He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come - sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23, NIV)
The massacre at Las Vegas this week, in which 59 were killed and 489 wounded by a lone gunman, has once again brought to the fore the question of gun control.
In the United States this is a vexed issue, because the Second Amendment to the Constitution enshrines in law ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms.’ In the UK there is no such controversy, but the question points us to some teaching of Jesus which has wider application.
In the lines quoted above, Jesus is arguing with some religious teachers about what it is that defiles us. It’s not the world about us which pollutes us, he says, but our own hearts. Our problem lies within. Out of us come all the evil thoughts he goes on to list.
One of the evil thoughts he mentions is murder. This (hopefully!) is not evident all the time but, according to Jesus, such thoughts are nevertheless a reality. This means that if people have access to murderous weapons, they may use them. In the United States, where getting a gun is easy, the astoundingly high number of deaths by shooting (11,000 to 12,000 per year in recent years) testifies to the tragic truth of Jesus’ words.
Gun control, then, takes account of Jesus’ analysis of the human heart.
Indeed, it is because of this indwelling sin that we need the apparatus of the state to restrain us. It’s because deceit lurks within that we need laws on fraud; it’s because slander lurks within that we need to deter libel by the possibility of damages; it’s because greed lurks within that the government has to regulate competition; it’s because theft is there that we need shop owners to build strong glass windows to stop us help ourselves as we walk past.
All this is also why we need the gospel of the Lord Jesus. For he came to deal with this inner defilement in two ways. On the cross, he died for us, bearing in himself the due penalty (a penalty which, when we look within, we see deserves to be serious). And then, risen, by his Spirit he brings us new life, changing us from the inside. Yes, aspects of the old attitudes remain, but now the Holy Spirit is there to make us more like Jesus.
A colleague of mine in Bournemouth shared this good news with a man who was a member of a white nationalist organisation. He received Christ, and testified to how, almost immediately, he began to feel the hatred which had animated him now leaving. That’s the best gun control of all.
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