I’m presently working on a project that imagines the story of the gospels taking place in a post-apocalyptic world with touches of dystopian sci-fi. Think The Hunger Games, TV’s Revolution, or Gotham City post-Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. It really isn’t that much of a stretch. There isn’t much difference between Panem in Hunger Games and the Roman Empire in the days of Jesus. As a result of this project, I have been consuming a lot of the above media and others in that genre, if you can call it a genre.
I was running on a treadmill this morning as I watched an episode of Revolution. There was a scene late in the hour where a band of rebels attacked the bad guys. One took out the big bad at point blank with a homemade gun, the other two sliced up the other soldiers with swords, and finally the last dude was killed with a high-powered sniper rifle, which was the prize our heroes were seeking the entire time.
Now I’m not a prude about depictions of violence, but I did think, “Dude, this story is pretty violent.” And some stories have to be violent, especially stories about people fighting against oppressive and totalitarian regimes. That’s how the world works. Violence pervades these stories—Hunger Games, Revolution, TDKR, etc.—of people being held underfoot. The protagonists find themselves in worlds filled with violence and thus Katniss, pouty girl on Revolution, and Batman have to fight fire with fire.
All of which makes the gospel stories so stark in contrast. There weren’t many more violent entities than Rome. Do not be mistaken people, probably even some of Jesus’s disciples, wanted to defeat the Empire in blood. The hope was the Messiah would take down these oppressors hard. Yet Jesus preached loving enemies. Some people mistakenly think that he proposed ways to let evil just run over us. In fact, he suggested creative non-violent ways of fighting off the evil that exists in the world.
I have talked about this before, but Jesus was (and is) a king whose kingdom really was not of this world. The revolution of Jesus, the one that we are allegedly still following, looks like something completely different from how the world works.
Which leaves me with the question of how one tells the story of post-apocalyptic resistance while avoiding one of its cornerstones: the violent overthrow. But in this last week, it has left me with another question: Why are some Christians so in love with their guns? More specifically, why are some Christians upset that the government wants to ban assault weapons with high volume magazines that are good for only one thing: killing as many people as possible?
The common response is that we need them in case terrorists or the government decides to go all totalitarian on us. But that was the case for Jesus and the early church. Look at the gospels. I have already mentioned loving enemies. There is another passages in which Jesus tells followers to turn the other cheek. We see swords mentioned just a few times in the gospels. Once in an odd verse where Jesus asks if the disciples have swords, but he never tells them to use them. When Peter actually uses a sword when Jesus is arrested—a time to use a sword if there ever was one—he rebukes Peter and heals the wounded soldier.
The early church was truly persecuted. They were dragged from their homes to prisons. Others were killed. Now if this was like the stories that I have been reading and watching, we would see moments where the oppressed decide enough is enough. They stand their ground and fight back. But we never see that. We don’t read letters from Paul encouraging them to not let Rome or other persecutors push them around.
This does not mean that it is a completely cut and dry issue, theologically or politically. Nor am I suggesting that a Christian should not own a gun. I am not naive. The questions of self-defense and defending the innocent with violence are far more complicated in reality than in the abstract. But we cannot deny that nonviolence was a major part of what Jesus taught. Don’t get me wrong. I do not think most of the people upset are violent people. None of them are suggesting private citizens should own rocket launchers just because bad guys could get their hands on those. I think they are missing the forest for the trees in the heat of a political argument.
But let me state this strongly: If a Christian is upset that he or she cannot have a gun which has the sole purpose of annihilating a high volume of human life—even if the context is a totalitarian regime—then that person has lost all of his or her holy imagination. The Second Amendment is not in Scripture.
The idea of using violence should at the very least give us serious pause. We must remember that when we follow Jesus, we are part of a very different kind of revolution. And it doesn’t look like anything else the world throws out at us.