In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus states that loving God with all of one’s heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the most important commandments. Paul then states in Galatians 5:14 that the whole law is summarized in the phrase “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What, if any, implications do these words have for determining if war is ever justified or not?
There are biblical passages that seem to indicate that Christians should never go to war:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:27-31, ESV)
However, some have argued that the biblical command to love our neighbor requires that we go to war. It is argued that going to the defense of our neighbor who is under attack is an act of love. If we fail to go to our neighbor’s defense, we fail to obey God’s command. John Calvin stated that a soldier is “an agent of God’s love.” He said that soldiering in a just manner is a “God-like act” because “restraining evil out of love for our neighbor” is an imitation of God’s restraining of evil. As we seek to restrain evil, we imitate God who restrains evil out of love for His creation.
Charles Colson wrote, “A world where Christians refuse to fight just wars wouldn’t be peaceful, and it certainly wouldn’t be a more just world. It would be a world where evil would be unchecked by justice and where the strong would be free to prey on the weak.” (Tough Questions About God, Faith, and Life – p. 196).
So what do you think? Is just war an act of love for our neighbor as Calvin and Colson argue?
Note: John Calvin quotations taken from Tough Questions About God, Faith, and Life by Charles Colson, p. 196.
From a Liberal perspective, no one has the right to decide what is a “just war”. The War in Iraq removed an evil dictator who killed his own people, yet the American occupation has overseen more innocent Iraqi deaths than under Sadam.
We live in a World with dynamic and differing values.
It needs to move away from this Religious feeling. Being a “good Christian” or a “good muslim” or a “good jew” is devastating to the Planet. It segregates rather than brings together. We need to be on a human level rather than a Religious level. In my opinion, a “Just war” would be one where Religion is expelled from our minds. But obviously my opinion will differ from yours on this, which proves just how different we all are.
I started my “adult” Christianity as a committed pacifist. It was my firm conviction that, if face to face with an enemy with a rifle, and my only way to stop him from shooting me was to shoot him, my Christian duty was to put down my weapon and let him shoot; to accept death rather than inflicting it. This developed through my mid to late teens, which for me was heading for a culmination upon my 18th birthday. I never had to act on my conviction, as the draft for the Vietnam war ended 5 months before I became eligible.
Over the next ten years, my opinion changed. I have been reluctant to speak of it, because I am justly open to criticism on the grounds that I was anti-war when it appeared I might be tapped to go, and pro-war when I am safe, and my vote could send others. I have yielded my voice, except for one time when I stood before a group on Veterans day and apologized, while honoring those who did serve. This is my second venture in the topic in 35 years.
As my life began to develop, and become less “me” focused, I expanded my thought experiment. What if the other shooter was not threatening me, but a true innocent, a child? (in my original development, it was “what if my child?”) or many children?
If I can justify armed, lethal force to defend even a nursery school against someone with a machine gun, then the philosophical Rubicon has been crossed, If I say “yes” then the issue can never again be whether armed combat is ever just, the issue can only be what constitutes just war, and how or by whom is it to be decided. It is no use just opting out personally – if it is ever a good and right thing to do, then it is a good, right, and perhaps our bounden duty for me as well.
What is just war? I don’t know. But I do know that though the Old Testament, the highest condemnations seem to be reserved first for those who confound the worship of the Lord with that of “other gods”, and second for those who by acts active or passive persecute and prey on the week and helpless.
I agree that deciding when a war is just is not always easy and that there may be disagreement, but the question is “Is there ever a time when war is just?” Was WWII a just war? Is it OK for an invaded country to defend itself? To simply say there is never a time for war seems simplistic and possibly naive. I believe my religious convictions make it more difficult to justify going to war than if I were not a Christian. If I were non-religious, I would be led only by my own concious. It would not be a matter of right and wrong, only opinions.
R. Eric Sawyer:
Thank you for your thoughts. I believe you make an important observation when you state that “If I can justify armed, lethal force to defend even a nursery school against someone with a machine gun, then the philosophical Rubicon has been crossed, If I say “yes” then the issue can never again be whether armed combat is ever just, the issue can only be what constitutes just war, and how or by whom is it to be decided.”
It may not be easy to determine when war is justified, but to say we as Christians should never go to war may be too simplistic a statement.