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Monday, April 11, 2005

Theology Tuesday: God and War

“And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house. And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”
-Judges 6:14-16

“So Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he, and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.
Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night. And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Beth-horon, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah.”
-Joshua 10:7-10

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
-The Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 13, Verse 8

“Christ is the same in the Old Testament day, in the gospel day, and will be so to his people for ever.”
-Matthew Henry, “Matthew Henry’s Commentary”

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
-The Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 9

Those who claim to be Christians are not a block – not a block of voters, and not a block of opinion on the important issues of the day. One of the issues which has us divided is the issue of war – not just the war in Iraq, and not even just over the doctrine of preemptive war. No, there are a large percentage of Christians (by which, in this post, I mean not only Christians but also those who merely profess to be) who are against any war and those who have supported every conflict in the past 20 years.

On the surface, there seems to be a dichotomy in the Bible. On one hand, we have the God who leads the Israelites through war after war with their neighbors in the Old Testament. Some of these wars are defensive, some in rebellion against an occupying force, and some are ‘preemptive’, in that they are conducted before the other nation has attacked Israel. God even uses pagan nations in war to serve His purposes – typically the punishment of Israel. On the other hand, Jesus Christ never once advocates violence of any kind. In fact, he praises the peacemakers and encourages us to turn the other cheek when insulted.

Which is it? After all, we are told in the Bible that Jesus Christ and God, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. How can an unchanging God be both pro-war and anti-war?

The answer (not the devil) is in the details. Well, perhaps the devil is in the details, as he uses our ignorance of the details to turn us on each other. What details? Really, there is only one which concerns this difference: the place of Christianity versus the nature of God.

Christianity is not a national religion. It is not a program of instruction for businesses, nor is it a series of guidelines for nation-states. My discussion of the relation between Christ and the government is here - the crux of it is that He did not proscribe rules for the governance of a nation. Interestingly enough, what did Christ express His dissatisfaction with? The warlike Roman government? Not once. Corrupt religious leaders. Reliance upon earthly treasure. Failure to trust in Him completely. The message of Christ is salvation to the individual and the good news that it is not because of anything we do, but because of what He has done for us.

Those Christians who are against all wars ignore the infinite constancy of the Lord of Hosts. He led His people in battle and ordered them to destroy nations that did not follow His laws. While this does not justify all wars, or any war in particular, it does show that there are certainly some wars that are just. Our divisions should instead be over whether the particular one at hand is...or is not.


  • Good question. How does one determine if this particular war is just or not (in light of the NT)? The US didn’t “turn the other cheek” in response to Al Queda. In the current battle(s), we’re the aggressors. I’d be curious to hear an explanation from a theology student. I have my ideas, but they may or may not differ from yours.

    By Blogger Robert, at 4/12/2005 04:14:00 PM  

  • Amen brother! I have my own problems with any war, but they are just that, my own problem. I don't like people getting killed, I won't even watch war movies for that reason. I don't like hell either, but we make choices that cause life to be not like the garden of eden. God does not like divorce, but He allowed it, in certain situations, for the people.

    By Blogger Teresa, at 4/13/2005 01:05:00 PM  

  • God doesn't speak to organizations or governments in His word, but to individuals.

    Thus, the notion of a nation-state turning the other cheek makes no sense.

    No where in the NT does Jesus criticize the authorities in their official capacities, nor does he rebel against them even unto death. But he certainlt challenges them as individuals.

    Only individuals can have a relationship with Christ, not governments. Governments wage war.

    By Blogger dadmanly, at 4/13/2005 04:54:00 PM  

  • What is a government, if not a collection of individuals? Armies march to war on the orders of individuals, who are responsible for their actions.

    By Blogger Robert, at 4/13/2005 06:04:00 PM  

  • Robert has identified a possible quandry - nations do march to war on the orders of individuals, and individuals are under the Cross. Now what?

    What we must turn to are the underpinnings of the commands to turn the other cheek and to love our neighbor.

    First, "turn the other cheek" is not a directed response to a physical attack intending to injure or kill. Instead, the face slap is clearly an insult, meant to provoke a physical confrontation where one may otherwise be avoided.

    I personally was able to obey this command to the letter once on a Phildelphia street. A guy who I knew from school (Dion) was in a taxi with some of his pals, and some of my drunk buddies hollered at them. Dion jumped out and headed over to our group, obviously drunk and angry. I stepped in between and told him, "Dion, you need to get back in that cab with your friends". He said some drunk stuff, I repeatd myself, and then he, literally, open-handed smacked me on the cheek.

    What did I do? Exactly as I should - "Dion, I know who you are and will be reporting this to your supervisor" (in the lingo of my school). His eyes got big, his friends grabbed him and they got back into the cab and left. Even though he came and found me at school and asked me not to report him, I did. Why? He was wrong, and it was the job of his supervisor to figure out what, if anything, would happen to him. I didn't even check to find out.

    I could have fought with him then. I was just starting my boxing career, but was better with my hands than the average bear. However, I didn't need to. Dion's blow was not meant to injure, it was meant to provoke. Thus, turning the other cheek was the right response.

    But, if Dion had drawn back a fist to attack, I beleive I would have been justified in ducking under the punch, and delivering a double left hook (body, head) followed by an uppercut, then stepped over his unconscious form while his friends came to get him.

    How does that apply to the current war, or perhaps wars in general?

    Wow, this is long. I'm going to redo this as an independent post tonight.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/15/2005 03:11:00 PM  

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