Violence is an unfortunate reality of a fallen, inharmonious world. Until that which has been redeemed by Christ is fully reformed, there will be bloodshed. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Mankind has a responsibility to respond to evil, and this requires both the composite acts of institutional governing forces (Rom 13:4, 1 Sam 15:3), as well as the personal acts of individuals (Is 1:17, Ps 82:3, Neh 4:16-18). Driving home the point, George Orwell once penned, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
That being said, we cannot absolutize the value of war and warriorhood. The value and purpose of such things is contextual. Without an appreciation of the place of violence, we can easily develop an idolatrous relationship with it, (as with anything). It may be easy enough to conclude that war must be just, though understanding what exactly a just war is, (or any just use of violence), is far more debatable. So when we seek to develop our plans of self-defense, or our ideas on how to respond to hostile nations, etc, we require more than just combative training and tools. Our teleology must inform our decisions. It is not enough to want to train to “fight for good”. You must be able to discern good. When someone tells you to fight someone else, they may be correctly identifying a bad guy, or they might be the bad guy themselves. Without discernment, you can quickly become a tool for evil. Your good intentions are not enough.
Warrior training requires training in justice.
Next we ought to consider the limitations of warriorhood in an individual’s life. Some people train for a weekend, via a self-defense seminar and never again. Others train everyday all day. And there is every model in between these two. Who is correct? How do we decide the amount of our lives which should be invested in becoming rough men ready to stand and do violence on behalf of those who sleep peaceably?
In many respects this is a very personal question. Clearly God has given men a more pronounced emphasis on their role as protectors (John 15:13, Eph 5:23, 1 Peter 3:7), yet women are not exempt from this task, as it is intrinsic to what it means to love (John 15:13), which all mankind is called to. Beyond this, some are called to be soldiers and others are called to be painters, and others are called to be writers. The body of Christ is made up of many different members. And just as the fists and feet are some of the best equipped members of a human body to fight, so too some individuals in the church are called to be like Joab, while others are better suited to be like Bezalel. Nonetheless, just as the head is not an ideal tool for fighting, but one can still headbutt, there are those who are not called to a life of combat, but can still be made capable for extraordinary circumstances. And finally, just as some members of the body do not fight with physical violence but can fight in other ways (such as the tongue), so too there are those members of the Church who must consider how they will fight evil- even if it will not involve physical acts of violence. It takes more than fists and guns to fight for justice.
Participating in violence is part of being human in a fallen world. Exactly how you participate, and to what degree, is a much more personal question that requires an understanding of your personal story.
Now, how do we harmonize our life as defenders with the rest of our lives? Do we live double lives? Do we simply minimize or ignore one, so that we can focus on another? It is evident that some people do not train to face evil, simply because the training gets in the way of something else the love more (like their day job, or their evenings in front of the television…). It is also observable that other people have a tendency to be unable to know when to stop when it comes to combative concerns. You know these people by the tactical gear that they wear on a daily basis, and the size of their bug-out bags that they carry in their cars. We will address these two polar-people separately:
The first person, (the one who ignores all consideration of personal responsibility with regards to violence), might be best served by getting their car broken into, or having an incident with a gun-brandishing road-rager. These kinds of shock engagements will often break through to a person who had otherwise developed an immunity to the rhetorical imploring of those around him. Like a person who visits the doctor and is told that they will suffer debilitation if they do not start exercising, or a person who visits the dentist and is told to start brushing or face a future root canal, so too a near brush with violence is sometimes just what the doctor calls for with those who live otherwise insular lives. The point here isn’t to scare them into becoming the next Navy Seal, but to simply recognize that defensive skills are everyone’s personal responsibility, not something to just be left to the professionals. Again, how much they need to add into their life is a personal question, requiring insight into gender, personality, lifestyle, occupation, environment, etc. The point here is that reconciling one’s role as a defender with the rest of life takes personal responsibility. You may indeed be reachable/teachable by other means than shock-therapy, but if not, your only other hope is an inspirational near-brush with violence. This is less than ideal of course, as there is no guarantee that a near-brush will not simply be a full-on encounter with violence.
So recognize your personal responsibility, and own your need to integrate defensive skills into your life, appropriate to your unique life.
The second person, (the one who is fast-tracking to live out Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now), needs to realize the age-old proverb that “to him who only possesses a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Your whole life cannot be solved by guns and aikido throws. Do not dehumanize yourself but overemphasizing your defensive role and turning it into an idol to be worshipped. Spend time re-remembering and meditating upon your ultimate purpose, and place defensive skills within the context of this. There is not a person on this planet called to become a warrior to the neglect of their duties as a father, or husband, or citizen of their local community. There is not a person on the planet who can argue that where the book of Genesis lays out the life designed for mankind, it really means something more like Valhalla. Life is more than violence. Your are responsible for more than violence- even if you are infact a professional soldier. The purpose of saving people and/or places is so that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty can be preserved. If you spend all your time becoming a weapon, and cannot recognize or participate in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, what exactly are you fighting for? Have you gained the world by forfeiting your soul?… For those of us who have not been exposed to much violence, this type of person may seem so alien to us that we cannot empathize well with their posture. So I’ll close this discussion with words of advice for this kind of person in need of greater harmony, by quoting C.S. Lewis, from a sermon called “Learning in Wartime” which he preached at Oxford in 1939. Hopefully his words will reach both those who have become consumed with defensive measures, as well as those who cannot understand the consumed:
“…I think it important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective, The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life”. Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moments that never come. Periclean Athens leaves us not only the Parthenon but, significantly, the Funeral Oration. The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumable they have their reward. Men are different.They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffold, discuss, the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.”
Speaking to warriors, (but this charge applies to all people): A warrior must know and be oriented by justice. A warrior must accept the reality of violence in a fallen world. A warrior must recognize their personal calling and place on the battlefield. And a warrior must continue to live beyond the battlefield, lest he annihilate himself.