Saturday, March 30, 2013

No Gun Control Without Self-Control

What do firearms, knives, and words have in common?  All three can protect or save lives; and, all three can destroy by sharp and deadly replies. 

Thanks to the First and Second Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, we Americans have freedom of speech and freedom to bear of arms, respectively. These freedoms also mean relatively few restrictions against fiery tongues and fiery guns.  Nevertheless, our protection from both tongue and gun is rooted not in civil law but in the moral code.  The moral law is grounded in Jesus’ teaching that it is out of the heart [that] come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders (Matthew 15:19).  Therefore, the answer to a safe and civil society is not found alone in “tighter controls” on guns and speech.  Instead, there must be a revival within institutions that nurture a godly disposition of the heart; namely, the family and the local church, both within the context of caring communities.

All Violence Comes Ultimately from the Heart
I believe government is ordained by God to establish rule of law, execute justice for lawbreakers, and protect the nation from foreign invasion.    But, for such a system to work requires both leadership committed to just enforcement of the laws of the land; and, a citizenry that recognizes its individual moral and ethical responsibility to higher authority--and ultimately to God.  This relationship requires no less than a partnership between government and religious institutions, both functioning in their respective roles to maintain order.  While civil authorities encourage social behavior by external laws and deterrents to anti-social behavior; family and church nurture character qualities that promote self-restraint, personal responsibility, and benevolence.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his essay "Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations," underscores the necessity of strong character in individuals if a society is to prosper:

Whatever feelings predominate in the members of a given society at a given moment in time, they will serve to color the whole of that society and determine its moral character.  And if there is nothing good there to pervade that society, it will destroy itself or be brutalized by the triumph of evil instincts no matter where the pointer of the great economic laws may turn.[i]

Although many believe that government shouldn’t “legislate morality” or “engineer” society, still federal, state, and local governments continue to move in this direction.  Perhaps the moral laxity and the decay of the nuclear family have created the vacuum that government now seeks to fill.  Leadership in Washington, through “ObamaCare” has taken on the management of human health care and even the ‘health’ of planet Earth.  At the local level, the city of New York is attempting to ban big sugary drinks as If to occupy the vacuum left by an adult population that seems less responsible for both their own nutrition and that of their children. But government efforts to legislate individual and planetary health are both doomed to fail without a revival of godly human character and personal responsibility.

The Bible emphasizes individual or personal responsibility under the concept of stewardship.  Stewardship is managing that which is not ours but has been entrusted to us by our Creator—our abilities, our time, and our opportunities to become responsible, members of society.  Stewardship is taught in many parts of the Bible as I have previously highlighted in Oikonomia.  Of particular relevance here is Colossians 3: 23-24 where Paul states:

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.
It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

In order to fulfill our responsibility as stewards of creation, we have been entrusted with great potential as image bearers of the Creator Himself.  We are to be God’s caretakers who represent His interests as we rule over His creation.  But instead of representing God’s interests, our father Adam acted on his individual interests and consequently brought God’s judgment upon him and all his descendents.

In spite of the fall of man and the curse upon the creation, mankind was allowed to remain as stewards of  creation.  What followed was a steady march of “human progress” in the development of more sophisticated technology.  Each development increased the reach and power of humans to utilize the richness of creation’s treasures of soil, water, minerals, metals, fossil fuel, and biodiversity.  And, with each new technological advance from club and arrow to gun and bullet, and then, to rocket and drone came the challenge to use the potential of that technology either for human benefit and God’s glory, or for human destruction and God’s dismay.

The table below lists several common technologies that are influential in today’s culture.  (Click on table to view.)  The middle and right columns demonstrate that most technology can lead to either morally “good” or “bad” outcomes.

There are differing viewpoints about the moral component of technology[ii].  However, I believe the quality of moral character, judgment, and personal responsibility of the individual user is the chief determiner of whether a morally “good” or “bad” outcome will result from the use of technology.  For example, the same firearm used by an elementary school policeman to protect the students and teachers from the murderous intent of intruders can also be used by the same policeman in a fit of rage to commit the horrible act he or she is hired to prevent.  It follows that our society will not prosper amid a myriad of guns, gadgets, and goodies unless greater attention is given to the importance of each individual taking personal responsibility for his or her actions.

Mass shootings like the ones at Aurora, Colorado [See Oikononia, July 25, 2012] and Sandy Hook, Connecticut have prompted requests for new laws to prevent such tragedies.  Sadly, the moral and spiritual principles voiced by our clergy at memorial services for the dead are not allowed into our public schools, universities, and halls of government where attempts are being made to make sense of such behaviors and to prescribe ways to stop needless killing

Dr. Alveda King told Newsmax (March, 2013) that both her grandmother and her uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, were killed by guns; but her father was mysteriously killed with no gun involved.  She concludes that,

…rather than giving all of our effort to gun control, we need to start looking at the hearts of the people and even consider when you do things like taking prayer out of schools…or just cut off all efforts to give people value systems, and morals…

Solzhenitsyn claimed that the only “way out” is through repentance:

What way out remains to us?  Not the embittered strife of parties or nations, not the struggle to win some elusive victory -- for all the ferocious causes already in being -- but simply repentance and the search for our own errors and sins.  We must stop blaming everyone else -- our neighbors and more distant peoples, our geographical, economic, or ideological rivals, always claiming that we alone are in the right.  Repentance is the first bit of firm ground underfoot, the only one from which we can go forward not to fresh hatreds but to concord.  Repentance is the only starting point for spiritual growth. ‘For each and every individual.  For every trend of social thought.’

Shouldn’t we who are so rich and surrounded by gadgets—we who are even shaped by them, and who are killing and being killed by them (whether gun, knife, or pen)—shouldn’t we TAKE the only “way out?”  Solzhenitsyn’s “way out” of this rings consistent with God’s heavenly call recorded in the Old Testament:  If…my people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land (II Chronicles 7:13 (part)-14). 

Taking the only way out?   Perhaps during this Holy Week, we can begin by setting aside a quiet time (away from distracting gadgets if possible), obtain a copy of the Bible, and read God’s Word.  Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” recorded in Matthew Chapters 5-7 may be a good place to start.  Then, pray in communion with our Creator God, allowing His Spirit to illuminate our reading and our medication upon His truth claims.  After all, isn’t …the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)?

Prayer:   Thank you Father for being a loving God and even “Father” to those who have simply surrendered their pride and rebellious hearts to receive forgiveness for sin based on Christ’s sinless sacrifice on the cross.  Help us to recognize that our hearts are deceitfully wicked without your transforming work through your Holy Spirit.  Without your transformation of our dispositions from pride and hate to humility and love, no amount of man-made legislation will bring resolution to the problems we face in our homes, churches, schools, governments, and environment. Conversely, as we surrender to You, be pleased to mold and shape our hearts so that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds [so that we may] prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

[i] I am indebted to Dean Ohlman for recent discussions in which he pointed me to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s essay cited herein.   He has developed these thoughts very well at
[ii]  Admittedly, there is disagreement as to where the moral component resides, whether in the technology itself, in the human creator, or in the interaction between creator and technology.  For example, see the following source:  Latour, Bruno.  2002.  Morality and Technology: The End of the Means.  Theory, Culture & Society  (SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi), Vol. 19(5/6): 247–260