually leads to falling off of a logical and reasonable cliff. Besides, at the bare minimum, one has to conclude that even if Jesus did not say anything earlier, at the moment he sees the sword raised in the face of another human, he condemns it. Really, at that, it should be "Enough said!" but for some, that's just not enough evidence. Here, we might even consider Matthew's Gospel, where in 26:52, Jesus says, ἀπόστρεψον τὴν μάχαιράν σου εἰς τὸν τόπον αὐτῆς· πάντες γὰρ οἱ λαβόντες μαχαιραν ἐν μαχαίρῃ ἀπολοῦνται. ("Return your swords to its place, for all who raise a sword, by a sword they will die.") Here, the remark to return the sword to its place can be taken as Jesus devaluing the weapon itself, that is, saying that it has no use other than to sit in its holster or pouch. Indeed, the only valuation he gives of the sword is a negative one; he says that those who raise a sword will die by a sword. Sage advice, is it not?
Thirdly, another logical fallacy that is often brought into play here is what is known as the false analogy fallacy. Basically, a false analogy is exactly what it sounds like. While we all know that analogies are flawed, it is the case that some analogies are strong while others are weak. The false analogy is either a weak analogy or an analogy that does not work at all. In the case of Peter's weapon, his dagger or sword, we must ask: "Is it a strong or weak analogy to compare the sword that Peter carried to Christians carrying guns today?" The strongest part of this analogy resides in the fact that both are weapons. This part of the analogy, I can accept. However, to try to equate the two is simply fallacious and erroneous. Why? Because the two are not analogous! If we think back to the Connecticut school shooting that recently occurred and then also about the school knifing that took place on the same day in China (see HERE), we see a big difference. In the school shooting, about two dozen people died. In the school stabbing, a dozen or more people were injured and there were no deaths. That's a big difference! One cannot accomplish with a knife (or a similar weapon such as a μάχαιραν) the same type of thing that can be done with a gun! So, we have a false analogy fallacy at work here. We cannot simply say, "Jesus was okay with his disciples carrying swords in the ancient world, therefore he is okay with his followers carrying guns today." As we have seen, the first part of that sentence isn't true (it is an argument from silence) and the second part is a false analogy.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we must bear in mind that Peter and Jesus were two separate people and it is Jesus, not Peter, who Christians are called to emulate. The appeal to Peter as an example for Christians carrying guns is simply absurd. As we see consistently throughout the gospels, Peter is rebuked, called out, and challenged by Jesus. It was Jesus who was perfect, not Peter. This is why our exemplar is not Peter, but rather Jesus. It was Peter's choice to carry a weapon, and it was that same choice that led to his eventual rebuke in both Mt and Lk. Lest we want to find ourselves on the side where Jesus is rebuking us, I contend that we must align ourselves with Jesus' ethics and actions, not Peter's. Again, it is Jesus who we must follow and appeal to, it is Jesus who we must model our lives after. Enough of the appealing to flawed humans like Peter! This, then, brings us back to where we began, namely, the incarnation! It is because of Jesus, the one incarnated in human flesh as God and man, that we can confront our violent world and cultures with peace.
It is because of the incarnation of the Prince of Peace that we can walk in the way of non-violence. It is because of Jesus, who came to bring peace, that we can help fulfill and carry out his mission. It is the incarnation of Jesus that gives us our template for how to think and believe and live. It is the incarnation, that event of peace, that calls us to be non-violent, non-militant, non-weapon carrying/owning/using, followers of Jesus. It is the incarnation that bids us to sacrifice our triumphalist American values of "I live in a free country and can do what I want" on the altar with all other idols.
In closing, I can't help but think that Jesus' chilling words to Jerusalem (and his disciples) in Lk 19:42 are incredibly appropriate for us today. There, Jesus says, εἰ ἔγνως ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ταύτῃ καὶ σὺ τὰ πρὸς εἰρήνην· νῦν δὲ ἐκρύβη ἀπὸ ὀπθαλμῶν σου. ("If only you yourselves had known, on this day, the things which make peace, but now you are unable to perceive them.") How ironic that the Prince of Peace, standing before them, speaking to them, teaching them, rebuking them, calling them into a new way of life, was shut down by them!?! It is not much different today. What we need is more prophets. We need more people to stand up in the midst of this culture of death and speak words of hope and life. We need prophetic voices that issue forth the peace of Christ and not violence in his name. We need Christians who will finally beat their swords into plowshares, rendering their weapons useless, that is, getting rid of their weapons. We need Christians to step out of the military machine, to forego careers that mandate the use of guns, and to stop slapping the label "hobby" on gun activities.
I say all of this as one who used to think differently. I used to have no problem with this. In fact, when I was running my web design business, I helped design a logo and site for an organization (run by a friend who self-identifies as a Christian) that was all about teaching "self defense" in terms of using weapons. Today, I think terribly differently about the matter. Never again would I consider doing design work like that. In short, the God of peace has deeply convicted me on this matter. My mind has been changed. My heart has been changed. At this point I can only hope and pray that such things will happen to those who used to think like I did. Indeed, I do not want to be found on the other side of Jesus' comment in Lk 19:42, no, I don't want to be one for who the "only if" remark holds true. And it is that realization that has allowed me to be able to perceive that violence is not okay, more guns is not the answer, and firearms have no place in the Christian's life. Some might say that's naive and too broad of a generalization but I would disagree. I also think Jesus would disagree. I say it is nothing more than the fact that the incarnation, God's act of bringing peace to us, has taken hold of me and settled within me. I hope to address such matters in future installments of this series. For now, thanks for reading and may the peace of Christ be upon you.