Is there such a thing as a “Just War” for Christians?

War, it seems, is a just reason for killing people, but is it acceptable for Christians to kill people in war?

In 430 A.D. Augustine said “Yes.” In his book ‘The City of God’ he wrote that Christians can go to war and kill so long as the cause is just, the intent is right, and war is declared by a legitimate authority for the sake of restoring peace. It was the beginning of the “Just War” doctrine. In 1274 Thomas Aquinas stamped his own approval on it, giving Christians reasonable cause ever since to go to war and kill people.

It resulted, however, in Christians killing each other, because Christians often found themselves fighting on both sides of a conflict. In World Wars 1 and 2 and the Civil War in the United States, for instance, many thousands of Christians died at the hands of other Christians. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many Christians reject the Just War theory.

But, say Christians who support Just War, what about Romans 13:1-5? Governments are instituted by God, so if our government legitimately declares war we are all obliged to support it. And why shouldn’t Christians go to war, they ask, when it’s for a noble cause like protecting the innocent and defending the defenceless?

Well that may sound right from the world’s point of view, other Christians reply, but to his disciples Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives,” John 14:27. To his disciples Jesus promised a way to peace unlike any method the world uses to create peace. He was true to his word, too. Soon after the church began, when Jews and Gentiles became Christians, the enmity between them fell away, Ephesians 2:12-16. In a world that seethed with remembered atrocities and justice crying out for blood, the Cross, in contrast, was making even the worst of enemies into friends.

Ah but, comes the reply, that may work in the church but what about maintaining peace and order in society? God gave that job to the government of a country, Romans 13:4, and governments often have no choice but killing to stop evil in its tracks, and it’s the God-given duty of Christians, therefore, to support them, verses 1, 2 and 5.

So now we’ve got two sets of scriptures for Christians – one set for life in the church, and another set for life in society. So, can a Christian honour both sets of scriptures, and be a good citizen without hating his enemies and without killing his fellow Christians? Tricky indeed, eh?

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Should Christians go to war?

Should Christians go to war, to fight and kill?

Yes, some Christians say, it’s our civic duty and right to defend family and nation against evil, and what greater sacrifice can one make than giving one’s life for one’s friends? If someone broke into your home with murderous intent, would you not have the right and the responsibility to protect yourself and your family, using whatever means it took to subdue the villain, which might include killing him?

Other Christians, however, challenge that view, quoting several obvious scriptures in reply like, “Do not kill, love your enemies, don’t repay evil with evil, overcome evil with good, and ‘vengeance is mine’ says the Lord.'” And what about Jesus’ statement in John 14:27? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” It’s the world that uses war to create peace, not Jesus.

But doesn’t Jesus use war to create peace, too? In Revelation 19:11 he “makes war,” and “out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations,” verse 15. Ah but, other Christians reply, Jesus can kill because he’s God and God can resurrect people back to life again, whereas we can’t. And besides, haven’t these verses been used to justify the Crusades and other monstrous cruelties by Christians?

And on and on the debate goes, scripture versus scripture – but what an awful irony it creates, of Christians fighting each other over whether we should fight, or not. But what’s the answer, when scriptures can be found that support both views?

I don’t know because I have no idea what I might do if someone attacks my home or country. It depends very much on my understanding of Scripture and my relationship with God at the time, I imagine, so how I react now may be very different to how I react in five years time, when my understanding of God has grown. Peter, the disciple of Jesus, for instance, sliced off a man’s ear with his sword in John 18:10, but later in his life, in 1 Peter 1:5, he talks of being shielded by God’s power through faith. He was now totally trusting in God, not his sword anymore. As our understanding of God grows, so will our actions.

What’s helped me in this dilemma is Romans 14, because Christians can have different views, based on their beliefs at the time (verses 3-8), but still be at peace. And isn’t that what this world needs to see? It’s not Christians fighting over whether they should fight, or not, it’s Christians who are living the way of peace with each other (verse 19).

Should Christians speak out against war?

It’s rather awkward for Christians to speak out against war when many Christians have gone to war themselves. Millions of German and British Commonwealth Christians eagerly answered the call to arms in two World Wars, resulting in many, many Christians actually killing each other.

The Crusades also saw thousands of Christians committing horrendous atrocities, so it’s no surprise that Christians on the whole are rather hesitant when it comes to speaking out against war, even when war requires the killing of innocent citizens and children, and fellow Christians.

But think what Christians could have done instead. There were 20 million Catholics and 40 million Protestants in Germany before the outbreak of World War 2, a powerful force indeed if they had all united in opposition to Hitler’s murder of the Jews and his predatory designs on other nations. What if they had all said in one huge cry, “No, we’re not having any part in war and murder,” and none of them had taken up arms? And what if Christians in all nations had refused to fight? World War 2 wouldn’t have happened.

So why didn’t Christians refuse to fight, when they had every right to refuse from the words of Jesus himself? Jesus clearly said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.” His servants WOULD fight, Jesus said – oh yes – but only IF Jesus was setting up his kingdom and dealing with evil by this world’s methods. But he wasn’t. Instead, John 14:27 – “MY peace I give you. I do NOT give to you as the world gives.”

Christ wasn’t offering his disciples the world’s way of creating peace, that required holy wars and crusades to protect Christian civilization, or military might to enforce God’s kingdom on the earth. He offered them HIS peace, which he demonstrated for us and won for us by his suffering and death. It has been possible ever since, therefore, for peace, real peace, the kind of peace that reconciles all people to God and to each other, to infiltrate human hearts and minds.

So that’s what Christians speak out about, the good news of the peace that Jesus made possible for all humanity by his suffering and death. Our priority is not to speak out against war, because the world easily justifies war. Our priority is to speak out for peace, because peace is now possible too, the proof of which can be seen in our own peace-filled words and actions – and in our response in a time of war to Jesus’ call to peace, rather than the world’s call to arms.

Children aren’t dogs, and dogs aren’t children

Dogs can be a delight to live with, or a horror. Untrained, they have a lot of nasty habits. They bark incessantly, jump up on visitors, grab food out of a child’s hand, barge out the front door and race off, pull on the leash, refuse to come on command, snarl at strangers, attack other dogs, and chase after cats and cars totally oblivious to traffic. Dogs like that are horrible. They are uncontrollable, exasperating and frightening.

Dogs can be trained, though. Their behaviour can be quickly and dramatically changed, by knowing how a dog’s brain works. A dog is a pack animal, so it responds happily and naturally to the rules of the pack. There’s a pack leader and a pecking order, which a dog instinctively accepts. He’s happy knowing who’s in charge, what’s expected of him, and he’ll behave in ways to please, because that’s the way a dog’s brain is wired.

It must come as quite a shock for a dog owner, then, when he showers love and affection on his dog, thinking that’s the key to changing and modifying a dog’s behaviour, but the dog still barks incessantly and doesn’t respond to commands. It seems odd that the animal doesn’t automatically try to please and obey when it’s loved. But it’s not love that governs a dog’s behaviour in the pack, it’s clear rules as to who’s in charge and doing what’s expected of them.

Some people who understand that about dogs may think that’s the way you train children too – that a child’s behaviour is also moulded and governed by strict rules, high expectations, and knowing who’s in charge.

But children aren’t dogs. Children are built to respond to love. Love does change a child’s behaviour. When a child is loved, enjoyed, encouraged and listened to, the change can be dramatic. He can be transformed from a snarly brat into an enthusiastic joy. And it doesn’t take much, either. Take the kid to school and have a good laugh along the way, and it does wonders for a child’s attitude in just minutes. Laugh with a child, joke with a child, hug and snuggle, rough and tumble and thrill in their growth, and a child in such an atmosphere won’t need rewards and punishment to make him obey. When a child is loved, he instinctively loves in return.

And where did such a radical idea come from? From God. “We love because he first loved us,” 1 John 4:19. When we know we’re loved, we love in return. Dogs aren’t wired that way, but we are.

When love is obvious

Imagine doing a funeral for a car load of teenagers killed in a drunken highway accident. Or for someone murdered by a member of his own family. Or for a child who died because of a wrong diagnosis by a doctor. Or for the person “everyone loved.”

What would you say at these funerals if you were the minister? How do you get people through such tragedies?

I was given a hint by a Funeral Director. “It’s by obvious love,” he said. “There’s nothing like it for helping people through tragedy and suffering. When people realize you’re in their suffering with them, feeling their feelings, understanding the turmoil they’re going through, voicing their questions, their confusion and even their anger, and you take whatever time they need to talk – it’s like a light goes on in their minds that someone understands and cares, and that’s what gets them through. I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s remarkable.”

Well, isn’t that exactly what God does with us, I thought? He voices our questions, confusion and anger too, in the Psalms and Job. He also understands our suffering and turmoil, having lived as one of us – and he listens and doesn’t interrupt when we need to talk, as well. All the practical help we need as humans to keep us going in a rough world, he provides.

Why? Because when love is obvious, that’s what gets us through. We are “rooted and established in love,” Paul writes in Ephesians 3:17. What grounds us through all the knocks and tragedies of life is love, that deep sense of knowing we’re understood, loved and cared for. So God makes sure we know we’re loved by giving us a constant shot of his love “through his Spirit in our inner being,” verse 16, so that we “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” verse 18. We’ll know we’re loved, because the Spirit makes it obvious.

I wondered what the effect of this would be on children. They live in a rough world. School isn’t the most pleasant place nowadays, with its constant hassles and bullying. Life at home can be stressful too, and a child under pressure and high expectations can quickly become depressed, uncooperative and insolent.

But when love is obvious, what happens then? What happens to a child’s attitude and personality when it’s made obvious that he, or she, is loved? What happens when a child is rooted and established in love and not in expectations? What happens when a child is loved like God loves us? Could the change in that child be just as remarkable too?

“Is this all I can hope for in my marriage?”

I wonder how many marriages are “hanging in there” but there’s not much meeting of minds. In other words, there’s union but not much communion.

Husband and wife are wholeheartedly dedicated to keeping their union intact, but they have trouble sharing their innermost thoughts or being sensitive to each other’s needs. They’re almost on different wavelengths, where they never quite tune in to the other’s personality, humour and ideas about things. They aren’t upset by the same things either, so they have trouble expressing their real feelings for fear of making things worse.

So they both muddle through a relationship that’s wonderfully enduring but not tremendously satisfying. There’s a deep hunger for communion, but neither partner knows how to make it happen. They courageously avoid daydreaming about what they might have had instead, but on occasion they can’t help wondering if there could be more to their marriage than what they’ve got. And as they look into the future, perhaps the thought flits through their minds, “Is this all I can hope for in my marriage?”

That thought has crossed my mind – on behalf of my wife as well – because is what I provide for her all she can hope for in her marriage too? And that makes me feel woefully inadequate at times, because I know I can’t provide the communion I’m sure she longs for, and it hurts me that she’s had to settle for less. So I wondered if there was any help in Scripture and that’s when Colossians 1:8 came to mind, and the time when Paul expressed his delight to the Colossians on hearing “of your love in the Spirit.”

The report of their “love in the Spirit” had come from Epaphras, who couldn’t help noticing that something amazing was happening to people when they heard the gospel. First it was union, a shared “faith in Jesus Christ” (verse 4), but there was more. There was communion too, because Epaphras also mentioned “the love you have for all the saints.” This was love, he noticed, that enabled people of different backgrounds, different personalities, different ways of viewing things, different sensitivities, needs, wavelengths and humour, to love each other without those differences making any difference.

Ah, so this is what “love in the Spirit” provides; it’s love that makes differences make no difference. It doesn’t matter, therefore, how different a husband and wife are; the Spirit can provide communion for both of them, regardless. It happened to the Colossians. They didn’t even think about their differences. They just loved each other.

There is always hope in marriage, therefore, because of what the Spirit has yet to add to it.

The Holy Spirit’s gift to a marriage

I’d love to see my wife blossom, but I fear I hold her back. I don’t have in me what brings out the best in her personality, her humour, her gifts, or her love. I feel like I’m limiting her potential, and I’ve often wondered how much she would have blossomed in the company of a man more suited to her needs, her interests and her personality.

But then I realized it’s not me or my powers that bring out the best in her, it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit’s job to transform us into something lovely. Without the Spirit we’re helpless victims of our own limited strengths and questionnable motives. A man can be most charming, for instance, but without the Spirit it could all be just self-aggrandizing gush and mouthwash, because you can’t help asking, “What he’s really after?”

But the Spirit goes right to the core of our being, that “old self, corrupted by its deceitful desires,” Ephesians 4:22, and creates a “new self, created to be like God,” verse 24. Out goes all that deceitful mouthwash designed to gratify self, and in comes a whole new attitude of mind motivated entirely by love (verse 23).

And it’s this love given to us by the Holy Spirit that transcends all differences. Two people can be vastly different in personally and interests, but the Spirit gives them a love for each other that doesn’t even see the differences. It doesn’t matter if the other person isn’t like you, or that you haven’t got it in you as a husband to make a wife blossom into her best. In Ephesians 2, Jews and Gentiles, who were always bringing out the worst in each other, suddenly became the best of friends when they received the Holy Spirit. Because that’s the Spirit’s speciality, enabling people to get along despite their differences.

My wife may be stuck with my limited personality and help, but that doesn’t hinder the Spirit enabling her to blossom into her best. I’m not letting my wife down, therefore, because of my inadequacies and lacks – and I don’t have to feel bad that my limitations are holding her back either – because the Spirit can make “one new person out of two,” Ephesians 2:15, no matter how different those two people are.

God designed males and females to want to marry and spend their lifetimes together. Later on in marriage, however, husband and wife may suddenly realize how different they are, and wonder what might have been had they married someone else. But all that’s irrelevant to the Holy Spirit, who can make two into one in any marriage.