The Attacker at the Door image

The Attacker at the Door

There are many great moments in Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, but my favourite is when he takes the most common objection to Christian nonviolence – “ah, but what if there’s an attacker at your door, and he’s going to kill your family?” – and patiently explains why, despite its rhetorical power, it doesn’t mean Christians are entitled to kill people. After an introduction, four chapters on the Old Testament (which are extremely helpful for apologetics, as well as the argument for nonviolence), four on the New Testament (two on Jesus, one on Paul and Peter, and one on Revelation), and one on the history of the early church (which makes a compelling case that the written Christian witness before Constantine was uniformly anti-killing), Preston tackles some of the ordinary questions and scenarios people come up with. Here’s how he handles the rabid murderer who is out to kill your family:

The attacker-at-the-door question is often viewed as a theoretical situation in which there are two, and only two, choices: kill the killer or let him (it’s always a man, right?) kill your family. Oftentimes the question is posed in such a way as to trap people committed to non-violence into admitting that they’re either inconsistent or heartless. I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, but in my experience, this question is often asked dismissively, as though the mere presentation of this one dilemma will expose the naivete of the nonviolence position and bypass the need to do any serious biblical thinking. So I’m not going to consider this question from a theoretical standpoint, because life in not theoretical. We live in the real world, where situations normally don’t come down to only two options: to kill or let your family die. In real life, there are several things to consider.

First, how do you know he’s going to kill your family? It’s impossible to know if the attacker is 100% set on harming your family. In the real world, humans are moral agents who have breakable wills. The attacker is not pre-programmed to perform the worst possible evil at all cost. He’s a human being made in the image of God. Even if he’s screaming out, “I’m going to kill your family, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!” he could be blowing smoke so he can run off with your TV.

Second, are you 100% sure that God won’t intervene? Unless God has whispered this in your ear, and you’re 100% sure it was God who whispered, you can’t know this. I often hear Christians mockingly say, “What, am I going to just sit there and pray?” But all this does is expose that we don’t believe in the power of prayer. Elijah prayed, and the heavens were shut up for three and a half years; Hezekiah prayed, and God intervened single-handedly to take care of 185,000 Assyrians threatening to skin whole families alive. If the Bible means anything, prayer is more powerful than ten thousand bullets to the head.

Third, what are the chances that your attempt to kill the attacker will succeed? Realistically. Do you own a gun? Is it loaded? Are you a good shot? Are you a better shot than your attacker? If you are such a good shot, then why not shoot the gun out of his hand? Are you sure that you won’t miss and accidently blow off your own kid’s head? In the real world, that’s a legitimate possibility, especially in the heat of the moment.

Or what if you thought the attacker was trying to kill your family, but he only wanted bread? So you fire and nick his shoulder—but now he’s ticked. Only now he is going to kill your family, even though he had no original intention of doing so. Your violent response brought more harm on your family ...

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do anything. Quite the opposite. There are many different nonviolent ways to stop the attacker. These include verbal resistance (pleading, yelling, negotiating), spiritual resistance (praying, trusting God, witnessing), sacrificial resistance (taking the bullet), or even physical resistance (tackling, hitting, kicking). Perhaps you’re surprised that I’m describing hitting and kicking as nonviolent. But not all enforced pain is violent. It all depends on the intention. The doctor and the mugger both slash your skin with a knife, but only one is a violent act. Though some disagree, I think that one could forcefully resist without using violence. But intentionally killing the attacker would be an act of violence ...

I say all of this to show that nonviolence isn’t as crazy as it’s sometimes made out to be. But - and this is very important - success isn’t the highest goal. Faithfulness is. So what would be the most faithful, Christlike response to the attacker at the door?

← Prev article
Next article →