“Is it sin (evil) to kill in self-defense or in the defense one’s wife and child?”

Before we can analyze the question, we must seek to understand the questioner’s assumptions.

1.  Determinism

It is assumed that I alone have a decision to make.  My relationship with the other persons in the situation is supposed to be one which unfolds mechanically.   The attacker, for example, is preprogrammed to do the worst evil he can.  He is not expected to make any other decisions or act in any other way.  Nor does the question allow for any decision on the part of potential victims.  I alone am making the decision.  The assumption is that how I respond solely determines the outcome of the situation.

Two other observations must be made: A)  This mechanical model is unrepresentative of the way decisions are made.  No one of the parties involved can foresee what is sure to happen if one decides this way rather than that.  B) It is not reasonable to assume that the decisions I make are the only ones being made.  There are not simply two preprogrammed tracks on which events can go.  Nor am I at any particular point limited to making a choice between them.

This deterministic assumption is in some sense self-fulfilling.  If I tell myself there are no choices, there are less likely to be other choices.  Still less will I feel a creative capacity or duty to make them possible if I don’t expect them to appear.  Thus the limit is then in my mind, not in the situation.

2.  Control

It is assumed that I have substantial control of the situation, if not omnipotence.  It assumes that if I seek to stop the attacker, I can.  In some cases this may be true, but in many it is by no means certain.  The more serious the threat which an attacker represents, the less likely is it that I will be able to stop him by any means at my disposal.  In resorting to violence, I may very well be causing the death of those I hope to defend, including myself.  In war, this is called “collateral damage.”

The classic theory of the “justifiable war” includes the criterion of “probable success.”  It is not reasonable to resist if one is sure to lose.  In that case, (and especially if I am not trained in the use of weapons) those I hope to defend would suffer both the evil which one inflicts and the evil which one had hoped to prevent.  This is a worse outcome than if one had willingly accepted the evil, however great, which had threatened.

Failure to be successful is a serious possibility in every case of dramatic confrontation.  It is all the more true when both parties to the conflict are acting in unfamiliar roles and under exceptional pressure.  Joseph Smith did not save his life by firing into the mob.  He just made all the more certain that he would lose his life.  Thus, it cannot generally be the case that violence is likely to be successful. Then why label as idealistic those people who have doubts about the successful outcome of the use of violence?

If one has the upper hand because one has greater force available, would it be moral to dominate and kill rather than negotiate a surrender?  And if one is under handed because one has equal or lesser force available, would it be moral to increase the probability of death to oneself or others by resisting?

3.  Knowledge

The question presupposes, if not omniscience, at least full and reliable information.  Not only does it assume on my part that events will unfold in an inevitable way; it also presumes that I am reliably informed about what that unfolding will be like.  I know that if I do not kill the aggressor, he will rape my wife, kill my daughter, attack me, or whatever.  I also know I will be successful if I try to take his life.

The reasoning is questionable, even on the individual level.  The outcome of any kind of combat is unpredictable and a favorable outcome grows increasing less probable the more resistance I put forward.  No one can predict with certainty how anyone would really react to an absolutely unprecedented crisis.  Provoking one’s attacker can only increase the probability of harm being done.

Certainly anyone whose vision of conflict is deeper than that of the television western has some awareness of the complexity of situations and some notion of how seldom things turn out the way predicted.  It is especially true when people predict positive results coming about through the use of violence.

4.  Individualism

The question assumes that the decision and what happens are individual matters.  This makes the question quite unrepresentative of social conflict.  It even makes it untrue for any particular concrete case.  The person who is being attacked (my wife or mother or daughter) is also a responsible being and should be part of my decision-making process.  If this person shares my values, then she would be guided by some of the same considerations which guide me.  It would certainly be improper for me as a third party in the conflict to deal with her enemy in a way she would not desire.  At least some Christians would not want to be protected by lethal violence.

5. Righteousness

The logic of this approach assumes my righteousness.  Not only am I able to calculate what would bring about the best outcome.  I also assume that I am morally qualified to be judge, jury and executioner even before a crime legally worthy of death had been committed.  It is taken for granted that I have all it takes to be honest about this hard decision, even when it involves weighing my own welfare and interests against those of another.

This shorting out of critical objectivity may be the most improper of all the assumptions.  We know that most times individuals do not have full objectivity.  When we move to the group or the nation, there is even less reason to assume that a center of power is capable of standing in judgment on its own selfish temptations.  In fact, a sovereign unaccountable to the people (because the people are subject to the final arbiter) is more likely to be prejudiced and biased by personal predispositions.  This arbitrariness is called The Fallacy of Legal Reasoning.  It is less possible for a group to be consistently unselfish than for an individual.  The danger of being one-sided is increased precisely where power is greatest and when capacity for self-criticism is least.

6. Alternatives

The question is put in a way that excludes the possibility that the other party might have reasons for behaving in the way I perceive to be wrong.  There is no room for the possibility that the offender might be a Jean Valjean, only looking for bread for his hungry children in the home of someone who has more bread than needed.   Nor is there room for the possibility that the offender might be an oppressed person, whose human dignity is dependent upon his rising and destroying a symbol of oppressive order (an innocent symbol, true, but that makes no difference for the psychic need of the former slave).  In the words of George Washington, “slaves had no chance to establish a good name and [so were] too regardless of a bad one.”

The Emotional Twist


If the situation of attacker and person being attacked stayed on the rational level, it would be much easier to answer logically.  But the way the question is put does not allow us to do that.  It appeals to family connections and bonds of love that it becomes a problem of emotions as well as thought.  Instead of discussing what is generally right or wrong, it personalizes the situation by making it an extension of my own self-defense and by involving elements of social disorder and sexual menace.

There is also the appeal to my view of who I am.  The unspoken suggestion is that if I do not respond to the brutal threat in a brutal way, I will not be a man.  It reminds me that I often do not live up to my principles.  I respond to my attacker’s offense in the same manner my attacker responds to either real or perceived offenses he is suffering.  These emotional overtones are irrelevant to the discussion of the conditions under which it is morally justified in principle to take life, yet the question as put makes the most of them.

Not only is this stock case one in which an emotional appeal is made to my virility as the defender of those entrusted to me; it also tends to be a sexist argument.  It assumes the potential victim is a dependent being, a woman, one who needs protection by a stronger male.  She who is prey participates only as an object.  What would happen to the hypothetical argument if the assailant was a woman and the victim a man?  What would happen to the hypothetical argument if the question were being asked of a woman to defend herself from a male attacker or to defend another female from the same?  If a woman need not resist with lethal violence to save her life, why need a man?  If my wife is committing a crime, I am not expected to protected her from criminal charges brought against her by the police/prosecutor even if the property being destroyed is my own (or the victim is my child).  I am only expected to protect the innocent.  My love of family is irrelevant.

I leave the challenge in its traditional gender-specific form, but not without registering objection to its sexist tilt.  It is harder to sustain the moral challenge for the male to renounce violence in the setting where the victim is female and the attacker is male, but if we can do that, the question should also be settled for other situations.

Especially is this emotional dimension of the question more visible when the discussion centers on one’s duty to protect someone else.  Often the questioner will heighten this aspect of the argument by saying, “Perhaps as a Christian you do have the right to sacrifice your own welfare to be loving toward an attacker.  But do you have the right to sacrifice the welfare of others for whom you are responsible?”  The question assumes passivity (that the male will neither do evil nor good, rather do nothing) and makes the error of a false dichotomy.  If one fails using lethal force, one still fails.  Does this mean one has failed to be responsible because one was not effective?  Why are we to assume that lethal violence is any more effective than a nonlethal response?

We must pierce through the screen of this apparent altruism and point out that it distorts the real nature of the argument.  It is an altruistic form of egoism when I defend MY wife or MY child because they are precisely MY OWN.  This argument does not suggest that I would have the same responsibility to defend the wives and children of the Joneses.  It does not suggest any special concern for the wife or child of the attacker.  The reason I should defend my wife and child in this argument is not that they are my NEIGHBOR’S or my ENEMY’S, but that they are MINE.  Thus this becomes an act of selfishness; though covered over with the halo of service to others, it is still self-oriented in its structure.  One fails to do more than the publican (who loves only HIS OWN) or to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Now self-centeredness is not all bad;  “thou shall not seek thy own interest” is not a generally acceptable moral axiom. If defending my neighbor puts my family at risk of being fatherless, then I might be doing too much charity.  In fact, one can argue that a certain amount of self-love is necessary for psychological health and to motivate one to take care of what has been entrusted to oneself.  But if I make self-centeredness or egotism the basis on which I choose how to respond in any situation, that is not a Christian approach to a problem.  Christianity relativizes the value of self and survival as it affirms the dignity of the enemy and offender.  True, the potential victim is my neighbor and thus deserving of my help.  But the attacker also at that moment becomes a neighbor.  It is also a form of egoism to make any attempt to distinguish between these two and say that the nearness of my family member as preferred neighbor takes precedence over that of my attacker.  In fact, Jesus did not distinguish between the two, neither publican nor sinner, but gave His life for both (as did the apostles in the decades following the resurrection).

The Options Available

We now come to the decision itself?  How do we answer the question?

We must note, first of all, that the questioner wants us simply to answer either yes or no.  For most questioners, the only choices which the question offers are defense—which must necessarily be lethal—and non-defense which is sure to permit the worst to happen.

But this is a wildly illogical way to pose the problem.  There are certainly several more possible kinds of outcomes.  We prejudice the argument if we set up the discussion as if there were only two possible outcomes.

What are these various options?

1. Tragedy

One possibility is unmitigated tragedy.  The attacker is able to carry out his evil designs.  In most people’s minds, this would be pure catastrophe, an evil which God would not want to permit, and event which forever after will be looked on with horror.  The critic of the pacifist position assumes that such tragedy must be excluded at all necessary cost and is sure to happen unless someone interferes with the actions of the attacker.

2.  Martyrdom

Another serious possibility in a situation of menace is martyrdom.  Some suffering, though recognized as evil, has its place in God’s saving purposes.  In any case, we are all going to die sometime, and so are our loved ones.  It is irrational to look at this problem as if innocent death were in all situations at all costs absolutely to be avoided.  It lacks faith in the resurrection and it assumes responsibility for the actions of the attacker (which is contrary to Article of Faith #2).  It fails to love one’s enemy by resisting evil with evil instead of with good.

Throughout history there have been many instances of the deaths of Christian believers because they behave in a Christian way in the face of the agents of evil.  With time these have come to be seen as important and even representative of the true character of the church.  The deaths of such Christian disciples make a greater contribution to the cause of God and to the welfare of the world than they would have made if they had stayed alive at the cost of killing.

2a.  The victim as martyr

If it should happen that an attack befalls someone when no defender is around, many would speak of such an innocent death as more than the effect of mindless hazard.  Others would judge such suffering to be pointless tragedy, or even a proof of the nonexistence of God, or the senseless evil nature of reality.  But for others, such slaughter would bring about a renewed commitment to work for the kind of world in which such things do not happen.

2b.  The defender as martyr

But the more congruent application of meaningful sacrifice would be for me to intervene in such a way that, without my destroying the aggressor, he would refocus his attack upon me instead of upon the originally intended victim.  To risk one’s own life to save that of another is a kind of heroism which most people see as fitting when the danger comes from a fire, a natural disaster, a runaway vehicle, or an enemy combatant.  So why then should not my risking myself to give the victim a chance to escape be the first logical alternative to the question?  Why is my nonviolent response not as heroic (even shameful) because I did not kill the attacker?  After all, death is not the greatest evil one can suffer.  Showing up at the tribunal of God with blood on my hands (instead of upon the hands of one’s attacker) is unconscionable.  If Christ had killed in his defense or the defense of his mother, do we think he still would have been an unblemished lamb?  A believer’s death can relate to God’s will and be part of his victory over evil in this world.

3.  Another way out

Any honest contemplation of the future must admit uncertainty.  Never are there only two choices.  For this reason, and unforeseen happy outcome cannot be logically excluded.  We can logically consider two ways this might happen.

3a.  The natural way out

When I see a person about to attack my mother (or daughter or wife), I might think of some way to disarm the attacker emotionally.  It might be a loving gesture, a display of moral authority (rebuke or reproof), or my undefensive harmlessness which would disarm him psychologically.  I might use nonlethal force or a ruse.  I might have a house alarm and escape route.  I might have a panic room.  If money is part of what he wants, I could hand it over.  I might interpose myself and let the intended victim escape (so that, even were I to die, the attacker can repent and the victim can forgive).

Such solutions are reported with striking frequency throughout religious biographical literature (Read “Victory without Violence” by A. Ruth Fry).  They have been found in tight spots in the past.  It stands to reason that such options are more likely to be looked for—and thus more likely to be found—if the defender is not trigger-happy, still more likely if he is not even armed, and even still more likely if he believes in an intervening God.

However, I am less likely to look for another way out if I have told myself beforehand that there can be none or if I have made advance provision for an easy brutal defense or if the death of the attacker is my standard for success.  I am more likely to find a creative way out if I have already forbidden myself the easy violent answer.  I am still more likely to find it if I have disciplined my impulsiveness and fostered my creativity by the study and practice of a nonviolent lifestyle.  Building relationships of trust in my neighborhood and having nothing which thieves might break in to steal at great risk to my family are also alternatives.  Is it really worth having a Mercedes if it tempts me to take the life of another human being attempting to steal it?

The possibility of such unforeseen, creative, or coincidental deliverances is not limited to those who would interpret them in Christian terms.  Nonlethal violence, ruse or the disarming gesture of unexpected respect are possible for anyone.

3b.  The providential way out

The options I’ve outlined above and below are theologically neutral.  But there is an option which is distinctly theistic, if not uniquely Christian—what we have traditionally referred to as “providential” escape.  Whatever the modern mind  may think of the category of miracle, it has had an undeniable place in the history of Christian thinking about how to look at the future.

We cannot be sure what the apostle Paul meant by assuring his readers (1 Cor. 10:13) that with whatever testing they might face, God would provide a “way of escape,” “the way out.”  Certainly all biblical faith and Christian consensus until recently has affirmed a providential direction of the affairs of humans toward that end which is described as “good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).

Since providential deliverance is not predictable, it is impossible to say from a scientific or historical perspective whether this category is really distinguishable from the “natural” “way out” (3a).  That kind of saving outcome combines coincidence and imagination to produce a result which, although unforeseeable, can be explained after the fact.  We cannot address here the philosophical problem of whether or not the Christian concept of Providence or miracle is dependent on our not being able to explain a saving event after the fact.  Yet there is the classical Christian way of regarding one’s future to be in the hands of God.  This can provide logical grounds for being freed from the assumption that in the face of a threat, there are only two options, both lethal, which need to be considered.

4.  Attempted killing

This is the other possibility, alongside option 1 (tragedy), which the usual argument takes seriously.  It can lead to one of two outcomes.

4a.  Successful

As defender I may succeed in killing the attacker.  I would do this on my own authority (by taking the law into my own hands), but I would do so with the confidence that it is done in the name of a higher moral authority, which commends or demands the defense of the innocent (if we consider the carnal commandments to be a moral authority).  Legally I would trust that my action could be seen as the exercise of emergency powers vested in every citizen by common law (if one believes in the “common law”).

4b.  Unsuccessful

But logically there is another possibility: I might fail to kill.  In this way I add another evil to an evil already present, and we suffer them both (if we believe failure to kill and to die are sins).  This is then the greatest evil: that I might seek to defend the innocent but fail to do so and only make matters worse.

If the aggressor has superior force (likely, since he was prepared for the attack), if he has the unthinking drive of the perverted spirit which will not stop for fear or pain (also likely, if he is as inaccessible to reason as the questioner assumes), or if he is a better shot than I, then my efforts to stop him with his kind of weapon may only make the matter worse.  This will cause greater suffering than the option of tragedy.  Not only will the victim likely be killed, but so will I, the defender.  In his anger the attacker may turn on more persons than if he had not been opposed and further enraged.

Thus the question has more than the two commonly conceived possible options.  We have noted seven.  These can be ranked as to desirability.  Option 4a (successful killing) is an evil; it ends a life and deprives the attacker of any chance of repentance or growth.  Option 1 (tragedy) is obviously more evil in the mind of the questioner, who would use 4a to prevent 1.  But option 4b (unsuccessful killing) is still worse, for it brings together two evil outcomes (1 and 4a).

The four other options (2a, 2b, 3a, 3b) represent “saving” or “happy” outcomes.  We need not weigh them exactly in terms of desirability or probability but only note that they are all morally positive in contrast with the other three.

In evaluating these options it soon becomes evident that by exercising option number 4, I close the door to the possible saving solutions (2 or 3).  None of those can happen if I choose to kill.  Does this also mean I do not trust God to work things out (2a, 2b, 3b)?  Does it also mean I do not trust myself to be courageous or creative enough to find another way out (3a)?

To renounce killing (4a), on the other hand, is the path of trust and faith.  It leaves open the possibility for Providence (3b) or martyrdom (2).  It is not lazy; it faces the challenge of creating another way (3a).  It is responsible, for it prevents the worst (4b).

Let us move out of the emotionally colored common description of this dramatic encounter and think soberly about the choices it offers.  We now see how logically preposterous it is to assume, as does the questioner, that there are only two possible outcomes (1 and 4a).  There are many more.  We have no way to judge before the event how probable each of these outcomes would be; but no one can deny that they are all logically possible, and some preferable to others.

If I choose 4a as the way out, then I don’t trust in the imagined course of events, or in the providence of God.  Instead, right there in the emotionally loaded situation, I give myself authority to choose that option that is sure to be destructive.  By doing so, I close the door on all other alternatives, at least two or three of which could be saving.  I do this on the grounds that there is one other outcome (option 1) which would be more harmful to my own loved one than the other destructive alternative.  By assuming it is my business to prevent evil or bring judgment upon it,  I authorize myself to close the door on possibilities of reconciliation and healing.  When I take it into my hands to guarantee that events will not turn out in a way painful or disadvantageous to me, I close off possibilities of reconciliation which might have been let loose in the world.

More Specific Christian Dimensions


With the exception of noting the possibility of divine intervention in human affairs (3b), nothing has been said about the other aspects of Christian belief which make the deterministic claim (1 or 4a) even more inadequate.

There are such perspectives of Christian faith which expose the spiritual poverty of thinking only of two options: kill or be killed.  I’ve avoided them until now, but not because Christian commitment is an appendix to be added after all the important analysis is done.  I did not want to give room for the misunderstanding that Christians simply call in the transcendent dimension to avoid realism in dealing with life as it is.

I have also meant to show that there is nothing irrational about Jesus’ way of dealing with conflict.  But it is not on that basis that I accept it, nor on the basis that one can make a case for it on other grounds.  Neither is my acceptance of Jesus’ way founded in the confidence that, if you really put your mind to it, you can be reassured that there might be at least a fighting chance of a safe way through the brutal encounter.  I accept Jesus’ way because I confess that Jesus is Lord.

So the Christian’s answer to the question is not, “I would work creatively at 3a and pray for 3b and be willing in the crunch to settle for 2.”  That is the legalist’s logical answer.  The Christian faith has additional dimensions which enter into confronting this hypothetical situation:

1.  Christian love of the enemy goes beyond the bounds of decent humanism.

Any respectable person will treat one’s neighbor as one wishes to be treated oneself.  This is true simply out of reciprocal self-interest.  But Jesus goes well beyond this kind of moral superiority.  In his own life and career and in his instructions to his disciples, the enemy becomes a privileged object of love.  Christ is a God who loves his enemies at the cost of his own suffering.  We are to love our enemies beyond the extent of our capacity to be a good influence on them or to call forth a reciprocal love from them.  Jesus makes of our relation to the adversary the special test of whether the love we have is derived from the love of God.

2. The Christian’s loyalty to the bonds of social unity is loosened by the decision to follow Christ.

In various statements recorded in the Gospels, Jesus called his disciples to forsake not only houses and land, but even father and mother, spouse and child.  Any consideration of what this means must at least make us question the assumption that the first test of moral responsibility or of virility is the readiness to kill in defense of one’s family.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac if the Lord willed it, exactly because Abraham believed in the resurrection (Heb. 11:17-19).  Why then would one not be willing to sacrifice one’s family if necessary when the Lord calls us to love our enemies?  In fact, we are called by Christ to give up our property and our children when the civil authority wills it.

3.  The Christian’s understanding of the resurrection of the dead, of heaven and hell, and of eternal life—all this informs the approach to hypothetical situation.

The classic Christian understanding of Providence might not be accepted by modern criticism.  The same is true of classical Christian understandings of a transcendent life.  We cannot impose such conceptions upon modern challengers.  Yet at least we can ask those within historic Christianity to understand that our beliefs may reinforce our readiness to accept the cost of obedience when confronted by a hostile aggressor.

Consider the belief that there is such a thing as hell, some kind of extension or reaffirmation beyond death of the meaning of life, in which one’s fate or state is conditioned by the self-centered, shallow kind of life one has been leading.  I can ask my challenger to acknowledge that on the basis of such a belief, it would be most likely that my killing the attacker would seal for him that negative destiny. It is true that the Lord bridged the chasm between spirit prison and spirit paradise, but this he did not do so that a disciple could kill instead of love his enemies.  Instead, Christ did this to make possible what was once impossible, but by no means easier without the body than with the body. Therefore, I would make for him any possibility of repentance much more difficult, if not more improbable.  I would be doing this in order to save from death someone who—pardon the piety, but it is a meaningful Christian stance—is “ready to meet her Maker.”  To keep out of heaven temporarily someone who wants to go there ultimately anyway, I would consign to hell immediately someone whom I am in the world to save.

4.  Committed Christians see in their life of faith not merely an ethical stance in which they want to be consistent, nor a set of rules they want to be sure not to break, but a gracious privilege which they want to share.

They guide their lives not so much by “How can I avoid doing wrong?” or even “How can I do the right?” as by “How can I be a reconciling presence in the life of my neighbor?”  From this perspective, I might justify firm nonviolent restraint, but certainly never killing.  Most of the time the committed Christian testifies, at least in theory, that God intervenes in the lives of selfish creatures to change those lives, and that he does so through his children.  When is that testimony tested more than when I am invited to act toward an aggressor as though there can be for him no change of heart?  Those Lamanites who had hewn down the Ammonites were converted and it would seem their conversion was acceptable to the Lord in his infinite mercy towards the outsider who repents.

5.  For the Christian, to bear the cross is to share in God’s way with his world.

The New Testament and much later Christian testimony indicate that martyrdom is in some sense a normal path which at least some Christians need to follow at least sometimes.  How then could I possibly be led along the path of innocent suffering if my pragmatic managing of the hypothetical situation determines this as the one thing that I must not let happen?  What family wants to be without a father if in a nonviolent response or a loving gesture the worse is more likely to be avoided?

6.  Christian faith warns me that I tend to use self-centered control of my decision as a tool of rebelliousness, to solidify my independence from my Maker.

We’ve already noted the moral limits of a self-centered decision-making process.  But Christian faith goes much further.  Common sense tells us that people tend to be selfish and allow their selfishness to influence their perception.  Christian thought goes on to label as “pride” that rebellious autonomy on which I insist despite the fact that ultimately, if not overcome by God’s grace, it means my own destruction.

Common sense says that any person is limited in the capacity to observe and evaluate the facts by a particular point of view and the limits of vision.  But Christian faith tells me, in addition, that my selfish mind, my impatient and retaliating spirit, and my adrenalin—these all positively warp the way I perceive the facts to make them reflect my self-esteem and my desire to be independent of my Creator at the cost of my neighbor.  Thus common sense argues for modesty about my capacity to make valid decisions by myself.  However, the Christian understanding of sin goes well beyond that to call me to repent of the very idea that I might make a decision completely on my own.

The real temptation of “good” people like us is not the crude, the crass, and the carnal.  The really refined temptation, with which Jesus himself was tried, is that of egocentric altruism.  It is to claim oneself to be the incarnation of a good and righteous cause for which others may rightly be made to suffer.  It is rationalizing one’s self-justification in the form of a duty to others.

What I should do is illuminated by what God my Father did when his “only begotten Son” was being threatened.  Jesus himself “endured the cross for the sake of the joy…set before him” (Heb. 12:2).  I ponder my own readiness to accept that kind of love as my duty and privilege.  Such readiness does not arise from contemplation of my moral strength but in confessing the nature of God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  It is not based on a craving of heroism, self-confidence, pious enthusiasm or masochism.  Instead, my calling to respond to a threat with sacrificial love is founded in an admission:  the Jesus who gave his life at our hands is at one and the same time the revelation of that true humanity which is God’s instrument in the world.


So, is it an evil to defend self and family through the act of killing as a last resort?   Let me answer the question this way:  We are resurrected to the glory the laws of which we obey.   If Christ live the Law of the Gospel perfectly and we hope to be like him, then, at least in our personal life, it would be sin not to endure the cross if it is required of us.  Most people will never encounter such a situation unless they are looking for those situations by either joining the police or the military.  Is it a sin for which there is no repentance?  I believe it is a sin for which there is repentance, especially for the outsider.  It is not murder, but it might be taking the law into one’s own hands or being a law unto oneself.  In the least, it is a failure to love one’s enemy or to resist evil with good. Being resolved on lethal force is a failure to even attempt a response which may have prevented the shedding of any blood.  So if a lack of faith or rationalizing for lower standards (because “perfection” is believed to be idealistic and impractical) constitute sins, then I would say anything that prevents one from reaching perfection is evil.  One must have a willing heart and mind, even if one falls short of what perfection requires.  Failure to defend oneself or one’s family with lethal force cannot constitute a sin because there are too many scriptural references to demonstrate such persons as being “highly favored” by the Lord.  That much we know for sure.  To defend oneself or one’s family with lethal violence (especially as a last resort) is a minor sin because it is a natural, reflexive response.  Still, the Lord requires us to gain a complete ascendancy over our nature.  I am not “self righteous” because I do not know how I would actually respond were my family attacked.  I only know what I should do (respond in a nonviolent manner).  I can plan for that type of response beforehand to better prepare myself for living up to an “ideal” that will eventually be expected of me if I am to sacrifice my “only begotten” for a future eternal posterity.  This requires a significant amount of faith and cultivating faith sufficient to bring about “faithfulness” requires a willing heart and open mind.  It is to believe in the Atonement, especially the resurrection.  Just because I say it is a sin, does not mean I believe the sinner committing it is one for whom the Lord has not made exception or for whom their cannot be repentance or forgiveness.

In 1985, Elder Packer stated, “Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and you cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ.”  If there is repentance for those who would be my attackers and I believe in the atonement and resurrection, why would I not be willing to facilitate the repentance of my offenders even at the sacrifice of what is MINE?  Whether my flesh is actually strong enough to perform is a moot point.  My spirit and my mind have to be willing and ready.  Few join the police force to kill, rather because they are willing to sacrifice their lives for others, even at the cost of widowing their wife and orphaning their child.  Why then is it wrong for me to sacrifice my life for others, even the life of my attacker, by resolving myself to nonviolent, even loving, means of resolving conflict? And here underlies the Principle of Compensation in which the Lord assures compensation of offenses regardless a perpetrator repents or is punished.  Justice will not be robbed of the victim because the Lord will compensate injuries and reward obedience in the life that is to come.

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L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

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