Last week we looked at why Christians typically don’t talk about war, but today I’d like to share a few reasons why we need to talk about war far more than is customary. It is my premise that much of the support Christians, in America especially, lend to war does not sit well with the biblical witness.
While I’m not willing to surmise that the Bible outlaws all use of military force or that armies are antithetical to Christianity, there is a strong biblical witness suggesting that our current reflections on war and military force in the American church are generally not adequate.
For starters, we have a picture of the future painted in the Old Testament where several prophets speak of swords being beaten into plowshares: Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:10; and Micah 4:3. While the Old Testament chronicles a great deal of violence and warfare, it the Lord’s preference to save people from these violent ends. In the aftermath of the destruction brought by war the Lord longs to bring peace and restoration to the remnant. Therefore, in the words of the prophets we see God’s ideal future for humanity.
When the prophets speak of the coming Messiah, he is described as a prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). In fact, Jesus came as the Messiah and he did in fact give peace. However, he distinguished the peace he gives from the peace given out in this world. I would surmise that Jesus was trying to distinguish himself from the kind of peace brought through military conquest and subjugation. He was bringing a peace far different from the “Pax Romana” brought by the Roman legions.
In a teaching that should make military conflict darn near impossible, Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies in Matthew 5:43-44, while also cautioning Peter that those who live by the sword will die by it in Matthew 26:52. In addition, as we take stock of our commission to preach the Gospel to all people and the desire of God that none should perish (1 Timothy 2:4), I think we should at the very least be extremely uneasy at the thought of killing our enemies. Are we failing to not only love our neighbors but to preach the Gospel when we resort to violence?
I’m not ready to suggest that we rid ourselves of armies altogether. We need to parse out the need for law and order with the tendency of nations to use their armies to advance national interests, to exploit other nations, and to offer this notion of security that is truly hard to pin down.
Is it disingenuous to ask whether we have more faith in Christ or in the United States military to bring about peace? I’m still working on that one…
That’s a tough, tough question. It sends me into all kinds of soul-searching, which clues me in that it’s just the kind of question we need to be discussing in our churches today. I’m very much open to the possibility that armies can be used to protect civilians, to keep the peace in regions of instability, and to protect commerce. However, once we start spending money on an army, link military spending to the health of our economy, and make support of our troops a shield for ill-advised military action, war can become a drug that nations find difficult to give up.
As Christians wrestle with these difficult issues we find a wealth of scriptures that should give us pause when considering our nation’s use of force. Will we risk offending the troops or offending God?