“Well, somebody has to do it”

Somebody has to deal with evil, right? We’ve got crackpots all over this planet willing to kill and maim and do terrible things to people without any pangs of conscience or remorse.

The only way to stop them is to kill them. So aren’t we fortunate that there are brave people willing to sacrifice their own lives to stop evil in its tracks? And while evil exists that has to be true, because what other alternative do we have, other than eradicating evil by killing the people who are the source of it?

It’s interesting, then, that we use that argument to justify going to war with other countries, but not in dealing with murderers and psychos back home. Even though the same rule applies, that we’re only safe and free if evil is eradicated, society gets a little squeamish about the death penalty for criminals, but not at all squeamish about going to war.

On the one hand, then, we remember those brave soldiers every year who stepped up to deal with evil because “somebody has to do it,” but we have no ceremony to honour those brave enough to exact the death penalty on hardened criminals, even though those criminals are just as much a threat to our safety and freedom.

We don’t like the death penalty for criminals though, because we like to think they can be cured. So we give them time and counsel and kindness believing we can soften their hardened hearts, or we make life tough for them in jail or boot camp to force them into changing. But sad experience has told us that some people cannot be reached or reasoned with. They have no fear, no conscience, and no care or sympathy for those they hurt.

In war we have no hesitation in killing people like that, but in the process we kill a lot of innocent people too. Exacting the death penalty on a hardened criminal, however, kills only the guilty. So why is there hesitation in killing a criminal?

Because somebody has to look that person in the eye and pronounce judgment on him, and who among us feels we have the right to do that? We are all guilty of something – in our thoughts if not our actions. So if we’re honest with ourselves we’re all criminals, which leaves none of us with the right to kill anyone.

What we should be concentrating on, then, is dealing with our own guilt. But fortunately Jesus took care of that by taking all our criminality and guilt on himself. Why? Because somebody had to do it, and only he could.

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Who decides it’s right for Christians to fight and kill in war?

So which Christian authority decided it was right for 60 million Christians in Germany to fight and kill people in World War 2, and which Christian authority gave permission to millions of other Christians to fight and kill Germans in return? To whom did both groups of Christians look for their authority?

For a long time Christians have believed their authority to go to war came from Paul in Romans 13:1 when he wrote, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established,” therefore, verse 2, “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.” Christians had better obey their national leaders, in other words, and that includes going to war.

But what should Christians then do if their national leaders tell their people to go to war and it pits Christian against Christian in a fight to the death? Surely that can’t be right, so what common Christian authority do Christians now turn to for an answer?

It’s the same problem for Muslims. Sunnis and Shias don’t share a common authority deciding who is right and who is wrong either. So they, just like millions of Christians, have murdered each other on a massive scale, without any guilt or even embarrassment at how this must look to people being asked to respect Islam and Christianity.

The context of Romans 13, meanwhile, is not about international warfare, or about Christians responding to a call to arms in an international conflict. The context is about being a good citizen in one’s own country, as Paul himself explains in verse 6 when he talks of Christians paying their taxes. It has nothing to do with fighting and killing in war.

When it comes to international conflict – or conflict of any kind for that matter – Christians do have a common authority. It’s Jesus, who clearly stated that “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.” That’s a nice, simple statement all Christians can relate to – that as citizens of Christ’s Kingdom we don’t fight, even in defence of Christ himself.

And since God established Jesus as our Judge (Acts 17:30-31), it is Jesus we answer to. He is our common authority as Christians. He’s also King of Kings and Lord of Lords of the entire planet so his government overrules all human governments. And according to his government regulations his servants do not fight and kill. If our national leaders require us to fight and kill, therefore, we obey Jesus, not them. It’s Jesus we trust to resolve our conflicts, not war or weapons.

Should a Christian “fight for king and country”?

Yes, of course, a Christian fights for king and country – but which king, which country, and what form does the fighting take?

In World War 2, for instance, which king and country should Christians have fought for? There were far more Christians in Germany than there were in Britain, so shouldn’t Germany and its leader have taken precedence? Most of the top German leaders were raised as Christians too, including Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels, Goering, Martin Bormann, Albert Speer, Adolf Eichmann and Rudolf Hess. None of the Nazi leaders were atheists, and Hitler nearly entered the priesthood.

Germany itself was 90 to 95% Christian in 1939, so it was a thoroughly Christian country with a Christian raised leadership. Wouldn’t Germany and its leaders, therefore, be the “king and country” all Christians should have fought for, especially when there were plenty of other countries that were a far more serious threat to Christianity, like Communist Russia?

Were the British more Christian than the Germans, though? Well, hardly, since most German Christians were Protestant just like the British, and the Protestant revolution began in Germany too.

The notion of fighting for king and country, therefore, becomes terribly muddled when opposing kings and leaders are Christian and so are their countries. How does any Christian justify fighting for king and country when the king and country he’s fighting against is also Christian?

Christians can avoid that muddle entirely, though, because we already have a king and country that doesn’t involve any kings and countries of this world. All Christians worldwide share the same king and country. We all have the same king, Jesus Christ, and we all share citizenship in the same country, the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus announced when he was here as a human, and he now administers with absolute power and authority ever since he ascended to his Father after his resurrection. We have a very clearly defined king and country as Christians, therefore.

And we fight to the death for that king and country too. How? By overcoming the world like Jesus did (John 16:33). And isn’t that enough to keep any Christian busy for a lifetime? What’s a threat from one measly country when we have the whole world and its boneheaded ideas about good and evil to resist and overcome, as well as the tempting and deceiving spiritual “powers and principalities” to resist as well? It’s a fight to the death that Jesus himself fought, and now he gives us the strength to fight it too. Somebody has to, because the entire planet is at risk from people believing it’s right to kill for their physical kings and countries.

If my country was threatened would I fight?

As a Christian, no, I would not fight in defense of my country – and certainly not fight in the sense of having to kill someone, because how can a Christian make the conscious, deliberate choice to kill another human being?

The Bible makes it clear that Christians don’t kill people, based on the simple statement by Jesus that we treat other people as we’d like to be treated by them. And I don’t want to be killed by someone, nor, I believe, does anyone else want to be killed by me, so why would I think it’s right for me to kill someone who doesn’t want to be killed any more than I do? I conscientiously object, therefore, to being required to kill another human being.

But isn’t that a blatantly stupid choice on my part when threatened by an enemy that has no such objection to killing? Surely the only choice anyone has against an enemy like that is to kill or be killed, right?

Well, yes – when God isn’t in the picture. If we don’t believe God is our shield and defender then all we’re left with is self-defence by whatever means and methods we come up with to stop an enemy in his tracks. And the only truly effective method we’ve come up with so far is to kill others before they kill us. It works, yes, but at what cost to innocent children caught in the crossfire, and to all those families who lose the best of men – men who would normally never hurt a fly, hate the idea of killing, and will probably never recover mentally after killing someone?

The world endlessly ignores all that, however, and simply labels all conscientious objectors as being unpatriotic, short-sighted cowards. And many families never shake the shame piled on them because of someone in their family who refused to fight. Heroes, instead, are made of those who racked up the most kills, or lost their lives in acts of bravery, even if those acts of bravery involved killing good men, good fathers, good husbands, good citizens, and even fellow Christians.

But this is the corner we’ve painted ourselves into from still wanting to eat off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that makes us think we’re still capable of deciding on our own what is right and wrong, and who is good and who is evil, and how best to deal with evil too. We keep on taking to ourselves that right, and the results are always the same. That’s why I conscientiously object to it, and why shouldn’t I when God offered us a tree of life instead?

Does God approve of war to destroy evil?

Or, to phrase it another way, “Does a political leader have the ‘divine right’ to declare war on another nation that he believes is evil?” God gave his divine right and approval to the leaders of Israel in the Old Testament to wipe out entire tribes and nations that were evil – so why not today as well?

Two clear differences exist, however, between leaders today and the leaders of ancient Israel declaring war on other nations. The first difference is that with Israel God was the one defining evil, not the leaders. So the evil truly was evil. There was no confusion like today, where the leaders decide who is good and who is evil. And they’re never going to think their own country is evil, are they, so we end up with the tragic and ridiculous situation of two countries going to war, both of whom believe the other country and its leaders are evil, and therefore they both have the divine right to wipe the other country out.

A second difference is that in Israel it was God who ordered the killing of people, not the leaders. And he certainly had the ‘divine right’ to make such an order since he has the power to restore life to the dead. So even if God uses what we might call ‘evil means’ to kill people, like war and genocide, that’s not the end of those people’s lives forever. He can bring them back to life again. But no human leader has that power. And yet human leaders feel they have the right to snuff out other people’s lives, even if it means the death of innocent people too.

To ask the question above, then, “Does God approve of war to destroy evil?” the answer is, yes, but only if he approves it, because only he can truly determine who is evil, and only he can restore life to the dead, including those he orders to be killed. When a human leader takes such ‘divine rights’ and powers to himself, therefore, he’s assuming he’s on the same level as God – which is a really stupid thing to do, because in God’s eyes that IS evil.

It would meet far more with God’s approval if leaders concentrated on the welfare of their own people and left the threats coming from other countries up to him. God got that point across to Israel many times, and when they got the point God did amazing things in their defence without them lifting a finger or losing a life. But when they took things into their own hands, that’s when their troubles began.

Are there times when it’s OK to kill someone?

Is killing someone always wrong? If I went completely berserk, for instance, and threatened your life with an axe, should you be blamed if you killed me in self-defence? And if an unwanted pregnancy puts a young mother’s life at stake, would it not justify aborting her baby? Or what if “pulling the plug” puts an end to a loved one’s unbearable pain? Or what if you saw a horrible crime happening and you jumped in to protect the victim and killed the attacker?

In all these difficult situations killing can seem like a right thing to do, and sometimes what other choice have we got? In war, for instance, especially against a lunatic like Hitler, we depend on killing for survival; it’s either kill or be killed.

And hasn’t God killed people? Yes, many times. He not only ended the lives of multiple thousands of people in the Old Testament himself, he also commanded others to kill for him, and that’s after he gave the commandment, “Do not kill,” too. So in his mind there were times when it was right to kill people. But God, of course, has the power to bring people back to life again, whereas we have no such power when we decide to kill someone. To many people, therefore, killing can never be justified. Taking a human life is inexcusable, in any form, whether it be in war or in self-defence, or by abortion, euthanasia or suicide.

But, others reply, death isn’t the end of the road from God’s point of view, because there isn’t a death – deliberate or accidental – that Christ’s sacrifice does not cover. God also has the power to give life back to someone who’s been killed, including aborted babies. Death is no obstacle to God, and neither is human failing. If we kill a person, therefore, that person isn’t dead forever. What we did may be inexcusable, but it is forgivable – and it can be reversed, because God can restore a life too.

To all those men and women who went to war, therefore, who now look back in shame and despair at what they did – killing innocent people, killing fellow Christians, and killing in hate – who now need reassurance that all is not lost for either themselves or the people they killed, Jesus offers that reassurance. He may not remove all the nightmares or the flashbacks, but he offers understanding and compassion toward our weakness and our circumstances. He knows the awful dilemmas we find ourselves in, and the fears that drive us to kill, and he made provisions for every one of them through his death and resurrection.

The conundrum that is Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day brings into sharp focus a conundrum, that humans are willing to sacrifice their lives. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Christian or non-Christian, or which side you’re on in a war; the instinct to give up our lives for a cause we believe to be right is shared by all.

We acknowledge that instinct on Remembrance Day as we remember the men and women who died to free the world of a brutal evil. But where did such an instinct come from? It flies in the face of Evolution for a start, which talks of creatures and plants doing whatever they must to survive. But all through our history humans have put aside their instinct to survive, and in the prime of their lives they do what Evolution would never support a species doing. Where in Evolution, for instance, does a species give up its life when it’s at the top of its game?

So where did this conundrum of self-sacrifice come from? Well, from God, of course, because it helps us to understand him. We see God best “in the face of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 4:6, and what we see in Christ is God willing to give up his life in his prime too, and for the same reason we are willing to give up our lives – to rid the world of evil.

What Christ did rings a familiar and honourable bell in a human heart, because the most honourable thing a human being can do is give up his life for others, especially in his prime. But it’s in us to do that. It’s instinctive in us to give up our lives to crush evil. And we honour that instinct every year on Remembrance Day, because to us it’s so obviously right.

But that’s the beauty of Remembrance Day because it not only shines a bright light on the amazing phenomenon of a species being willing to give up its life, it also shines a bright light on God – because we’re not so different, we humans and God, are we? He was willing to rid the world of evil by self-sacrifice, and so are we. It makes it very easy for us to understand God, then, because tucked away inside us is the same heart he has.

No wonder the Christian message “commends” itself, or rings true, “to every man’s conscience,” verse 2, because the sacrificing of a life to rid the world of evil is what we already believe as good and true as well. Remembrance Day isn’t really such a conundrum, then, because self-sacrifice is a desire God has given us to help us understand him.