Christians and the Drum Beat of War
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2006 Aug 18
On a recent, national radio broadcast, the so-called "War on Terror" was cast as a battle between Islam and Christianity. As the war drum was beat, a caller agreed and commented, "They need to understand, if you hurt us, we're not going to turn the other cheek, we're going to hurt you back." The very popular host quickly agreed. Of course, one can almost see a vast number of Christian Americans nodding their heads in gung-ho agreement with the statement, but, they shouldn't.
On a recent broadcast of "Calling for Truth," I spoke in defense of just war and will continue to do so. Of course, that concept has to be fleshed out and I am in the process of putting down some thoughts for a future article. In addition to the concept of entering a just war, we must think in terms of the far-less talked about concept of fighting that war justly. I also believe we must support our troops regardless of whether we agree with the war itself or not. They are simply doing what they are told. The way our Vietnam veterans were treated when they came home was atrocious despite the fact that the war was morally wrong, ill-advised, and cost thousands upon thousands of lives for nothing. I grieve over those losses. In my mind, our military personnel are heroes. They stand on the wall and keep us safe (under the providential hand of God).
But, the reality is that we as Christians must think about all questions in light of who we are as Christians even before who we are as Americans. The quoted sentiment above, "They need to understand, if you hurt us, we're not going to turn the other cheek, we're going to hurt you back," is totally foreign to the Scriptures. The obvious problem is that the Lord Jesus Himself is the one who said "turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39)." If one is going to annul that statement, he/she must do so on exegetical grounds and support his/her conclusion by bringing other biblical principles to bear upon the issue at hand. Certainly there are some cases where that may be done. But, it wasn't done in this case and it is not being done when one listens to what is being said about Iraq, Lebanon, or Iran. Christians must be Christian and set forth Christian positions in every sphere of life: not every sphere of life except war or partisan politics.
Hear Charles Spurgeon on the issue: "War is to our minds the most difficult thing to sanctify to God. The genius of the Christian religion is altogether contrary to everything like strife of any kind, much more to the deadly clash of arms. . . .Now I say again, I am no apologist for war, from my soul I loathe it, and I do not understand the position of a Christian man as a warrior, but still I greatly rejoice that there are to be found at this present day in the ranks many of those who fear God and adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour ("A Peal of Bells," July 7, 1861, Metropolitan Tabernacle)."
The other obvious problem with the sentiment in question is that neither revenge nor the heart-desire to hurt someone are biblical motives. The biblical commands are clear: "Repay no one evil for evil (Rom. 12:17)." "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:19-21)."
Some will say that texts like these apply to individuals and not nations at war. The obvious answer is that nations are comprised of individuals and it is individuals who have to do the fighting. Note Spurgeon's take on the matter: "Long have I held that war is an enormous crime; long have I regarded all battles as but murder on a large scale ("India's Ills and England's Sorrows," September 6, 1857, Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens)." Moreover, we are talking about what the Christian attitude toward war ought to be.
Now, in the midst of this text, v. 18 does say, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." Some would argue that it is not possible to "live peaceably" with Islamo-fascists. Agreed. However, that is where self-defense comes in, but certainly not vengeance. (It goes without saying that we need to keep sending missionaries to the Middle East that we might conquer them with the gospel).
Of course, when one considers a nation-state invading America, one must affirm that self-defense would be warranted on the part of America with her military, including the employment of those military personnel who are Christians. And, Christians would be justified in such participation. But, as our talk-show host cast his statements and affirmed the caller's in the context of a battle between Islam and Christianity, it must further be said that Christians as Christians do not go to physical war with Islam. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5)." Don't miss the distinction. The church doesn't mass an army and go to war. We war with Islam through the gospel and prayer.
Some may determine this nuance to be too refined. However, the rhetoric that permeates talk radio and the Christian blogosphere these days says otherwise. There is a war spirit in the hearts of many and that war spirit my beloved brothers and sisters, is not the Spirit of God.
Spurgeon's words on war are appropriate here as well. "The Lord's battles, what are they? Not the garment rolled in blood, not the noise, and smoke, and din of human slaughter. These may be the devil's battles, if you please, but not the Lord's. They may be days of God's vengeance but in their strife the servant of Jesus may not mingle. We stand aloof. Our kingdom is not of this world; else would God's servants fight with sword and spear. Ours is a spiritual kingdom, and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual, and mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds ("War! War! War!" May 1, 1859, Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens)."
We have to admit that there is in the human heart a lust to hurt those we perceive to have hurt us in some way. We tend to make excuses for such lust and look for rational reasons to return the favor. 9/11 is summoned to support our invasion of Iraq when the protection of our borders has nothing to do with our being there. Most people know in their hearts why we are there, particularly in light of the fact that the reason being cited for our being there is different today than it was before we went because that reason turned out not to be true. It's hard for conservatives to disagree with President Bush for fear of either being labeled democrat or helping the democrats politically. But again, we are Christians first.
Further, as the lust in our hearts causes us to seek a rational reason to go to war, that same lust enables us to close our eyes to the fact that fifty years of interventionist, U.S. foreign policy has contributed to the volatile situation in which we find ourselves. There is no excuse for the godless and despicable act of terrorism (and no sympathy for terrorists or their philosophy should be entertained), just as there is no excuse for adultery in the life of the Christian. But, even as the Scripture is honest about the fact that a man or woman can in some sense be culpable in the unfaithfulness of his/her spouse (1 Cor. 7:5), so too can we as a nation be culpable here. Beloved, let us not let our political leanings influence our thinking more than Christ. Let us have His mind on these things (Phil. 2:5).
"If you hurt us, we're not going to turn the other cheek, we're going to hurt you back." Ask yourself this question: "Can you imagine Jesus making such a statement?" Of course not. Then, neither should we who claim Christ. Let us not beat the drum of war, rather, let us beat the drum of peace.
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