Since the drums of war began to beat, I have been asked on numerous occasions how it can be that I, an outspoken Christian, can support significant aspects of the ongoing war on Iraq. That my position is a carefully nuanced one, previously explicated here, here, here and here, does not change the fact that there is an apparent dichotomy between it and my faith.
First, do note that I am not making a Christian case for this particular war – I am simply attempting to articulate how it is possible to be a Christian and also favor military action.
The notion that being a follower of Jesus Christ is synonymous with always favoring world peace is a common one, bolstered by the pacifist positions of many denominational leaders around the world. It stems from biblical roots, primarily the oft-mistranslated commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies and his admonishment of Peter in Gethsemane.
The first problem is that these divine directives apply to individuals, not nations – the Bible distinguishes clearly between the two in both the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, while salvation may be claimed by the individual, the soulless nations remain under the sway of the prince of this world who once offered them, without success, to Jesus. Thus, these commands cannot apply to a nation-state. It would also be highly illogical to assert that a nation which prides itself on the separation of church and state should be somehow subject to the same Christian morality which it may not impose on its citizens.
It is important to understand that the peace of which the Bible speaks is not the peace for which the world is protesting. Christian peace is a fruit of the Spirit, it is the harmony of individuals, not nations. The blessed peacemakers who will be called sons of God are not riotous leftists protesting war in San Francisco, but those loving souls who make peace between individuals. Even such peace is not always possible due to man’s inherent evil, otherwise Paul would not write: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Jesus’ own words on war are scanty, yet surprisingly practical. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not sit down first and consider whether he is able with 10,000 men to oppose the one coming against him with 20,000? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.” On another occasion, He tells his disciples “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
Hardly Clausewitz, true, but neither are they the words of one intrinsically opposed to self-defense, on an individual or national basis. Indeed, Revelation 19:15 prophesies that Jesus will make war on the nations Himself one day.
The truth is that the world will never know peace without the Prince of Peace, and to work for peace in the absence of Jesus Christ is to directly contradict the fundamental foundations of the Christian faith. Of wars and rumors of war, “do not be alarmed, such things must happen,” Jesus said – so peace between nations is simply not a significant concern for the Christian. One might even do well to say that the Christian should leave to Caesar such responsibilities that fall to Caesar. As Paul writes of the one in authority, “he does not bear the sword for nothing.”
But if world peace should not be a concern for the Christian at this time, then what should? The same things as always: to feed the poor, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and, above all, to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ of Nazareth. War is only one of the many evils of this world, and if we have learned anything from the 20th century, it is that war is not the worst of them.
If what I have written here seems outlandish, keep in mind that Jesus Christ has confounded the wisdom of this world since the beginning of His ministry. I have no doubt that the King of Kings will continue to do so until he once more graces us with His royal presence.