Gold, Frankincense and an M16

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Like so many other Americans, I can’t wait for Christmas. I can’t wait to see children open gifts and to worship Jesus to whom the magi of old brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Still, like for so many Americans this Christmas, my thoughts and prayers will wander on Christmas day to Newtown, Connecticut, where some children who would be opening presents won’t be.

As I drove home last night, my thoughts wandered until I turned on NPR. I listened intently to an interview on the assault rifle used in Newtown—the semiautomatic AR-15. According to NPR’s Melissa Block, the AR-15 “is essentially a civilian version of the military’s M-16. And it is, according to the NRA, the country’s best-selling firearm.” Ms. Block interviewed Malcolm Brady, a retired assistant director with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. I was as surprised as Ms. Block was when Mr. Brady said that he expected consumer demand for the gun to jump dramatically: “…it may be for protection. It may be for the coolness. And it may be for the fact that people will be in fear that the weapon will be put back on a banned level, and they want to obtain it before it is banned again. But I think you will see the popularity of it and the purchase of them increase drastically, in between now and the holidays, near Christmas.”

One does not need such a gun for hunting. A simple rifle will do. I sure hope people in my neighborhood aren’t buying this gun for Christmas. I would hate to see anyone lost to friendly fire or caught in the crossfire between modern day Hatfields and McCoys. While some might think the gun has a Rambo effect (as stated in the interview), Rambo didn’t go around killing innocent civilians; I would hope people will reconsider what associations are made with this gun in view of its use in gunning down movie goers in Aurora, Colorado, shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut. Besides, this gun was once banned. That should at least cause us to ponder the questions: why was it banned and why then was the ban lifted?

People can talk all they want about how it is not the gun, but the person using the gun. I get that point. In fact, that is the point. Make sure those people don’t get these guns. How many innocent and even helpless people need to die before we come to realize that such violence will not likely lessen but will increase the more such firearms as this are available for sale and purchased? Where are the wise men today? If only people would exchange their M16 equivalents for myrrh. Jesus didn’t come to play Rambo. As king to whom homage was paid with gold and incense, homage was also paid with myrrh, which was used for embalming. Quite possibly, the wise men’s gift of myrrh foreshadowed Jesus’ burial: Jesus did not engage in violence as he atoned for the sins of a violent world in which he lived and in which we still live today.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing Christmas gift, if wise men today were to come and lay down their M16 equivalents at Jesus’ feet to worship him? (Matthew 2:2, 11)

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • Derrick Bohn

    The fact these guns were banned doesn’t carry much weight with me. That these guns are the most popular, doesn’t matter.

    I don’t think it is the elimination of legal weapons that would be valuable, it is for the violent to lay their violence at Jesus’ feet. As long as there are violent people, they will kill innocents. Maybe with a gun. Maybe with a knife. Maybe with a car, or a baseball bat, or a plastic bag or a million other things.

    I think the value of swords being beat into plowshares is not that there are no more swords, but that there are people who will lay down their violence and beat the tools of their violence into ones for peace.

  • Doug Zimmerman

    With all due respect Dr. Metzger, I feel compelled to make a few observations here. First, and while I know you are not a proponent, how many lives are lost each day to abortion? Yet, Americans and even Christians remain silent? How do we process the fact that numerous and severe laws against drunk driving have been implemented and are enforced at great cost to taxpayers only to have hundreds if not thousands killed each year at the hands of drunk drivers? How do we reconcile the fact that strict laws against drug sales, use, manufacture, and distribution exist yet each yer billions of dollars are spent to uphold these laws that many would say are not making a serious impact?

    I am not advocating the termination of gun laws or any other of the laws but I am solidly in support of each Christian gun owner spending their time talking, teaching, and spreading the Word of Jesus with their time rather than spending it in line to turn in their firearms that statistically will never be used in a crime anyway.

  • David Springer

    I wish that some, like the Magi, would leave their secure homeland and travel, even figuratively, into alien environments, far from safety, to worship and surrender their valued possessions to Jesus the King. Instead, so many of us would are, as Isaiah chastises us, “Impressed by military mathematics, awed by sheer numbers of chariots and riders” (v31:1 MSG)–or to put it more contemporary terms, impressed by rounds per minute, awed by sheer numbers of caliber, guns, and magazines. To put it bluntly, we would rather worship and give our possessions over to Mars (the god 0f war) or Mammon (the god of money and commerce) or Molech (the god who demands the death of our children) instead of the God of Peace, Trust, and Relational Love. As a public school teacher who is also an Evangelical Christian I not only reject the false theology that God is no longer in our public schools (knowing that He goes before and with me every time I enter the classroom) but I also reject the idea that I must trust in a concealed weapon to keep my students safe instead of the Lord of Hosts, God Almighty and the wisdom He grants me through His Holy Spirit.

    • Aldo Sison

      Well said, Brother. well said. There is realism and there is empathy. And the truth that indeed God Is Immanuel. And when He is with us and for us, who canbe against us? I applaud the crusade that you have in making the presence of Christ be felt and experienced in your classroom despite teh legal barriers and impediments to do so. And how true that contemporary American society pays lip service to God while worshipping Mars. Molech and Mammon.

  • Dan

    No matter what the government decides about guns, I’m definitely concerned that so many of my Christian brothers and sisters are so adamant about their right to carry a gun for self-defense. Jesus clearly commanded us to love our enemies, and I don’t think killing someone before they can kill us is what he meant by that. Derek Webb has a great song about non-violence called A Love That’s Stronger Than Our Fear. It’s based on a book by John Roth. The point he makes is that if we believe that Jesus called us to love our enemies, and we really believe that He is ultimately in control of our destinies, the reason we resort to violence is because of fear. We fear that if we don’t protect ourselves, God is unwilling or unable to do it. Thanks for the blog. Laying our weapons at the feet of Jesus is a sign of trust – that we truly believe He is good and He is in control. As His children, we don’t have to fear what people could do to us, but we’re free to love unconditionally.

    • Aldo Sison

      I agree. Elsewhere, Dr, Metzger wrote that Jesus did not come to fight His enemies but to die for His enemies in Jerusalem. What makes us so greater than Christ to do and to live otherwise?

  • Joel Peters

    It is unfortunate that NPR like so many other news organizations propagate mistruths. An assault weapon is a made up term for political agendas. The assault weapon ban from the Clinton era ultimately defined an assault weapon by its cosmetic appearance. The AR-15 is no more dangerous than a semi-automatic hunting rifle that has been around for decades and was never affected by the Clinton era ban. It is frustrating that the media has turned public opinion against certain types of guns for their scary appearance. I have been shooting guns all my life and the plain fact is that the Sandy Hook shooter could have killed just as many children with a handgun and multiple clips.
    With that said… I am angry that you, a professor I respect very much and who has had a meaningful impact on my life should propagate his opinions carelessly. Maybe your intent was to simply shake things up like you are so good at doing. I don’t know.
    When Jesus was a baby, there was an order given to kill every boy two years and younger in Bethlehem. God protected Jesus, but the other children didn’t fare so well. It was a slaughter and many moms and dads were weeping. I wonder why we don’t read that Christmas morning. It is very much a part of the Christmas story. God warned Joseph through a vision which led to an escape for them… but for everyone else, it meant torment and death. I am not trying to compare this story with the recent mass murders for any apparent similarities. I simply wonder why it is so easy for us to jump so quickly to look to government to save us.
    There is unspeakable evil in this world and to begin trying to solve it by extraneous, misinformed, and at best unproven laws completely distracts from the real cause. Using a little Reductio ad absurdum, if we became a police state complete with check points at all cities, harsh penalties, and military type law enforcement , we would be a much safer society….with much less freedom. Freedom always comes with a price. It is hard to accept this in a broken world. We all want freedom with no price. With evil present, there will always be a struggle between control and freedom.
    I think if you are going to ask people to lay down their AR-15s (M-16s are not legal) at Jesus’ feet, then I think you should lay down your political agenda at his feet. It seems to me that if there are people trusting in their guns for their safety, then you must surely be trusting in your political agenda to bring safety.
    “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
    Jesus is not a gun owner, but he also is not a politician. I own guns; I don’t trust in my guns. If they get taken away someday I will not be sad for me, I will be sad for Americans; to think they can create a safer easier life by eliminating some metal and rivets. To think in our pride that we can have an illusion of safety while we build our tower of babel.
    I believe our focus should be on the power of Jesus to rescue us from our insanity. We are a people with an incurable disease…I am a man with an incurable disease, but I am getting to know the healer. I fear by focusing on band aid solutions, the cancer of our hearts will lay untouched. Gun control will be a colossal miss-direction. It will take a nations eyes of our terminal cancer and put them everywhere else.
    We do need sensible laws, but to reduce the evil that happened last week to a problem that could be solved with more laws is a grave error of judgment. Let last week’s shooting be what it is…A broken boy who came from a divorced broken family, alienated from his peers and from society. A boy who was never shown how to become a man; to see his neediness and humble himself before God. Mental instability or not, sin was the moving cause for what happened; insensible, insane, perplexing evil. Evil that needs a savior not more regulation…

  • christopher erik

    The problem is that “political analysis” seems to be the only discourse on the menu. Our idolatry is not only bound up in our “rights” (right to bear arms) but in our political pragmatism. Scores of our citizens are senselessly murdered and we can’t wait to “fix” the problem with a stop sign or a regulation. That’s what leads to the insanity of our bi-polar condition, torn between freedom and justice – “give everyone a gun” v. “take away the guns.” And to be honest, I suspect that both sides are more concerned about “their rights” than counting the cost it will take to take down this “over-politicized” and “pragmatic” world that we have created. Before I jump into the “how to “fix it frenzy”, I need to ask myself the question, what was my part in this tragedy? Where do I have to repent?

  • Beady Blossom

    Joel Peters, your comments are so right on. Society wants to blame guns and not the heart because they can regulate society and our government has brainwashed them to believe that. I remember a comment about reaching certain maturity in children, ” I didn’t fall down, the sidewalk came up and hit me.”

  • Richard Fox

    This topic evokes a lot of emotion so anything I write could be incendiary, but I hope that isn’t the case. Let me begin by saying that I own many guns. I was raised learning how to shoot guns from the time I was a little kid and still enjoy shooting and hunting to this day. It’s tragic to see the bloodshed we’ve seen the last few weeks and then followed by such division as to how to how to address the problem of gun violence our society faces. I believe the ultimate conversation should be about the problem of violence, but the outbreaks of mass shootings are of a specific and special significance. In my experience the division as to how to address the problem is along the lines of a limited gun control versus no new gun legislation that would alter current gun control laws. I have also noticed in conversations that I’ve had is that there is very little difference between the arguments of Christians and non-Christians. There are people on both sides on both sides. That also means that there isn’t an official Christian stance on this topic otherwise there wouldn’t be this lively conversation on a blog. The conversations I’ve had with people in the last few weeks has helped me form my stance on this topic and has left me with what I think are some important questions as well.

    Arguments I have heard for keeping the AR- 15 have stated that it is not an assault rifle (AR), but it’s a semi auto version of the M16 and with a high capacity magazine and it’s low price it’s a favorite choice for assault activities. If it’s no more dangerous than any semi auto rifle let a ban on this gun be a symbolic stance against all this violence. I agree with the claim that people will find another gun to kill other people with and I’ve heard people argue that it’s a very popular sporting rifle, but that it not the purpose for which Eugene Stone designed it. I know how many are out there and I cannot argue against that, but in my 23 years of hunting I’ve never seen one in the woods. In fact it is illegal to use them for deer hunting in many states because it’s too small for most big animals. I have friends who own them, but the .223 is not a great caliber for big game hunting. It’s cheap to shoot because you can get military surplus ammo, people like the excitement of a quick semi-auto action and the tough tactical look of the gun. The gun was designed for warfare. I’ve also heard that the AR-15 is getting undeserved attention because of these outbreaks, but I would have to ask why these public gunmen prefer it? There is an answer to that question and it’s because that is the use for which that gun is made. I don’t want to demonize the gun. The problem is with people, and is sin, but this gun has the capabilities to be a powerful weapon which empowers sin, destruction and death – I would argue that it is symbolic for it. I’ve heard people argue that letting sin run it’s course proves the utter sinfulness of man and thus drives him towards humility and ultimately to seek mercy from Jesus Christ. Following that logic, we should seek every opportunity to empower all evils, and injustices to show sin for what it really is. With this mindset I can only imagine what a twisted version of loving your neighbor might look like.

    The Line
    I’ve also heard the purpose to possess such a weapon is to defend yourself even against your government. Then I wonder, is there any sort of personal firearm that should be illegal on the grounds that it is too powerful? A .50 caliber BMG which can kill at a distance over 1.5 miles and rip human targets literally in half? Why limit our rights to personal firearms, when so much of modern warfare is not fought with personal firearms. If our concern is defending against our state we should be arming ourselves with tanks, apache helicopters, RPG’s and remote control drones – it’s our only hope. Sarcasm aside I do not think that is sound decision making. It’s difficult for me to understand the 2nd amendment in light of the weapons used to arm militaries in today’s wars. I wish I would hear someone say how this might work with out sounding like a crazy backwards militia. Based on that Second Amendment I hear people state that it is our right to own such guns, but can there be a line drawn somewhere as to what is a reasonable weapon for a citizen to possess and how are we deciding where that line is drawn. What weapons should be banned and what should be perfectly legal?

    Rights and Freedom
    So much of this debate boils down to how we regard our rights. We Americans love our freedom, but where do freedoms give over to autonomy and anarchy? One person says we should be able to possess all guns because we’re free to do so in the name of safety. Another could see living in an armed society being more like a prison. I think there is a point at which exercising my rights limits someone else’s, and there are limits to my freedom. Generally these limits are bound by our laws which aim to create a livable society for all. No one can do whatever they want whenever they want to. There’s a civil code that we all give up certain freedoms to live together. I can’t even park on my side of the street for 5 months out of the year because of snow removal. Some of these laws seem dumb other’s are as vital as taxes that help pave the road and span the bridge I use to get to work. There are many of these we never question because they form the everyday life with which we’re so familiar. We all have to live together so we try to do what is for the common good. Creating the expectation of peace over violence is something good to foster in a society. Reacting and presuming fear and the worst case scenario only escalates the situation.

    The Bible speaks about rights and not in such a high regard as we Americans or as something that should be claimed much less needs protecting (1Cor 9:19; Phil 2:4-8; 1Pt 2:20-21). We’re called to give up rights even if we will suffer for it. We are not our own, but have been purchased to be concerned more for others than ourselves for Christ’s sake. When the Bible speaks of freedom it’s in a similar way in that our freedom is always for the benefit of others ( Gal 5:1,13; 1Pt 2:16). In fact, the freedom of the Christian is one gained by dying to yourself, losing your life so that you can gain a new type of life (Mt 10:39). Following Christ is a walk of self renunciation not of self preservation. It’s a very real struggle to figure out how to live as a Christian in America. This struggle is not caused by outside forces, but is an internal battle. Do we primarily see our American citizenship as something that should be claimed and used to benefit ourselves? Or can we see how our heavenly citizenship and American citizenship can truly benefit not only our neighbors, but our enemies as well (Mt5:44).