what if someone attacked your family?

Christian pacifists are constantly asked what we would do if a violent person attacked someone we loved. Of course, we have answers that never involve violence, but the other day I read across one such response that struck me as terribly eloquent:

“‘Well,’ says the objector, ‘I should like to know how you would manage matters if the ruffian should actually break into your house with settled intent to rob and murder. Would you shrink back like a coward and see your wife and children slaughtered before your eyes?’ I cannot tell you how I might act in such a dreadful emergency—how weak and frail I should prove. But I can tell you how I ought to act—how I should wish to act. If I am what I ought to be, I should be calm and unruffled by the alarm at my door. I should meet my wretched fellow-man with a spirit, an air, a salutation and a deportment so Christ-like, so little expected, so confounding, and so morally irresistible that in all probability his weapons of violence and death would fall harmless to his side. I would say, ‘Friend, why do you come here? Surely not to injure those who wish you nothing but good? This house is one of peace and friendship to all mankind. If you are cold, warm yourself at our fire; if hungry, refresh yourself at our table; if you are weary, sleep in our bed; if you are destitute, poor and needy, freely take of our goods. Come, let us be friends, that God may keep us all from evil and bless us with his protection.’ What would be the effect of such treatment as this? Would it not completely overcome the feelings of the invader, so as either to make him retreat inoffensively out of the house, or at least forbear all meditated violence? Would it not be incomparably safer than to rush to the shattered door, half distracted with alarm, grasping some deadly weapon and bearing it aloft, looking fiery with wrath and mad defiance at the enemy? How soon would follow the mortal encounter, and how extremely uncertain the outcome? The moment I appeared in such an attitude (just the thing expected), would not the ruffian’s coolness and well-trained muscular force be almost sure to seal the fate of my family and myself? But in acting the non-resistant part, should I not be likely, in nine cases out of ten, to escape with perfect safety?”

Adin Ballou, Non-Resistance in Relation to Human Governments

7 thoughts

  1. Word up on that. I think it’s a gross misunderstanding of pacifism to think that it’s passive. Non-violent resistance is active – just like turning the other cheek.

  2. I think it’s fair to assert that the Bible teaches pacifism (NOT my argument here).

    However, I do think that “in nine cases out of ten, to escape with perfect safety” is neither a reality, nor something that scripture teaches will happen, and could easily be mistaken for a prosperity sanctification, where, as long as you do what you’re supposed to, 9 out of 10 times bad things won’t happen. I don’t see a Biblical pattern for that. In fact, the opposite may be true. Living like the Bible says to tends to make it a little more painful.

    That and I am confident from reading this that Ballou has never been robbed in such a manner once let alone 10 times. Again, not arguing against his position, but I don’t think the Bible or experience supports/guarantees that kind of safety 90% of the time.

    That being said, there is no safer place to be than in God’s will.

  3. John Howard Yoder wrote an excellent book on this subject called “What Would You Do?” He addresses it logically and systematically, breaking down the question and showing how it doesn’t logically make sense.

  4. I think C.S. Lewis had it right:

    “Does anyone suppose that Our Lord’s hearers understood to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim? I at any rate think it impossible they could have so understood Him. I think it equally impossible that they supposed Him to mean that the best way of bringing up a child was to let it hit its parents whenever it was in a temper, or, when it had grabbed at the jam, to give it the honey also. I think the meaning of the words was perfectly clear — ‘Insofar as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back.'”
    –C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
    “Why I Am Not a Pacifist”

  5. My initial reaction: If someone was raping my girlfriend I’d cut off his balls, make him eat his junk, slit his throat, and then beat the crap out of him.
    However, I realize this is not biblical. I have done very little theological research on the whole area of pacifism. All I know are the arguments I have read generated by human minds and human logic which are very strong and have solid theological evidence. I like what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “All theology begins in prayer and is centred on Jesus Christ.” With that said, Jesus never fought back when they came to arrest Him and put Him to death. Actually, Peter tried to fight back and Jesus said (Matthew 26:52), “Put your sword back into its place. For all will take the sword will perish by the sword.” This decision ultimately led Him to dying.
    Maybe allowing someone to attack you is a cost of discipleship. I don’t know where I stand yet but it is something I find very fascinating.

  6. Just in response to Shane Crash’s statement: “Since there will be no violence when the Kingdom is fully come, there should be no violence practiced by Kingdom people now.”

    Christian ethics cannot be deduced to this. According to your ethical model, should we not marry because there will be no marriage in the afterlife? (Matthew 22:30) Should we not cry because there will be no crying the afterlife? (Revelation 21:4)

    If pacifism is indeed the way of the Christian, it cannot be derived from this sort of thinking.

  7. I still side with C.S. Lewis on this one.

    And I also think that saying that non-violence in heaven means we must 100% always avoid violence here and now is completely irrational. It is not possible to avoid violence here on earth, we live in a violent world, we are surrounded by it. Jesus calls us to be different than the world, yes, I completely agree. But I also believe God does not want me to sit passively as myself or another is abused.

    If my husband were to turn from God and begin beating the crap out of me, and would not repent no matter my prayers or the church’s interventions. Then even though Jesus spoke strongly against divorce, I am confident that if the only way to stop being almost beat to death by my husband, was to leave him and divorce him, then I do not feel that I would be in the wrong, or that God would say “Emily, you cannot divorce him, regardless of whether he beats you to death or not”.

    Letting myself be beat by my husband for years on end, and doing nothing more but praying for his changed heart would do nothing but continue to destroy not only myself, but those around me, including any children we had, as they watched me practice “passivity”.

    There will be no violence in heaven, but we are not there yet. We are faced with violence every day, and must survive and continue to serve God and spread His justice and word throughout the nations. So I will not sit aside and let someone hurt another if it is within my power to prevent or stop it. I am not saying that I carry a gun, or go searching for trouble.

    But I would hope that if the situation occurred, my husband would physically prevent another person from harming me. Sure he can ask the other person to step off first, but if the attacker continues after me, and the result will obviously be injury or death to me, then it is my husband’s God given duty to protect me.

    I will turn the other cheek when a patron in a store shoves me to get to the Black Friday deal before me. And I will turn the other cheek when my co-worker speaks down to me and treats me poorly. Because these matters do not need to be answered in kind. But I will not turn the other cheek and let myself or someone else be harmed if I am able to self-defend or protect another from someone who has intentions to harm or kill.

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