Jesus and the Case for War

(This is a column posted today on www.TownHall.com)   

I like to strike up conversations with people I meet while traveling. Last Tuesday, on the way back to San Francisco airport, I asked the driver where he was from. “Jordan,” he replied.

In an effort to make a connection, I mentioned that I haven’t gotten to Jordan, but I went to Iran in 2006 and served in Saudi Arabia with the Navy twenty years ago.

“What do you do?” he asked.

“I’m a writer and a speaker. I co-authored a book defending the truth of Christianity called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.”

“I’m a Christian too,” he said. Then, just as we were pulling into the terminal, he asked, “What do you think about the Iraq war?”

With less than 90 seconds left in the ride, I quickly said, “I think it was the least bad choice we had. Saddam used WMD, invaded Kuwait, and then violated 17 straight UN resolutions and the cease fire. What other choice did we have in a post 9-11 world?”

He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he claimed that Iraq had nothing to with 9-11, and that we just should have gone after the bad guys in Afghanistan. He then said, “Jesus told us to love our enemies.”

Leaving the issue of 9-11 aside, was his inference correct? In light of what Jesus said about loving our enemies, should Christians be pacifists?

I don’t think so. In fact, sometimes the use of force is not only justified, it can be a dereliction of duty not to use force.

First, “loving your enemies,” like “turn the other cheek,” is a command for individuals in personal relationships. It is not a command for governments or for individuals put in grave bodily harm. As individuals we should pray for our enemies and “turn the other cheek” instead of returning insult for insult. Such behavior demonstrates supernatural love aimed at securing the offender’s conversion to Christ. But those commands do not mean that we have no right to personal self defense, nor do they mean that a nation shouldn’t protect its people from other hostile nations.

With regard to self defense, not only does the Old Testament affirm the right to self defense (Ex. 22:2), Jesus himself told his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). Jesus later told Peter “put your sword away” so Christ’s sacrifice would go forward and the scriptures would be fulfilled (Mt. 26:54). But the very fact that Jesus told Peter and the other disciples to buy a sword shows that its use for personal protection is appropriate. (By the way, Jesus never condoned the use of the sword as a means of religious conversion. It’s impossible anyway. Genuine conversion, by definition, is freely accepted. It cannot be coerced.)

With regard to war, the New Testament does not order newly baptized soldiers to get out of the military. Instead, John the Baptist told them not to abuse their power and to be content with their pay (Luke 3:14). Soldiers are needed because, as Paul pointed out in Romans 13, governments have a God-given responsibility to use “the sword” to protect their people from harm. In fact, Paul himself accepted military protection when he was in danger (Acts 22:25f), and Jesus affirmed the right of governments to impose capital punishment, saying that such a right was given by God (Jn. 19:11).

Second, “love your enemies” cannot mean that all use of force is prohibited because such an interpretation would contradict the passages just cited and result in absurd conclusions. It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” means “allow them to kill your family.” How would that be loving to your family?

It would be absurd to say that “love your enemies” prohibits all wars. What about the war against Hitler? Not justified? Please. How would that be loving to the Jews or the countries overrun? (Notice that even my driver friend isn’t against all wars. He thinks that the war in Afghanistan is justified. But if “love your enemies” meant you could never use force, then how can Afghanistan be justified?)

With such an absurd interpretation, we couldn’t even have police protection, a court system, or prisons. Why believe that police can use force but not Armies? There’s not much of a difference. Police use force to protect people from enemies inside a country. Armies use force to protect people from enemies outside a country.

Without the proper use of force, we’d have anarchy, and innocent people would be hurt or killed. That’s why complete pacifism is not only unbiblical, it is a dereliction of duty. Individuals have a responsibility to protect themselves and their families from harm, and governments have a similar responsibility to protect their citizens.

Christians can and should, of course, oppose specific wars that don’t meet what theologians call “just-war theory.” As I mentioned in my last column, I believe the Iraq war is just. But I didn’t get enough time with my driver friend to hear his complete case against the Iraq war. Maybe he knows something I don’t, but it didn’t seem so.

One thing is for certain: Christians contradict scripture and common sense when they say no war or use of force can ever be justified. As terrible as it is, war is sometimes the least bad choice available. In other words, it’s not that Christians are for war; it’s that we’re against the alternative—the oppression and death of the innocent. And in a fallen world like this, sometimes the use of force is necessary to protect the innocent. Without it, we wouldn’t even be able to love our friends.

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9 replies
  1. Andrew Ryan says:

    “he claimed that Iraq had nothing to with 9-11”

    That’s not a ‘claim’, it’s a statement of fact.

    “Not justified? Please. How would that be loving to the Jews or the countries overrun?”

    I agree with you. Loving others doesn’t mean that you have to ‘love people who hate others’, at least not in the sense that ‘loving them’ stops you making a stand to prevent their hatred harming others.

    However, this sentiment directly contradicts what you told me on another thread a couple of days ago: that being ‘tolerant of others’ would logically lead to being tolerant of other people’s intolerance. It doesn’t – whether you’re a Christian of the Far Right, or a liberal atheist – as you yourself now appear to have realised!

    Reply
  2. Howard says:

    The “What Would Jesus Bomb?” bumperstickers are popular here, at least on some neighborhoods. If ever been asked to answer that question (not holding my breath), the answer is “Sodom and Gomorrah.”

    Reply
  3. Barry says:

    Frank I follow you on the Nrb . tonight you stated that there are diff. levels of judgement issued in hell but do you believe this will be true when hell and death will be cast into the lake of fire . it seems to me this means no party in hell all will suffer as the lake of fire burns them .
    Do you trust in all the Word of God ?
    Do you turst it over science or the word of man ?
    I do !
    God bless !
    Barry

    Reply
  4. That Darn Republican says:

    Frank,

    As succinctly stated as usual; the danger for followers of Christ is that ignorance of clear biblical mandate with a degree of specificity that clearly lifts the fog of scriptural illiteracy that binds many peoples ability adequately defend the truth of God’s Word. So taking a page out of Greg’s pamphlet “Never Read A Bible Verse” we can see how repeating non-verified, misquoted scripture can:

    a) Be easily knocked down by a shrewed secular debater.
    b) Weaken the faith of the person claiming to believe the core biblical statute.

    Knowledge is empowering, and if what is known to be absolutely correct is in fact correct, then that should leave no room for doubt and unclarity to shake a solid biblically based response to a secular challenge or biblical misquote, nice article.

    Reply
  5. Tim D. says:

    Such behavior demonstrates supernatural love aimed at securing the offender’s conversion to Christ.

    As I suspected all along; it’s not real, genuine compassion. It’s just a tool to try and sway people like me over to one side of the argument.

    You know what I like about secular bloggers, and the less-extremist Christian bloggers? They ask questions in their blogs, and they explore things, but they don’t just offer up some half-baked explanation for God, Morality And Everything and then act like it’s all figured out, and If Only Everybody Else Would Act The Same Way, Then All Our Problems Would Be Solved.

    I don’t even know why I bother, really. It’s like coming to a white power rally and complaining about the racism….

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  6. Tim D. says:

    Frank I follow you on the Nrb . tonight you stated that there are diff. levels of judgement issued in hell but do you believe this will be true when hell and death will be cast into the lake of fire . it seems to me this means no party in hell all will suffer as the lake of fire burns them .
    Do you trust in all the Word of God ?
    Do you turst it over science or the word of man ?
    I do !
    God bless !
    Barry

    …what?

    Okay, I’m sorry Mr. Barry, but I only understood about half of that. Hell and Death will be cast into the lake of fire? Isn’t “the lake of fire” a metaphor for Hell? How can Hell be cast into itself? If English isn’t your first language then I can excuse grammatical errors, but if this isn’t pushing it, I don’t know what is. “No party in hell all will suffer?”

    And in a fallen world like this, sometimes the use of force is necessary to protect the innocent. Without it, we wouldn’t even be able to love our friends.

    Ah, how poetic! Yeah, I know it’s the IN thing to do right now to say that this world is “going to hell in a handbasket” or any other such pretty metaphor, but I get really, really sick of hearing these kinds of things. What? People die? People suffer? It’s called life. Every time something bad happens, I hear people trying to blame somebody, no matter how out-of-our-hands the event is—hurricanes? Oh, they come because we accept gays. What? Earthquakes? Well, if they weren’t Christian, that wouldn’t happen. What’s that? You’re a Christian and you were in an earthquake? Well, you won’t be saved from earthquakes just because you’re Christian, God Lets Life Happen!

    Do you ever listen to yourself talk, Mr. Frank? I mean, seriously. Do you?

    Reply
  7. R. Sweet says:

    Tim D. – you should open the Bible and then you would realize that what Barry said is a direct quote of the Bible. It’s fine that you don’t understand it. None of us Christian or non always understand everything but don’t insult him for a correct quote. I believe that the metaphor means that no one else will be sent to Hell at that point. I could be wrong.

    Frank – I don’t believe that the war on Iraq was justified by 9/11. The Bush administration and those of them that were a part of his father’s administration had plans to invade Iraq long before 9/11. By the way, Osama Bin Laden isn’t from Iraq! Also, why didn’t they even attempt to look for him for 3 months? You can read it yourself on the neo-con website for PNAC (Project for a new American Century). Still, I do believe that it was God’s will. I believe (as the Bible states) that God chooses the leaders of this world and leads them to fulfill his will. I think that 9/11 and the war in Iraq are just a few pieces to the puzzle that will ultimately bring about the events foretold in the book of Revelation. Still, that doesn’t mean that this or any war is ever morally correct. We are fallen sinners in a sinful world influenced by Satan. Therefore, we are condemned to live as sinners even if we are saved. We must protect ourselves if we wish to preserve our Earthly life but Jesus taught that we should sacrifice our life to follow Him. Notice, we are not taught to sacrifice our life in war to protect other sinners but we should turn the other cheek even if it means that we sacrifice our life and die because then we have truly followed Jesus. Now, is this practical? No. Still, it is the morally correct thing to do according to Jesus. As you say, we are not capable of living up to the standard set by Jesus. Yet, I believe that we are forgiven (if we are saved) for fighting back, defending ourselves, or going to war. If we have been forgiven of all sins then, these are forgiven also. Still, that doesn’t make it morally justified, correct or Christian. It is still a sin.

    Reply
  8. Tim D. says:

    Tim D. – you should open the Bible and then you would realize that what Barry said is a direct quote of the Bible. It’s fine that you don’t understand it. None of us Christian or non always understand everything but don’t insult him for a correct quote. I believe that the metaphor means that no one else will be sent to Hell at that point. I could be wrong.

    Yes, I said that quite some time ago (and was quite irritable at the time); but it still stands that the sentence, “hell and death will be cast into the lake of fire” does not make a lick of sense to me 0_0

    Reply
  9. Apollo says:

    I don’t know if I think or what you say is correct to biblical teaching. War happens due to the sinful nature of humans. Everyone’s journey in this life is different and sometimes I want to judge the killers of war on both sides. The Old Testament shows and demonstrates war to show Gods justice righteous and holy and how pure he is. It’s like the laws in the Old Testament it only leads us to in this earth, that we need a savior.

    That being said…. as a child of God, as you seek his word, we now know that killing in anyway is not right, so why send our kids out to fight, at the same time other countries are also trying to defend them selves from being bombed by our super power.

    We in the USA welove war well not only the USA the world itself , I get it… it’s in our human nature our sin to justify these acts.

    Humans have our own law, I think what Christ “the word of God” is leading us yes to obey our governments, for example abortion (should we war against these doctors killings) gay rights, etc… but that does not mean to agree with it. And the ideas of wars will continue and never stop until He returns, history or should I say sin always repeats itself.

    Our journey is to love one another, and what ever position you are in, we must seek God and to love one another and not bomb one another, but the bigger picture is not for these huge governments it’s for the children of God, our journey as people that seek the “truth” the word.

    Reply

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