“There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22).
“If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
(Part One of Five)
In 1862 the farm of Wilbur McLean of Manassas, Virginia, became the scene of the first major battle of the American Civil War. When the terrible fighting ended, Mr. McLean had had enough of such senseless carnage. He determined to move his family from the Washington area. Some 200 miles away he purchased another farm, settled his family safely in, but three years later the same war ended in his parlor there in Appomattox Court House, Virginia!
As deep is our longing, as much as we might try, the human race cannot seem to get away from war. In fact, rather than being on the decrease, war is actually on the increase!
- The Twentieth Century was the most violent era in human history! More people died in war in the last hundred years than in all the other centuries put together.
- Ninety percent of all scientists who have ever lived are alive right now and 80% of them are involved in military development.
- The Twentieth Century saw war move from land and sea to the air, beneath the sea, to the atom, and into outer space. We’ve progressed from sabers, cavalry charges and single shot rifles to machine guns and nuclear missiles.
- Every minute the world spends 1.3 billion dollars for military purposes.
- The cost of one new nuclear submarine today equals the annual education budget of 23 developing countries.
- The world military budget for 1983 was estimated to be 660 billion dollars. Today it’s over a trillion dollars.
- Last year the United States government spent 6.5% of our gross national product on defense. That worked out to $855 for every man, woman and child.
- Today around the world there are 25 million men and women under arms.
- A billion people live under military governments.
- The world’s biggest business today is arms sales. And the largest seller? The United States.
- Since 1945 9 million civilians have been killed in war.
Ever stop to consider what the number one problem facing the human race is? Pollution? No. Cancer? No. Famine? No. Economic depression? No. Widespread agreement among experts says that our number one problem is nuclear warfare. Between India and Pakistan. From Korea. From a terrorist. From…
- There are seven known nuclear powers in the world today, with another six or seven nations capable of producing the bomb, and perhaps having it on the sly right now.
- 44,000 nuclear warheads are stockpiled in the former Soviet Union nations and the USA. The combined explosive power of these warheads is 5,000 times greater than all the munitions used in WWII.
- If we were to take all of the money the world spends on military matters and use it for education, development, research, etc., it is estimated by the UN that we could bring every person on the earth up to the standard of living of the average American citizen.
Yet the military-industrial complex and the killing go on. In 1983, 68% of the nations of earth were involved in a war of some sort. In the last 20 years we’ve improved on our record.
What does the Bible say about all of this? What should a Christian do? Is pacifism a believer’s option? Let’s look to the Scriptures for guidance. Let’s make up our minds beforehand. After all, in today’s technological world, our nation, at best has only a 7 to 24 minute warning of a nuclear attack. And since September 11, 2001, we have almost no warning of a terrorist attack. So the time to make up your mind what you’ll do is right now and not then.
Why Is There War?
(Part Two of Five)
The Bible opens with man and woman in Eden (Genesis 1-2). There is no mention of war. Harmony existed person to person, man to animals, man to environment, man to God. So peace is the natural state of the human race.
Genesis 3 teaches the fall of man and woman into sin; Satan tempted them to disobey God’s will by promising them power, pleasure and prestige. And with their choice to sin came anarchy, the imposition of authority, fear, blame in interpersonal relationships, the first animals slain, and the first murder (Genesis 4).
War is a result of our sins, personal and collective. Fighting comes about due to our base nature.
- It is caused by pride–Genesis 4:1 and following. (Cain killed Abel because of pride. God had accepted his brother’s offering, but rejected his own.
This then is man’s basic nature. Due to sin he is aggressive, proud, and greedy, even fearful.
- There has even been war in heaven as Satan has tried to take his sinful rebellion there—Revelation 12:7.
This then is man’s nature and our human predicament. To have a higher estimation of man’s nature is dangerous and courts disaster!
Example: President Jimmy Carter treated the Soviets as trustworthy. When we built our defense, they built, too. But when we quit building weapons, they continued to build. And perceiving our weakness, they invaded Afghanistan and ventured boldly in the Mid-East and Central America.
Humanism, a widespread and current popular philosophy, teaches that man by nature is basically good, reasonable, and non-aggressive. Thus we can disarm ourselves and be safe and free. Sin is simply non-existent and therefore not to be taken seriously.
Humanistic thinking is pervasive in our schools, politics, media, and churches. But it is not supported by the Scriptures or history. Jeremiah 8:11 warns woe to those who heal the wounds of a people lightly, crying, “Peace! Peace! When there is no peace.” Any attempt at peace that does not effectively deal with human sin is a lie. Example: when the United States withdrew from Vietnam the war did not end. Actually it accelerated and spread to Laos and Cambodia where millions died.
In Germany if someone steals your unlocked bicycle, the thief is caught and punished, as you would expect. But you are also fined for “tempting a thief” by failing to lock things up. It is the same when a nation allows itself to become weak. Human nature is tempted and conflict begins. Therefore, because of sin peace can only be had in today’s world from a position of strength.
Humanism teaches that my most important possession is my life. Yet the Bible teaches that my soul and my freedom are more important than my life (Matthew 10:28, Galatians 5:1). In this way of valuing, Patrick Henry, a Christian patriot of the 1700’s, could say, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Can a godly person fight a war?
Moses, the lawgiver, did. And there was no prophet like him before or since who knew “the ways of God to man” (Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers).
Even David made war. He killed Goliath and so many Philistines that they wrote a song about him: “Saul has killed his thousands but David has killed his ten thousands.” And David was called “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel).
It is not a sin to fight when God says so. Note in 1 Samuel 15:11 how Saul disobeys God by not killing the king of an enemy nation. And for such a lack of war, Saul is judged.
“Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness; and cursed is he who keeps his sword from bloodshed” (Jeremiah 48:10).
The Case For War
(Part Three of Five)
Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
According to the Bible, any peace not built upon God and the eradication of sin is a false peace. (Jeremiah 8:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:3)
Isaiah 2:4 is the motto of the United Nations and it is so often quoted by pacifists who argue for peace at any price. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Joel 3:9-10 however reverses the entire process: “Proclaim this among the nations: prepare for war, stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears…”
Exodus 20:13 is the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” The Hebrew word for kill is ratsack, and is best translated as “murder.” “Thou shalt not do any murder.” It has to do with violent and unauthorized killing, not warfare or capitol punishment.
It is not the Bible, but humanism, that says, “Lay down your arms and see if your enemy will follow your example!” National defense is the primary concern of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (See Nehemiah 4:14).
Deuteronomy 20 is a manual for waging war. It begins, “When you go forth to war.” Not if but when. Because of man’s sinful nature, war is a fact of life.
King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 8, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
Isaiah 59:1-8 speaks of Israel’s sinfulness and the resulting warfare: “Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity…and the way of peace they know not.”
Jesus is called “the Prince of Peace.” In removing sin at His return, He also removes war. (Daniel 8:25, Isaiah 9:6-7, Revelation 21:1-8—Here Christ brings the new kingdom with Him. It comes down from God. It is not built upward by man. It is as if man cannot rid himself of war. Only God can do that. And He will on the final day that He conquers all sin.)
In this world of sin, before Christ’s return, war is to be expected. Jesus said, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation…” (Matthew 24:6-7).
Christ, in dealing with Roman soldiers, had some golden opportunities to speak out against war and plead for pacifism. Yet Jesus never lectured Roman soldiers about their arms. Instead, He often flattered them! In Matthew 8:5-13, Christ said of a soldier, “Never in all Jerusalem have I found such faith!”
In Romans 13:1-4, Paul recognized the right of states, civil governments, to bear arms, to punish, and to kill.
Peace is the natural state of man. But because of sin we are personally and collectively living in an abnormal state. And it is our sin or the sin of others, or both, that manifests itself in behavior such as fear, rebellion, greed, aggressiveness, and pride, which lead to war.
Man wants to end war without ending sin. Thus, all our humanistic peace efforts end in failure.
But Christ, the Prince of Peace, is in the process of saving us from sin. And when all sin is ended, war will end as well.
Right now we are in the “groaning” process between two worlds! Between an Eden that was and a new Eden that will be, and we may expect “war and rumors of war.”
Psalm 18 begins with David crying out to God to defend him against his enemies. He is weak but God is strong. As the Psalm progresses, David matures, is strengthened, and can now take care of himself. By this time, instead of being hounded by his enemies, David is secure and pursues his enemies.
Is this what God wants for us? To strengthen us to pursue the enemies of justice and freedom?
The Case For Pacifism
(Part Four of Five)
Did you hear about the Quaker who was milking his cow? The animal put her foot in the bucket and the Quaker only looked aggravated and kept milking. Next the cow bit a plug out of the farmer. The man whooped and hollered and nursed his wound and kept on milking. Finally the cow kicked the farmer, knocking him against the wall. The Quaker got up and walked over to the cow, stuck his finger in her face, and said, “Friend, thou knowest that I am a pacifist and cannot strike thee or kill thee, but I am warning thee, I can sell thee to a Presbyterian!” So much for pacifism in today’s world!
When Jesus first came, man expected a conquering hero, a militaristic Messiah after the fashion of King David. But Jesus came as a lamb, a suffering servant, a baby in a manger, a savior preaching good news. (Isaiah 53, John 1:29, Mark 1:14-15).
The second time Jesus comes man will expect a savior, a lamb, a God coming to make peace. But Christ will return as the Lion of Judah, the judge, making war! (Revelation 19:11-3-21.)
In light of all of this, let us take a look at the peace movement and ask if pacifism is a Christian option.
Many Christians over the centuries have been pacifists. Monks, Quakers, people like Leo Tolstoy, Ron Sider, and William Barclay have refused to bear arms. And from their heritage comes the modern peace movement crying out that we must abolish war lest war abolish us.
The Scriptural basis for pacifism comes from such verses as Matthew 5:38-41. Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also—and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
Christ here tells us to be peacemakers, not quick to retaliate, to fight for our rights. Agreed! But does He means for us to turn our cheek three times? Or thirty? (Note also Christ’s emphasis on “one” here. One-on-one relationships are different than group relationships, governments, etc.)
Matthew 5:9–“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Biblically, peace is more than the absence of war. It is the presence of God, justice, freedom, and the necessities of life. So, making peace might mean destroying injustice, tyranny, and oppression! And to do that might require war.
Matthew 26:47-56: During Christ’s arrest a disciple defended Jesus with a sword. But Christ stopped him. Here is the famous “live by the sword, die by the sword” statement. Is Jesus ordering His followers to be pacifists? No. He speaks of defending himself with armies of angels, but says He won’t do it because the cross is God’s will, the means of atoning for sin.
So Christ set aside His strength, His right to live, and became weak, dying unjustly on a cross in order to win our peace. Like a sheep led to slaughter, He refused to fight.
But if we were to not resist, what would our death buy? Often our surrendering meekly to evil buys nothing but senseless suffering.
1 Timothy 2:1-2: We are to do something for peace! Pray! “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life!” Note: May lead a peaceable life. In a world of sin it is no certainty!
Romans 12:18-20: “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord. No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him…’”
Here the emphasis is upon doing all you can for peace personally.
“If possible” would suggest peace is not always obtainable.
“Revenge” has to do with personal retaliation, not governmental action involving warfare.
The point here is that fire cannot put out fire, or hate quench hate. A new ingredient is needed. As water is used on fire, so love or service must be used on hate to quench it. Our first recourse is patience, love, service, forgiveness, not outright warfare.
When the Bible speaks of peace, in today’s world it is mostly a condition of the individual heart, not the world. Philippians 4:7, John 14:27, Colossians 3:15.
Pacifists point out how God will fight for His people. Example: Jehosophat—2 Chronicles 20:17, Moses—Exodus 14:13-14. What they do not point out, however, is that other times God fights through the hands of human soldiers—Joshua 5:13 and Joshua 10:12, following, suggest a teamwork in warfare with God and His people.
Christ never killed. He used force to cleanse the temple, but there is no evidence He used force on anyone! He only turned over tables and frightened people away. (See Matthew 21:12-13).
- The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that “the wages of sin is death.” By avoiding death do pacifists not take sin seriously enough? Is pacifism a striving against a human predicament we’ve all been born into? Do they value physical life more than freedom, justice, and heritage? If there has been war in heaven who are we not to accept our portion of the struggle here as well? Are pacifists ahead of their time, living in a fallen world as if it were the actual kingdom?
- And according to Revelation 19:11, and following, Christ will lead Christians as an army to slay the wicked in the end times. Clearly then, it is not a question of will we fight, but when.
Note: Pacifists trying to use Scripture to support their position tend only to quote selectively from the Bible.
Transarmanent, a new breed of pacifism, has gained popularity. It is not docile, but active. Its technique is non-violent, non-cooperation as practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Greenpeace Movement. Though such pacifists would never kill, they would destroy property, march in protest, stage sit-ins, go to jail en masse, get in the way, and disrupt society.
This philosophy would have the United States disarm, expect divine protection, train its citizens to be an army of non-violent, non-cooperative soldiers. And when, say the terrorists attacked, many of us would die. (But so would more in a war!) We would, over a period of time, win our enemies by frustrating them, by living a good example. “They can’t put us all in jail!”
Gandhi and King were practicing transarmament with English and United States oppressors. Both nations were at least to some extent Christian in ethics. Such a movement could meet with much more brutal response from an immoral and uncivilized oppressor. And modern technology would allow a despotic nation to gas, neutron bomb, or otherwise annihilate an entire population.
One final point here. Historically, pacifism tends to create the very war it seeks to avoid. Example: Chamberlain led England in the late 1930’s toward pacifism. “Peace at any price.” And Hitler, speaking peace, prepared for war. And when war finally came because of Hitler’s aggressiveness, more died than would have if England had been prepared and served as a strong deterrent.
The Case For A Just War
(Part Five of Five)
During the American Civil War, General Robert E. Lee stood on a hillside near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and watched the progress of battle. It was near Christmas Day and still the cannons were booming, muskets meting out death, and sabers flashing. To no one in particular, Lee mused, “It is good that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.”
Lee knew that there is something in man’s base nature that loves war. And there is! Stirred by nationalistic fervor, sloganism, and a John Philip Sousa march song, history has proven man all too willing to fight. But what are the biblical conditions that must be met before a Christian goes to war?
The Bible says, “By wise guidance wage war” (Proverbs 20:18). Let’s look for that wisdom in Scripture.
The Bible forbids personal revenge, violent and unauthorized killing (Exodus 20:13). The taking of human life is the prerogative of God (Job 1:21) and the state (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-14). For a Christian to go to war and potentially take another’s life, war must be declared by a recognized government.
All government leaders should be well aware of the fact that God judges a nation that fights for evil purposes such as imperialism, colonialism, greed, pride, etc. In Amos 1:13, God says to a nation, “For three transgressions of the Ammonites and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have ripped up women with child in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border.”
An interesting man to study in this light is Stonewall Jackson. A deacon in the Presbyterian Church, from Lexington, Virginia, he taught at Virginia Military Institute. When the Civil War broke out he answered the call to arms. His motive was to glorify God. He would not fight on Sunday as much as it depended on him, and even wrote to Abraham Lincoln complaining that the Yankees kept attacking him on the Sabbath. Before each battle he would pray asking God to show him when and how to attack so as to win with as little killing as possible!
If one has to fight, then an attitude like Jackson’s is laudable!
Before war is waged, peace must be sought. It is to be sought in prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-2), in turning the other cheek and going the second mile (Matthew 5:38-42), offering just terms of peace (Deuteronomy 20:10), and making every other good effort for reconciliation (Psalm 120:7, Romans 12:18).
Peace must be our objective, war an extreme last resort.
We must not be warmongers, saber-rattlers, trigger-happy, and bristling to fight and just looking for a reason. War must never be our first recourse but a last resort.
A good question to ask yourself right now is, “What are you doing for peace?” Are you praying for it? Are you practicing humility, promoting human understanding, pursuing justice?
A nation must make God their trust and security. When a people look to armies, machines of war, self, and international alliances for security, they are turning to idolatry.
“Some boast of chariots, and some of horses; but we boast of the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).
“I love Thee, O Lord, my strength,” wrote King David. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer” (Psalm 18:1-3).
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord’” (Jeremiah 17:5).
Consider the international arms race for a moment in this light. Is it bigger and better ships, guns, missiles, and tanks that will save us, or bigger and better people who know how to rely upon the Lord?
The arms race of the cold war bred upon our fears. Russia was paranoid and America was insecure. So we kept building bombs and stockpiling them at an alarming rate. And much of our arms reduction talk was like two men waist deep in gasoline facing each other, the one complaining he’s got only 26 matches while the other guy’s got 37.
Our coins say “In God We Trust,” but do we trust God, pray to Him, serve Him, learn His word, obey Him?
The best security is in God! He must be the cornerstone of our national defense. And upon that foundation can we build our weapons and treaties and armies.
Biblically, the reasons for going to war include:
Self-defense. If someone enters your home forcibly to rape and kill and steal, you would in every likelihood defend yourself. The same is true nationally. Saul and David defended themselves against Philistine invasion. So did Gideon. Even Jesus recognized this right and responsibility in Matthew 24:43, where He said, “But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into.”
Wars the United States has fought and justified with the self-defense criteria would include World Wars I and II.
A second condition for a just war is the criteria of protecting national interests. For example, in the Old Testament, Joshua fought a war that the children of Israel might have a homeland. Entire nations were slaughtered or displaced to make room for Jewish settlers.
We still hear this criterion used today. Our president will speak of it being in the national interest that thus and so be done.
Woodrow Wilson argued our involvement in WWI, saying, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” We fought to protect our friends, our trade alliances, etc.
Questions: Should we fight to protect the oil supply our national economy depends upon? Were we right in killing Indians so we could settle the land? Would we be right in going to war with a nation that was producing heroin and selling to American dealers who used it to make dope addicts of our youth?
Hard questions! Answers? Such is the weight and wisdom and responsibility of political office these days. And does this say something about the importance of electing wise and godly people to office and then praying for them?
A third condition for a just war is that of fighting to rectify wrongs.
1 Samuel 15:2-3 has Israel going to war against the Amalekites for opposing Israel in the wilderness.
Judges 19-21 tells of a civil war Israel fought to avenge the wrong done by the tribe of Benjamin.
This ethic says that we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9). We are responsible for our neighbor’s well being. If we see our neighbor being wrongly attacked, it is our duty to go to his aid. “Love your neighbor as yourself” means we must be willing to intervene in behalf of others, to force a nation to remedy its evil actions, to make restitution.
The North fought the Civil War against the South to save the Union and abolish slavery. A Yankee soldier at Gettysburg put it so well when he said, “If I die, few will miss me. But if the Union dies, a lot of people will miss her. So it’s better I die than her.”
The Vietnam War was waged with this criterion.
Our involvement in Central America and Lebanon was predicated upon this ethic. We were there as neighbors helping fend off the attack of those who would shoot their way to power.
A fourth criterion for a just war is the pre-emptive war or anticipatory war.
The thinking here is relatively simple. If you think you’re going to have to fight someone eventually, then it is ethically permissible to attack them at the time of your choosing and not theirs. Hit them at your most opportune time. Strike when they are least ready and you are most ready. This supposedly will insure a quicker victory and cost fewer lives.
Joshua in the Old Testament was told by God to march into Canaan and attack all its inhabitants, killing every person. Israel was in good physical shape, toughened by forty years of desert trekking and eager to settle in the land. It was therefore an opportune time for them to conquer once and for all.
In Judges 8:4 and following, Gideon kills a disloyal enemy within his camp. He is strong and they are weak. But they might not stay so. In killing them now, he insured they would cause no later trouble.
President Reagan used this war ethic in attacking the Marxist forces in Granada. They were busy stockpiling weapons, building a military airstrip, and fomenting revolution. So American forces preempted a future and bloodier war by attacking right away. Sort of a “nip-it-in-the-bud” action.
Proportionality is an issue in war. A nation must not over-retaliate.
The question, “Is it winnable?” must be asked about the potential war. Why go to battle if the outcome is hopeless?
What should a Christian do then when war is imminent and his nation calls on him to fight?
Here I would point again to Proverbs 20:18. “By wise guidance, wage war.” Here in the church the elders should gather and discuss the war, the ethics of one’s involvement in it, our national motives, etc., and upon their best information, determine the morality or immorality of the conflict.
If the war is moral, every person should do his duty, distasteful as it may be, in this fallen world of sin, knowing that even Jesus shared the cross of pain and death with us. (Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:1).
If the war is judged immoral, Christians should speak out, wield their political power, and ask to serve in non-combative roles such as medical teams, the chaplaincy, or diplomatic functions. If this is not allowed, then Christians should refuse to fight and accept the consequences. (Acts 4:18-21, 5:27-29, and Romans 13:1-7).
St. Augustine concludes all of this so well with words penned in North Africa over 1500 years ago: “Peace,” he wrote, “ought to be your desire, war only your necessity! Hence, even in warfare, be a peacemaker…Let it be necessity, not your desire, which slays the foe in fight.”