Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Should Be Our Stand On War?

Another great question came by e-mail:
If 3 'Bible Scholars' are for war and 3 'Bible Scholars' are against war and all 6 cite specific Bible passages to support their stand, who is correct? What should be OUR stand on the subject of war?

This question suggests to me that the person asking it does not really respect Bible scholarship. It suggests that 1) you can make the Bible say anything and 2) that "scholarship" consists of coming up with a number of proof texts. Who are these scholars? What is their approach to Bible study? Why should I believe ANY of them? What war are they talking about and what exactly are they saying?

The real question is, "What does the Bible say about war?" The answer is pretty complicated because there are many things the Bible says about different wars in different situations, but let's assume that we are talking about modern wars like Iraq or Afghanistan.

This reminds me of an old joke. The husband is talking to a friend and says, "I make all the big decisions in our family... what political party we will support and what our foreign policy should be. My wife makes the little decisions... what we will eat, what we will wear, and what car we will drive."

War is the prerogative of the state, not the individual. Romans 13 says that the state "bears the sword." The state is ordained by God to punish "evildoers." There are international evildoers and certainly a state can and should act to protect its citizens. If it doesn't do this, the state will soon disappear.
(Romans 13:1-4) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

Will you call 911 when burglars break into your house and threaten you and your family? Assuming that you will, does that mean that you are "for war?" International wars are the same thing on a different scale. The state is acting to protect the lives, freedoms and possessions of its citizens.

If a state is engaged in stealing the resources of others or of bullying its international neighborhood, obviously we should be opposed to that. To be opposed to that behavior generally means being in favor of some sort of war. (Even economic or diplomatic sanctions are an aspect of warfare - isolation, blockade, siege.)

Should we be "for" war? Wars lead to all kinds of tragedy and human suffering. Generally speaking I am opposed to war. On the other hand, should I be happy if our government refuses to protect us from a nuclear Iran, or from Taliban terrorists, or from N. Korea on the basis that I am against war? I don't think so. I think that our government is supposed to protect us and our interests in the world just like the police are supposed to protect our interests locally - and sometimes that requires the force of arms. Will there be collateral damage? Yes - and I'm against it. Will there be errors of judgment? Yes - and I'm against that too. And while I'm at it, I am against strategic and tactical errors as well.

But, it boils down to this - governments are ordained by God specifically to enforce the peace by violence. We wish it never had to come to that, but obviously it does.

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