Foxes, Doves and a Third Way in Threatening Times

 In Featured, Pastor Jeff's Blog

by Jeff Marian

I want to talk about one of the many contradictions found in scripture related to how we navigate entrusting ourselves to God’s care AND protecting ourselves when we feel under treat. Or, to put it another way, how we learn to be both sly as foxes and innocent as doves.

Let’s start with the biblical contradiction.

In the story of the Exodus the Israelites find themselves in a hopeless situation. Their backs are up against the Red Sea. In front of them is the overwhelming army of Egypt and their chariots. Talk about feeling threatened and unsafe! And yet, here is what God calls the Israelites to do in Exodus 14:

10 As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, 11 and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? 12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

And, if you’re familiar with the story, you know that God did in fact take care of the Israelites without them having to raise a finger. All God wanted them to do in the face of threat and danger was to trust.

Psalm 44:4-8…picks up that theme:

You are my King and my God.
You command victories for Israel.[
Only by your power can we push back our enemies;
only in your name can we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow;
I do not count on my sword to save me.
You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies;
you disgrace those who hate us.
O God, we give glory to you all day long
and constantly praise your name.

It seems that in the Old Testament there is this theme that when we’re faced with danger or feeling threatened, the faithful thing to do is….nothing. We entrust ourselves to the Lord.

And that theme is reinforced by none other than Jesus himself.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches:

38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’[o] 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile,[p] carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[q] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies![r] Pray for those who persecute you! 

And not only does Jesus teach with these words, he lives them out as he’s arrested, beaten and crucified without any resistance on his part. As scripture says, “He was lead like a sheep to the slaughter.” And one of the things that I learned about sheep in Scotland and Ireland is that they are completely, utterly defenseless. And it would seem that we, too, are to be defenseless in the face of danger and threat. We are called to entrust ourselves to God’s care.


However… that’s only half the story. The other half is quite different.

The prophet Nehemiah is celebrated for his wisdom and courage when he returned to Jerusalem from Persia to repair the wall around the city of Jerusalem. When he was threatened by those who didn’t want to see that wall built, here’s how he responded in Nehemiah 4:

When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. 16 But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.

Doesn’t sound like non-resistance to me.

And in Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus and the disciples make their way to the Mount of Olives Jesus teaches his disciples with these words,

 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?”

“No,” they replied.

36 “But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! 

Once again, it doesn’t sound like Jesus is advocating for merely entrusting ourselves to God. We are to defend ourselves.


So, when we, as followers of Jesus, are faced with threat or danger, how do we respond? Do we entrust ourselves to God’s care and practice non-violence, or do we prepare ourselves, defend ourselves and fight back as necessary? Apparently, the biblical answer is “Yep!”


I raise these questions because the world in which we live is a world in which things like the mass shooting in Buffalo, NY happen. And religious institutions are, unfortunately, prime targets. You may have heard about the shooting in Southern California this weekend, motivated by political and ethnic hatred.

Rage is on the rise in American culture. For a number of reasons, people feel permitted and emboldened to express themselves in inappropriate and sometime dangerous ways. In addition, with so much untreated mental unhealth some people are no longer fully in control of their own behavior and that can create potentially dangerous situations.

Here are some frightening statistics:

Since the mid-2000s, mass shootings in churches, temples, synagogues and mosques have become more frequent, and been committed by perpetrators with a history of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianity and Islamophobia, with ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

From 1966 to 2000, only 1% of mass shootings were motivated by religious hate. After that, the number escalated. From 2000 to 2014, 9% of mass shootings involved religious hate. That number jumped to 17% between 2018 and February 2020.

So, what do we do about that? Do we say to ourselves, “We’ll just trust God” and do nothing? Or do we hire armed guards to stand at our doorways whenever we’re open? Those might sound like the extremes, but churches across America are picking one or the other.

Here at Prince of Peace we’re going to opt for a third way. Last week, an officer from the Burnsville Police provided our staff with some preparedness training. The purpose of the training to help us all be on the same page if we face a disruptive or dangerous event. Being alert and aware, along with having a common protocol, are two of the more important things we can do to keep one another safe.

But at the same time, we need to guard our hearts against becoming suspicious about every stranger who walks through our doors. Without being naïve, our first response to strangers who walk through our doors needs to be compassion, not suspicion. If the experience of the early disciples teaches us nothing else, it’s that there is and always will be an element of danger in being a follower of Jesus. We meet people at some of the worst moments of their lives, and as we all know people aren’t always at their best when they’re feeling at their worst. We’re not called to take unnecessary or foolish risks, but there is an element of risk inherent in the work that we do. But I dare to believe that in the risk there is also reward.

As the writer of Hebrews put it, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertain angels unawares.” So, while the Bible may be contradictory about how we face danger and threat, Jesus is unambiguous that our response in every human encounter is a response of love.

Jeff Marian is Lead Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.

Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search