“One more question, Deputy. Is there anything we could have done differently to prevent this from happening?”
“Nope. A lock’s only good for an honest man.”
This was the end of the conversation I had with the Sherriff’s deputy that came to my house to investigate a burglary about a month ago. One morning while my family and I were working at the church building, thieves entered our home and carried off many of our possessions. Even worse, they robbed us of a sense of security and of innocence.
And that explains why I haven’t posted anything online for the past eight days or so. I try to post something at least once a week, usually on Wednesday, but last week I posted on Monday in response to the Syrian situation, and I didn’t post anything after that.
OK, bad pun, but it has occupied a fair amount of time over the last week or so.
You might wonder, “If the deputy said you couldn’t have prevented it, why are you bothering with a gate?” Good question. I might ask you, “Why do you bother locking your car when you go into the grocery store?” Also a good question.
After all, as the deputy said, “A lock’s only good for an honest man.” What does that mean? It means that no matter what defensive measures you take, somebody can find a way around them. Unless you’re willing to live the rest of your life in an underground concrete bunker, there’s going to be some way someone can get at you.
Actually, that wouldn’t even work. Even the Great Wall of China couldn’t keep its guards from being bribed. And Hitler marched right the through the Belgians who were supposed to be guarding the flank of the Maginot Line.
So why bother? Two reasons: deterrence and wisdom. The first just means that a lot of thieves take the path of least resistance. (They could just get jobs, you know.) Create a barrier of some kind, and a lot of these people will just go somewhere else. The second…
One of my favorite verses on this is Proverbs 21:31 – “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but safety is from the Lord.” (my gloss) One can easily imagine ranks of armored horses and their spear-wielding riders charging into battle (think: Rohirrim), and in a pre-firearm age, it would have been an impressive sight indeed! The swiftness of Attila’s mounted warriors was what made the Huns so fearsome. But wisdom teaches that no amount of military prowess can assure victory. Surely this proverb’s author could remember his father telling him of a day from his youth when he met a 9 foot giant in battle with nothing but a strip of leather and a handful of rocks…and prevailed. The point: God wins battles, and God protects his people.
There is nothing in this proverb to suggest that David should have met Goliath barehanded or that Paul should have introduced himself to the assassins in Damascus instead of going out the window. (Acts 9:24) It is true that safety, or victory if you prefer, comes from the Lord, but he is often pleased to do his work through human instruments. He can defeat Jericho with Joshua’s marching band and Ai through brilliant military strategy. It doesn’t matter. The outcome lies with him.
But that’s no excuse not to get the horse ready for battle.
The evening before Jesus’ crucifixion, he prepared his disciples for the days ahead. Recalling the time that he had sent them out without extra provisions or even personal protection, he pointed out that God had provided everything they needed. But now, he said things were changing. It wasn’t that God would no longer provide for them but that they would become missionaries in a hostile world. They would need to continue to trust God but also take the responsibility to make sure they had food and clothes and even a limited armory. He even said to buy a sword. (Luke 22:35-38)
Of course, they probably misunderstood. Peter surely did, when later that evening, he attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrest by an armed resistance. Jesus’ rebuke was clear: “They that live by the sword, die by the sword.” His church would not be built by military conquest and coercion. Nevertheless, his instructions seemed to indicate that there was every bit of wisdom in a limited amount of personal protection.
This principle has a lot of applications, I think, though some will apply it differently than others. Perhaps the most obvious concerns guns. At the risk of sounding like a redneck, right-wing Republican, I would simply say that so long as possessing firearms is legal, there is a certain wisdom to owning and using guns responsibly to help ensure the protection of one’s family. There’s a lot that could be said here, even debated, but in my part of the country you simply can’t and don’t rely upon law enforcement to protect you. They’re pretty good at showing up after it’s all over with and writing down what happened, and I am thankful for the degree of safety (deterrence and prosecution) they do provide. But they’re not going to prevent someone from hurting me or those I love.
What about God?
Yep. My safety comes from him, and I believe that he intends that I take some responsibility for it. Which is why I carry insurance and go to the doctor when I’m sick.
Ultimately what we’re talking about here is relying upon God, who often chooses to work through human instruments. This isn’t the same thing as “God helps those that help themselves;” it’s believing that God has ordained that certain things be done and intends to involve me in the process.
Because I believe that healing comes from God, when I’m sick, I’m going to pray for healing and go to the appropriate doctor.
Because I believe that my financial security comes from God, I’m going to work at my job, give to him through my local church, budget my income and outgo, and pay for reasonable insurance should some disaster occur (auto, homeowner’s, health, disability, life – ask Dave Ramsey).
Because I believe that salvation is totally of God and by his grace, I’m going to spread the Gospel as much as I can, witness to those around me, encourage others to repent and believe in Christ, give money to missionaries, and pray for the conversion of the nations.
And I’m going to put up a gate and start locking my doors and stop leaving my car keys in the ignition overnight and dig a moat and fill it with hungry crocodiles.
Actually, I’ve already done it (well, not the moat part).
Not because I don’t trust God but because I do. I believe that he intends to protect my family and me and that he intends for us to reflect that belief in the way that we plan for the future. If the gate fails, it is only because God has something else planned. And even if that includes the worst thing that can happen to us on earth, we can rest in knowing that by Christ’s death and resurrection, we who trust in the Lord have been made eternally secure.