Among the Christians concerned about the Y2K problem, a vocal few predict wild, frightening scenarios of societal collapse. I doubt if such scare-narios will come true-unless such constant harping on them helps them become self-fulfilling prophecies. But they do raise important questions about Christian ethics. One such question in particular haunts me.
Suppose, I keep thinking, the alarmists are right. And suppose I start taking them seriously now instead of on January 1, 2000. So my family and I start-right now-making lists of the things we need to do to be prepared to survive the outages, the shortages, the outrages, and the violence that some think are likely to be our global lot. With remarkable discipline over the next 12-16 months, we take care to gather and stockpile all the things on those lists: canned goods, dried foods, matches, firewood, water filters, flashlights, batteries, candles. Oh yes, the guns; can't forget the guns.
And now, in this scenario, we're a few days past January 1. The world hasn't come to an end, but things are pretty bad. Carolina Power and Light has shut down, and the rumor is it will be weeks before power is restored. No phone service, of course, and no e-mail. No water or sewer, and nobody can pump gas. So commerce is dwindling fast, and folks are beginning to talk about who is prepared and who isn't.
That's the problem, you see. In Jesus' parable about the 10 virgins, the five who were foolish seemed to know precisely how to find the five who were wise-and to bargain with them immediately to cover for their own unprepared state. Whenever there's a shortage, the free market is pretty adept at shining the spotlight on those who are prepared.
So now, even though no airliners have crashed in my backyard as a result of the FAA's unpreparedness, and even though the big gates at the water reservoir above town have not been betrayed by faulty computers to flood our valley, I still have a problem. Folks are beginning to stop by with a hungry look in their eyes.
So long as it's just my brother and his family from across town, I don't mind much. Nor do I complain when my next door neighbors come to say they're down to their last day of food. Even the young couple with a newborn little girl, begging at every door as they push a wheelbarrow down our street, gets my sympathy and half a dozen cans of vegetables.
It's the three guys who wheel in commando-style in a 1987 Ford pickup that really tick me off, especially with their demanding spirit. The only thing to differentiate their approach from a holdup is that they don't brandish guns. That's when I can't help thinking: What if they did have guns?
It's precisely at that point, for me, that the whole scare-nario being suggested these days by so many good people (including some advertisers in WORLD) takes on wobbly ethical legs. I don't think we've thought this thing through to its logical conclusion.
The Apostle could not be clearer than he is in Romans 12: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink." And to keep us from arguing that this is only an exceptional, now-and-then obligation, Paul roots the rule in the Old Testament, as if to say how timelessly the principle must govern us.
Even to our own hurt? Read the whole of Romans 12. It starts by urging us, "in view of God's mercy, to offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God."
My problem isn't with stockpiling supplies, splitting extra firewood, making sure my matches are in a dry place, and preparing to carry five or 10 gallons of water from the creek every day. Nor do I have any problem at all with owning guns or using them appropriately in the defense of life.
My concern is that as Christians, with one of the greatest opportunities in our lives to show the world how we "do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world," we might instead end up cowering in the world's camouflage uniforms. I'm questioning the whole individualistic survivalist mindset.
Would I use force to defend my wife and children against those who directly threaten their lives? Yes-and with biblical warrant. But would I use deadly force against those who would merely steal my family's food? Quoting which verses of Romans 12 along the way?
Those who trust in God, while never living in a fantasy world, are always distinguishable by their confidence that "God will provide." We will not live by bread alone, nor by the gold and silver which some suppose can always buy bread. Ultimately, even life itself is not that by which we measure whether we have in fact survived and endured.
What you finally decide about when you will and when you won't use deadly force defines the spirit with which you prepare for all the other possibilities of severe societal unrest. The answers are not easy, nor do I pretend to have resolved them all. But the spirit of Romans 12 is pivotal. Paul winds up with this terse instruction: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."