How far can we go in defending ourselves?

I have been burglarized two times.

Once when living in Oakland, the neighborhood of the University of Pittsburgh, and once when living in Tanzania, residences of mine have been broken into,  I wasn’t there.  That’s what made it a “burglary” (as opposed to a “robbery”).  “Burglary” means–you weren’t there.

In other words, I have never experienced somebody trying to commit a crime against me personally.

I’m not a pacifist.  I would do what I could to defend myself.

Fortunately, I have no fear of burglary, anymore–or even robbery.  Because I have the best burglar alarm in the world–four large, screaming dogs who would delight in coming upon an intruder.

Recent events, however, have raised the issue:  How far CAN a person go in defending one’s self (not only as a police officer but as a homeowner)? In Montana, two teenagers burglarized the garage of a homeowner.  He was determined to be ready for the next time.  In fact, he left the garage door partly open.  He placed a purse in plain view.  He later admitted he was hoping for another intruder.  It happened.  This time, one teenager went into the garage, a 17-year-old.  Of all the unexpected twists in the story, the teenager came from Germany.  He was an exchange student at the local high school.  The homeowner had been lying in wait, shouldering a pump-action shot gun.  He fired four times through the garage door.  When the 29-year-old homeowner turned on the lights, he found the teenager on the floor.

The homeowner claimed self-defense.  His attorney pleaded the “stand your ground” law in Montana, allowing a person to defend one’s residence.

Today, however, a jury found the homeowner guilty of murder.

What swayed the jury was the deliberate nature of the homeowner’s plan.  He had even boasted in a local bar that he was going to gun down whoever was burglarizing his garage.

Nobody is making excuses for the teenager.  But the death penalty is not employed for burglary.  This was a matter of using proportional force.

Whenever I referee soccer matches, if I see a large, muscular player using the same force against a small player that he would use against another large, muscular player–I call a foul.  There needs to be proportional force, else nobody of slight build would survive to the end of a game.

In the Bible, there is a law (Exodus 22:2-3).  If somebody breaks into your house AT NIGHT, and you kill that person–you are not held to be guilty.  But if the break-in occurs in DAYTIME, and you kill the person–you ARE guilty of murder.

What is the difference?  The difference is–in daytime, better judgment can be used.  One isn’t flailing around the dark.  In daytime, a person can discern how much danger really exists danger, and respond with proportional force.

Perhaps you have seen “Godfather III.”  Two hit-men break into the apartment of Don Corleone’s nephew.  But the hit-men are armed only with knives. The nephew hears them approaching.  He surprises THEM with his own ambush–halts them–makes them sit down–and then shoots one of them dead–asks the second one some questions, and then shoots HIM dead.

The next scene, Don Corleone is very upset.  “They had a KNIFE,” he said.  “YOU had a GUN.”

The nephew did not need to kill the intruders.  He had the advantage.  But he did not use proportional force.

The overarching question is:  Can a person–even a victim of a crime–put up with the injustice for a while (leave it to the police to catch the offenders) rather than respond immediately in a way that creates MORE injustice?

Some years ago, at Halloween, a father of some teenagers rushed into his car one night and chased after a vehicle in which there were friends of his kids.  The friends were in the car fleeing the scene because they had just  toilet-papered the man’s house.  The teens in the car crashed into a tree.  All were killed.  The father was convicted of manslaughter.

When is it wiser to endure an injustice–leave it to the authorities to catch and punish–knowing that something worse often happens when we try to do it ourselves.   Wanting justice NOW often results in INJUSTICE.

I’ve written previously:  One of the most difficult things for any of us to do is–to take an injustice and not respond.  To bear an insult.  The endure a disappointment.

This is what Jesus means when He says, “Turn the other cheek.”

It does NOT mean–let people walk all over you.

Let’s look at the passage in detail:

“If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  (Matthew 5:39)

The detail is important:  You are being hit on the RIGHT cheek.

This assumes that most people are right handed.  If a right-handed person is facing you, and decides to punch you, he will hit you on the left side of your face.  How does a right-handed person hit you on the RIGHT side of your face?  It isn’t a punch.  It’s a back-hand.  It’s a slap.  In other words, it’s an insult.

You have just been the victim of an injustice.

Jesus is saying:  Show that you are strong enough to take it.  Turn the other cheek and endure another blow.  Show that you are strong enough to take it.

It does NOT mean–seek no justice.  It means–bear with the injustice until a wiser way is found to respond rather than just a  eye for an eye.  Or worse.  Because often when we demand justice NOW, we get reckless.  We don’t use proportional force.  We go overboard.  When we demand justice NOW with a head full of steam, what often results is–injustice.





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