In 1963, Jerry Lewis starred in a slapstick comedy by the title of Who’s Minding the Store? The premise was simple—put a dim-witted clerk in a retail store and see what kind of havoc he can create. However, the most memorable scene in that movie was not about the mistakes he made. Instead, it was a scene in which he was ill-prepared for an event he became a victim of. At his first bargain basement sale he faced a thundering herd of women who literally ripped the store and him to pieces.
On what has become known as Black Friday, another scene played out across the land that is far too real and infinitely less amusing than Jerry Lewis lying prone on the floor after being trampled by bargain hunters. Consider the following incidents that are merely representative of a continuing (and growing) trend:
- At a Target store in Buffalo, New York, the crowds that waited impatiently outside suddenly became a chaotic mob once the doors opened at 4 AM on Friday morning. One man that was lying on the ground remembered thinking “I don’t want to die here” while he was being trampled by crazed shoppers….
- A 21-year-old woman from Middleton, Wisconsin was arrested when she threatened to shoot other shoppers while waiting to get into a Toys R Us store for Black Friday. The other shoppers had objected when she attempted to move to the front of the line.
- At one Wal-Mart in Texas, a near-riot broke out right in the middle of the store as a huge crowd of customers pushed and shoved each other to get a handful of Black Friday deals that were being wheeled out to the floor….
The question that arises from scenes like the aforementioned are obvious: if people will act like a crazed pack of feral dogs over an iPod they could live without, what would they do if the object of their attention was food they had not seen in days on end? Should we find ourselves in another true Great Depression or worse, how can we as Christians reconcile our duty to help the helpless while also defending our families against those who would have no qualms about forcefully taking all that we have? How do we balance the call to minister to others with defending our families and providing for their basic needs?
Before we act as though these questions are new to mankind, we need to shake ourselves loose from our comfortable, American culture and realize it is not. People around this world deal with such issues on a daily basis. Insulated by two oceans and a lifestyle we once thought unassailable, it is time we must answer those questions for ourselves as well.
Caught Between Two Worlds
Suppose you have spent the money ahead of time to store up freeze-dried food and gold in the case of a catastrophic economic collapse. You’ve worked hard, sacrificed everyday pleasures, and made preparations for what has now become reality. Your three children will not have to fear starving, at least in the near future, and compared to others in your neighborhood, you are in fairly good shape. So what happens when neighbors begin to notice your children’s eyes are not hollow and their stomachs are not bloated from malnutrition? What do you do when people you never thought could threaten a puppy start casting ravenous eyes toward your home?
Christians face some unique challenges that those without a moral compass would consider no challenge at all. Most, in fact a number within the church, would quickly say, “I would protect my home no matter what. I’ve got guns and I know how to use them.” But Christians are not called to barricade themselves against the world and care only for those inside the walls. In one of Jesus’ most famous parables, he told of a king who, on his return to his kingdom, made a starling statement that confused his subjects.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV)
There can be no doubt—Jesus’ point was that we have a responsibility to those around us. At the same time, we are also commanded in scripture to take care of our own household and to defend the defenseless. So how do we strike a balance between helping others and protecting our own? Some of those questions can only be answered in your own heart before God, but here are a few things to consider along the way:
- Consider some preemptive ground work in your community – At the risk of sounding naïve, experience tells me that even thieves and criminals have a certain (though often twisted) idea of expedient justice. Even violent gangs have a sense of community; they protect others within the gang. The more you know the people around you, show you care about them now, and are involved in their day-to-day lives, the more likely you are to find them as allies rather than enemies in disastrous times. Unfortunately, what we should be doing as a matter of course as followers of Christ will only motivate many as a means to protect themselves.
- Don’t confuse the needy with the merely greedy – While we are commanded to share what we have with those truly in need, we are never commanded to put our brains on hold and trust everyone we meet. If there comes a point where American Christians are forced to circle the wagons, we will have to follow Paul’s command to a fault—“If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Should we face a total economic collapse there will be hard choices to make. We may have to discern between those truly in need and those who merely want to take what we have so they can sit idly by before moving on to the next home they can take from . In those cases, self-defense is not only justified, it is logical obedience to God’s command to provide for those entrusted to our care.
None of us wants to think about such things, but perhaps it is time we did. Not answering these questions now may leave some facing a pop quiz in the future that they’ll be hardly likely to pass.