Is There a Christian Attitude toward War?
- Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The current conflict between the Israeli military and the Hizbollah has been escalating in the past weeks, seen not only in the growing number of casualties, but in the displacement of many Israelis and Lebanese and in the destruction of infrastructure.
While the writing of this article has been primarily prompted by the present war in the North, it is important to take into account the ongoing conflict in Gaza that has been overshadowed and nearly forgotten in the past month. Many believers on both sides of the conflict have had to abandon their homes, cancel organized programs, and live in fear for the lives of their families. The impact of war and the depth of human misery are becoming all too clear the longer these conflicts are perpetuated.
As past and present history has evidenced, we are struck by the fact that humanity seems more ready to go to war than to work towards peace. This is not an observation we can gloss over, but one we must take responsibility for. The reality of war is not externally imposed on this world, but is the creation and work of human beings. War is a man-made phenomenon; it has been so from the beginning of the human narrative, and it is so with our present conflict.
Facing the magnitude of conflict, however, human beings feel the need to seek out grand interpretations of reality in order to create a sense of order in the midst of chaos. Sometimes the sought-out explanations remove the guilt of war from human hands. Such explanations can range from militaristic to apocalyptic interpretations. The apocalyptic worldview in particular is appealing to many believers.
My eldest son, for example, recently returned from a summer camp in which he encountered a number of American Christians who were advocating a particular interpretation of the book of Revelation. Their apocalyptic worldview allowed them to speculate about the identity of the "beast" or of the "horn" and so on. I attempted to explain to my son that these issues are far more complex. To this my son responded, "Dad, you need to read the book of Revelation" - a book I study and teach annually. There is no doubt that the current emotionally-charged situation makes a black and white worldview very appealing for the sake of its simplicity. When adopting this framework of interpretation, we only have to worry about being on the side of "good" rather than that of "evil." The complex "grey" reality consequently slips between the cracks.
To some degree, the human propensity to shy away from grey situations is understandable. The hard, ambiguous questions are frightening to us because they are not always followed by satisfying answers. Furthermore, in a society where believers represent the minority, we are less likely to challenge the status quo. We fear that by raising the tough questions we will be perceived as betrayers to our national community. Both these reasons make it easier to ignore complexity rather than face it, for facing it may mean taking a difficult ethical stance. Conflicts are not simplistic, and if we are to engage them responsibly as the body of Messiah, we will have to face many difficult questions, despite our fears.
The present conflict is not only concerned with land, state, or ideology. Religion plays a significant role. Some have even come to perceive this conflict in terms of a clash between civilizations: between the Christian West and the Muslim East. Religion functions as the lens through which people of the Middle East interpret their lives and their environment, and as such must be taken very seriously. The role of faith is of course fundamental in the lives of local believers. What interpretive frameworks inform the worldviews of the body of Messiah? How does our environment impact our religious convictions and vice versa? In this article I would like to examine a number of the working frameworks, both biblical and historical, that are influential in the lives of local believing communities.
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