“War…war never changes.” That is the infamous opening line from a post-nuclear war video game that I used to play. Despite the fact that it was just entertainment of a keyboard fashion, those words ring so very true. In the thousands of years of recorded human history, war has never changed. Sure, the methodologies of how it is implemented have changed but the motives behind it have not. You can fight & kill for greed, for power, for pride, for revenge or for self-survival but it doesn’t matter if you use sticks or bombs. Killing is still killing regardless of the reason. Truly it is said that war never changes.
This begs the questions, is war ok? Is it permissible? Is murder, for any reason, ever justfied? These are pertinent questions for Christians. There are many answers and feelings that believers give in response to what is often called the ‘just war’ theory. Those responses are as varied as the individuals themselves.
When discussing the origins of such theory, most people quote St. Augustine of Hippo as he was among the first religious scholars to write on the justfication of war from a religious perspective. To make a long thesis short, Augustine stated war was justified in circumstances necessitating it but he had a very twisted way of making war good:
It is therefore with the desire for peace that wars are waged, even by those who take pleasure in exercising their warlike nature in command and battle. And hence it is obvious that peace is the end sought for by war.
His rational though, no matter how sincere, is greatly flawed. I say this because Augustinian theology is so off the mark on the basics of such things as grace salvation that to quote him on complex issues such as war is foolishness. To put his above quote in a biblical perspective, Augustine states the opposite of James:
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. (Jas 4:2)
In analyzing the concept of a just war, especially as it involves Christians, we must acknowledge that we have three groups of people in the world: Christians, non-Christians and the jewish state of Israel. We have these three groups because the moral precedents that dictate action are interpreted very differently by the respective members of each group. There’s some ‘cross-over’ into each group as it pertains to Israel but I don’t want to dive off into that here (maybe some other posting). For now, just recognize that those are the three primary factions we have today.
In the mind of the unbeliever, war is justified on the basis of any excuse. These excuses may be greed, power, lust, pride or even something so simple as self-defense. A nation or people without God does not need any justification for war because their consciences (to greater & lesser degrees) do not require it. Public support and the ability for a war may sway depending on how it’s sold to the greater poplulation but, when the conscience is sold, war is on. Once justification has been achieved, the real reason (if different from the justification) is irrelevant in all wars. A perfect example of this is the American war in Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction had nothing to do with our involvement in Iraq. That was the exuse used to sell the war to the American people (of whom most swallowed it hook, line and sinker).
Israel in the Old Testament, unlike any other nation, had an open standing for war. As the chosen people, they were given something [directly] that no other nation was given: land rights. Even further, they were told to secure those rights and that was often by means of war. Additionally, God helped them in war and helped them to war for the purpose of fullfiling his promises. The story of Gideon is a classic example of this. To date, Israel holds a standing different from the rest of us. While her land rights are in place, her standing with God is not and the nation will continue to find itself on the negative side of prophetic fullfilment until Christ returns. An entire volume of books can be written on this matter but I’m going to have to leave it summarized in this short paragraph. Suffice it to say that what Israel does in war is between Israel and God (and God will judge).
Christians are the main topic here as we are discussing the Christian just war theory. Forget non-believers and the nation of Israel for a minute and let’s dwell on those to whom Christ told:
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (Luk 6:28-31)
It is Bible verses such as these that present the dilemma for Christians in the face of war. Pacifisim may run rampant in those verses but it doesn’t run in our veins! What’s a believer to do? There are times when we’ve been attacked (Pearl Harbor for example) and we, as a nation, acted in self-defense. Are those times justified? If protecting the weak, the young and the elderly are not justified then what is! These are emotional questions and they should be because war is an emotional thing. What does the Bible tell us?
Before we proceed to answer that question, let’s define what war is. My definition is simple – maybe too simple. War is the action of physical force up to and including murder for the achievement of a purpose. It doesn’t matter how you perceive the purpose. You can war against one. You can war against many. As a definition, understanding the meaning of war is very simple. Sadly, the public definition of war has been watered down. I think this is because government doesn’t want to associate the term “war” with the term “murder” as the term murder insinuates the action is “unlawful”. This begs the question, “Who’s law?” but I digress. I will grant that the Scriptures use the term murder in an unlawful sense but in no way can I compare our law of government to the laws of God.
Should Christians go to war? We are sore pressed to find any permissible action to war in the New Testament Scripture. Remember, we as Christians are not under the Old Testament law of “eye for an eye” where such things as “the revenger of blood” were spoken of matter factly (Numbers 35). Pacifism permeates the New Testament Scriptures. Regardless of the war-time scenario and the emotional consequences involved, this pacifism can not be doctrinally escaped. “Vengeance is mine”, says the Lord (and that’s a New Testament reference).
Where does this leave us in situations of self-defense (whether as a country or on a personal level)? Jesus said it best in the Lord’s prayer:
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. (Luk 11:4)
“Lead us not into tempation.” This is where we stand as Christians. That is our war and that is the war we should fight:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:12)
I can easily confess that there are earthly horrors that would push me to the point of murder. If someone hurt my children, my wife or someone close to me then I could easily envision myself “fleshing out”. Who among us couldn’t envision that? None the less, I pray “Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil” as oft as I can pray it. We should all pray that. When Christ comes for his Kingdom, our time of war will commence (but not before then). As it now stands, war and Christianity don’t go together.
Some may consider this view as ‘idealistic’ but isn’t our ideas (read: our beliefs) what set us apart from other people? If we are not separate in so simple a thing as loving our neighbor then tell me, what differentiates us because I don’t know. You can not simultaneous declare war on your neighbor and declare to love him. You must pick a side: Hot or Cold.
What about Christians in the military? Remember what Jesus said at his trial:
Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. (Joh 19:11)
I think the same applies to Christians in the military but I don’t doubt there’s gray area in there beyond my current understanding. None the less, I think murder under orders is still murder but the higher power holds the greater burden. I’m sure more could be written on that but I’ll hold that for another post on another day.
When we talk of things such as a “just war” then we have to consider justice and the eyes of whom justice is derived. Separating the conversation from God and the Scriptures leaves us in the same position of Augustine where we can rationalize anything for any reason. That rational is something that has created an abundance of wars (and the horrors along with it). Declare war if you want. Declare it for any reason. Above all things though, don’t you dare declare it in the name of God.
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