01 October 2012
America has been waging war for more than a decade. First Afghanistan, then Iraq, still Afghanistan, two wars and one long human tragedy.
Too many of the nation’s sons and daughters have come home hurt and too many have not come home at all. Too many continue in harms way.
Despite what zealous warriors have argued along the way, there’s not much that’s glorious about war. Certainly in the midst of war individuals have demonstrated unimaginable feats of heroism and sacrifice. But in this the individual should be honored, not war.
It’s not just a peacenik idea, or at least shouldn’t be, to think, “Would that war could be banished forever.”
But wars will always be with us. In fact, as what the Bible calls “the Last Days” come, we will hear more about “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6).
One reason war will be with us until the end of time is that sin will be with us until the end of time, at least time as we know it pre-eternity. And “sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). Sin generates evil, graft, greed, and corruption. It births hate and hostility and killing desires. Sin divides.
Kinds Of Wars
In the Old Testament, God says, “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime” (Habakkuk 2:15). In this brief passage God condemns wars of aggression. A war of aggression is any war initiated for territorial or other gain against another people. Wars of aggression are a form of stealing.
To suggest, as some commentators do, that America has never fought a war of aggression is a bit hazy, for it fails to account for our checkered history of relationships with Native American groups during the frontier period. But it is true to assert that America’s involvement in international wars has not been primarily motivated by aggression.
America has for the most part involved itself in wars in order to protect people, to ensure justice in the face of great evil, or to re-establish peace. While people die either way, wars of protection, justice, and peace are qualitatively different from wars of aggression.
God tells us in Romans 13 that he ordained government for the sake of order and justice, as a restraint upon sin and a means of punishment for evildoers (1-4). Therefore, if governments allow evildoers to go un-checked, governments are not fulfilling their divinely appointed stewardship. Consequently, fighting a war against injustice is a just war. Because of sin, a war of justice is not simply unavoidable; it may be essential and legitimate.
Wars are a means of last resort, a form of killing made necessary by sin and a tool reserved by God for governments. No Christian should be a warmonger, but neither can a biblically consistent Christian reject war in all circumstances. Wars are not all moral, but neither are they always immoral.
Using the Sword
The sixth commandment of the Old Testament Ten Commandments is found in the book of Exodus, 20:13. It says, “You shall not murder.” No human being is permitted to take the life of another human being. Yet elsewhere in Scripture, specifically in Romans 13:4, God refers to human government in this way: “For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
Did you catch the distinction? God warned individuals away from killing in the form of murder, yet he specifically commissions human government with the task of punishing wrongdoers, including the use of the sword, an instrument of death.
Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn war. In fact God at times used war to judge his people Israel or to judge other nations. Nowhere, either, does God condemn soldiers like the Roman Centurions simply for being soldiers.
God is love. But God is also holy and just. As long as we live in this world and sin exists, war will be part of our experience. Sin will cause war and sin will necessitate war in the interest of peace. No right thinking Christian should want war, but we must acknowledge that God has given this sword to government.
Peace Is Never Free
Peace is something virtually every sane individual desires—for themselves and for their country. On a national level, peace is generally understood as the absence of armed conflict of any kind, including full-fledged war.
When the time comes to make the decision to place soldiers and sailors in harms way, a nation must weigh the costs. For peace is never free.
Though armed conflict invariably results in the loss of American lives, peace-at-any-price is often too great a cost to bear. Not to have responded in the name of peace and justice to the heinous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 would have been to grant terrorism a free hand. Not to have responded to 9/11 would have been to devalue the innocent civilian lives that had been snuffed out. Not to have taken up arms after 9/11 would have been to weaken the political strength of the United States on the world stage, an action that would have eventually cost America militarily, diplomatically, and economically.
So peace-at-any-price is, ironically, too costly. To preserve its ideals and its people, a nation must from time to time engage in military action.
Holy Scripture gives us principles not plans or programs. God leaves it to us to decide our course in this world, be it conflict or peace. Our responsibility is to model God’s standards even during war by praying for leaders, by conducting war as justly as possible, and by working to secure a just peace. War is at times justifiable even if never desirable. Yet lasting peace comes only from God.
I am not a pacifist, though I respect those who are. Because evil exists in the world I believe governments must at times respond with force. Where would we be today if the Greatest Generation had not stood up to Hitler in World War II? I therefore believe there is a place for presidents and prime ministers, armies and bombs. But this said, I don’t believe force in conflicts or in war will ever change the future of a region like, for example, the Middle East. Only Jesus Christ recognized and accepted one heart at a time and only the blessings of a Christian understanding of life can transform hopelessness to hope. Only the Lord can make wars cease (Psalm 46:8).
“Seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).
Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President SAT-7, www.sat7usa.org,