May 27 – Is War Just?

May 27 – Is War Just?

Matthew 5:9

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called son] of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

We have in the New Testament the combined affirmation of government force and the lack of condemnation of those exercising that authority, supporting the overall biblical distinction between government and the private individual and the legitimate response of each to evil. Government has a responsibility for restraining evil, protecting its citizens, and maintaining their welfare. If it has a responsibility to protect its citizens from criminals, does it not also have the responsibility to protect them from criminal nations? Christ’s teaching of nonresistance, if it is to be harmonized with the rest of biblical teaching on human authority, was not given to nations, police, or parents in their official capacities.

Though the data of the New Testament on the issue of the Christian’s participation in war is not direct nor abundant, the basic principles are clear: To be godlike is to make a sacrificial, loving response to maintain a non-vindictive, nonresistant attitude in all personal relationships when one’s own rights are at stake; and human government is responsible, with accountability to God, to use force when necessary to assure righteous behavior for its citizenry.

Based on this foundation, what theology of war and peace can be deduced from other biblical principles? Consider three areas of concern: values, God’s sovereignty, and man’s responsibility.

Values: War vs. Peace. Peace is preferable to war, ordinarily. God is on the side of peace, ordinarily. We know this because peace will be the final state of those who have made peace with God. So, “blessed are the peacemakers.” Always. But sometimes war is to be preferred to peace and may be the only route to righteous peace. When people speak of war as the lesser of two evils, as when war is said to be preferable to bondage, it cannot mean that God-initiated, God-approved, or God-executed war is a lesser moral evil. If war is ever waged in the will of God, it is a moral good. It may, of course, be a lesser (or greater) human grief than some other value. But peace is not the ultimate value to which all other values should be sacrificed.

Justice vs. Love. The dichotomy is often made in favor of justice or love, but never is it made biblically; true love is tough, and true justice is tempered with mercy. Sometimes punishment is the truest expression of love for the person receiving it as well as for others who need protection from him. God holds both as ultimate values.

Physical vs. Spiritual. Though the claim is often made that even a single human (physical) life has infinite worth, this is not the biblical view. Continued physical life is not the supreme value. Many things are of greater value, such as loving relationships, loyalty, truth, justice. Perhaps even freedom, though only the lonely hero has ever acted on such a premise. He who inordinately clings to earthbound life, Jesus told us, will lose it in the end. Spiritual life is infinitely more important than the physical. Furthermore, spiritual warfare is more significant and more deadly than physical war ever could be.

Time vs. Eternity. The human life span is brief enough, whether cut short by illness, accident, or violence, or lived out to the painful weakness of old age. It is nothing compared to the eternal existence that lies before each human being. To pay too high a price for time is foolish in the light of eternity.

Individual vs. Group. If one individual means so much to God and to the person himself, surely the more people, the greater the value. And so war escalates the cost of human loss immeasurably.

Church vs. State. Church and state both are of value, though neither is of supreme value. Christ and the martyrs laid down their lives for the church, and soldiers lay down their lives for the state. But the modern nation-state is an artificial contrivance at best and certainly has no biblical basis to claim ultimate allegiance. It cannot legitimately control the church, nor demand sinful behavior of the Christian. On the other hand, the church, though speaking prophetically to the state, should not use the force of the state to accomplish its spiritual goals. Furthermore, the church is a brotherhood that knows no national boundary, and citizens of heaven have stronger ties with Christians of other lands than with non-Christians in their transient citizenship here on earth. The church is eternal and God’s own, so its value must be far greater.

Human Rights and Freedom vs. Order. Rights and freedom are valuable, but none are of absolute value. Every person’s rights are limited, if by nothing else, by the freedom of others. Order, then, adjudicates among the rights and freedoms of those whose lives are associated. Tyranny is order gone mad, and anarchy is freedom gone mad. And yet, Scripture has very little to say about civil rights and freedoms and a great deal to say about order. To overthrow order for the sake of rights and freedoms may be too high a price to pay.

Note that a biblical resolution of the tension in each value seems to lean more toward a “just war” position but note also that the issue of values is very complex.

God’s Sovereignty. Though human beings are responsible for their behavior, individual and corporate, God is in sovereign control and will bring his purposes to a successful conclusion, whether through human instrumentality, just or unjust, or through divine intervention. He will not shuffle off the stage of time in red-faced defeat. Justice and righteousness will triumph at last, and in this confidence his people can rest, whether oppressed or free.

Man’s Responsibility for War. Humankind may not lay the blame for war on God or Satan, for man is responsible for war, one of the most grievous results of his sinfulness. Because of this sinful, selfish disposition, conflict is inevitable, and for this sinful behavior he is accountable to God.

A second aspect of man’s responsibility is that humans have been chosen as instruments both of God’s judgment and grace. God has chosen civil governments as the primary agents of his judgment, and the church as the primary agent of his grace. If he waited for perfectly good and wise people to mediate his purposes on earth, his purposes would go unaccomplished. So human government—whether family or state or employer—is hobbled by its own finitude and fallenness. Nevertheless, it is God’s own instrument. Yet always our hope is in God.

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