Greetings to everyone who shall read:
I write this as something that I have read and meditated about over the last year or so. The issue of war and the attitude that the follower of Christ should have towards it.
The more I thought about this issue and the more I thought about what God’s Word has to say about war, the more heinous in my mind war becomes. What more wretched evil has humanity brought on itself than war? War only does two things (to quote an ultra conservative radio talk show host whom I no longer agree with) “kill people and break things.” In the United States, young men and women are forced by their country to take the lives of other human beings day by day. It doesn’t matter that ours is an all volunteer army. It doesn’t matter that the individual volunteers for various reasons. Personally, I did my four year enlistment in the US Army for the college money. I’ll get back to personal reflections or “rantings” if you prefer, a bit later. We need to first look at what the Word has to say about this issue.
First, I think it important to look at God’s view of human government. We of course see throughout biblical history that God used different nations for different purposes. However, I think it naive to think that the Almighty endorses the institution. A great insight about God’s true attitude towards human government can be found in I Samuel 8:5-22. In this passage, the Israelites were demanding a king:
5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”
6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”
Samuel Warns against a Kingdom
10 So Samuel passed on the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 “This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. 12Some will be generals and captains in his army,* some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. 13 The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. 14 He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. 16 He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle* and donkeys for his own use. 17He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. 18When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. 20 “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.”
21 So Samuel repeated to the Lord what the people had said, 22and the Lord replied, “Do as they say, and give them a king.” Then Samuel agreed and sent the people home.
* Hebrew commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties.
* As in Greek version; Hebrew reads young men.
Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nded. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. 1 Sa 8:4
Samuel got pissed at the people, for lack of a better word. But as we see, God allows it, even though He clearly does not approve. Later on, beginning with King Saul, and later with the kings of the House of David, we can see all of God’s warnings coming to pass. While America is of course neither a monarchy, nor most definitely not an anarchic theocracy as they were in the times of the judges, we can definitely see some definite parallels. The most relevant for this discussion being soldiers and war. As an aside, one might think “but didn’t God tell the Israelites to ethnically cleanse the land?” Admittedly, yes. But all this came after when they were supposed to enter the Promised Land almost as soon as they left Egypt. That generation of the Israelites (with the exception of Joshua, Caleb, Aaron, Miriam, and Moses) were doomed to wander the wilderness until that generation died out, because of their complete lack of faith in God’s promises. It was only after this that Joshua entered the land by force of arms.
Now that we’ve examined God’s attitude towards human government, let’s look His attitude towards war itself. Thankfully, Jesus addresses this directly in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew and Luke. Let’s examine the text.
First, let’s begin with the “beatitudes,” Matthew 5:1-12
5 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,*
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,*
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you* and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
* Greek poor in spirit.
* Or for righteousness.
* Some manuscripts omit and lie about you.
Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nded. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Mt 5:1
Specifically, verse five and verse nine are very key. Those that are humble will inherit the earth. As far as I know, those who make war are not humble. They are very prideful. More importantly, Christ makes special mention of peacemakers. They are sons of God! What a magnificent promise we have for those that strive for peace! There will certainly be wars from now until Christ comes back, but if we take fatalistic attitudes towards the world, especially wars, then we are going against Christ’s very words.
Still in Matthew 5, let us now look at vv 38-39:
(from Aramaic Peshitta)
“You have heard it said ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you that you should not resist evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt. 5:38-39).”
Clearly, this teaches us not to repay evil for evil! I see no qualifications or divine “buts” in Christ’s teaching in this instance. We are not to return evil for evil. No exceptions.
And again, in vv.43-48:
“You have heard that it is said ‘Be kind to your friend and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless anyone who curses you, do good to anyone who hates you, and pray for those who carry you away by force and persecute you, so that you may become sons of your Father who is in heaven, who causes his sun to shine upon the good and the bad, and who pours down rain upon the just and the unjust. For if you love only those who love you, what reward will you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same thing? Therefore become perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48).”
What a tall order! While this more pertains on the individual level of not returning evil for evil, certainly this has wider implications. Our nation nor any other cannot keep up this cycle of “he hurt me so I’m gonna hurt him back.” This is one of the many many reasons Our Lord must come back at some point, before we all kill each other! In our corner of the world, we are to trust that God will deliver us from evil, and not return the evil done to us individually or collectively as a nation. This holds true for any nations, not just America. Ultimately, it comes down to what Christ said in Matthew 6:33-34 “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will look after itself. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.”
I will draw this to a close, but here is some more Scripture to ponder in regards to war:
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”*
says the LORD.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”*
21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
4 You adulterers!* Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.5 What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy?*
Be blessed and God be with you all!