Does patriotism justify killing?

Patriotism has driven a lot of people who would normally never think of killing anyone, to kill. It has even become a cowardly act not to kill and die for one’s country.

But where on earth did such an idea come from? It’s not in Scripture. God doesn’t tell us to kill and die for our country. And he’s the one with the authority as to what should and shouldn’t be done for one’s country, because he was the one who created countries in the first place (Acts 17:26).

And it was never his idea to set country against country, nor did he ever hint that one country was superior to another, or that one race had his divine approval to treat members of other races as inferior or subhuman.

God’s purpose for creating nations wasn’t to have people make gods out of their countries either. According to Acts 17:27 God created nations “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” So think how different our history would be if we’d done that and made him the God we seek, not national pride. And what if we’d concentrated our attention as nations on seeking God as the solution to our problems, rather than war or killing those who oppose us?

And God did give us an example of what happens to nations that trust him. The nation of Israel in the Old Testament wasn’t the greatest example of a nation that trusted God, but when they did trust him their problems evaporated and their enemies were crushed, and often without one Israelite being killed or any Israelite having to lift a finger in self-defence.

But what nation since has ever trusted God enough to see if he’ll do that for them too? What if before World War 2 the millions of Christians living in Britain and Germany “sought God and reached out for him” to solve the impossible situation developing, rather than stirring up people’s patriotic fervour to the point they’d do anything for their country, including sacrifice their lives for it, and kill innocent people?

God proved again and again to Old Testament Israel that he could be trusted to resolve their impossible situations, and against enemies with massively superior numbers and much better weapons. So he was justifiably furious when Israel did not seek him as their first choice for solving their problems, preferring instead a patriotic call to war and killing, just as Christian nations did before and during World War 2.

The result of that kind of patriotism, though, has always been the unnecessary death and suffering of millions of people. When will we ever learn?

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“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.

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?

Was Hitler chosen by God?

According to Romans 13:1, yes, Hitler was chosen by God. And so is every arrogant, ruthless, uncaring, immoral and awful leader like him, because the “authorities that exist have been established by God.” And the reason God puts them in power is “to do you good” (verse 4).

It explains why Peter told Christians to “Honour the king” in 1 Peter 2:17, because anyone in power is an instrument of God for our benefit. And that would have included Nero, the Roman Emperor at the time of Peter’s writing, who not only had his mother and first wife killed, he also blamed Christians for the fire that gutted Rome’s city centre.

How, then, can putting such a despicable man in power do any good?

We have an answer from a despicable man just like Nero (and Hitler). His name was Nebuchadnezzar, a tyrant of a man who killed 100,000 Jews and deported the rest to slavery in Babylon. But God had good reason for putting such a man in power, to punish the Jews for their consistent unfaithfulness, idolatry and disobedience (Jeremiah 25:9).

But God had an even greater reason for choosing Nebuchadnezzar. He chose him as a lesson to all budding or residing leaders, that they’re only in their position of power by God’s permission and for God’s use and purpose, and he can rip them out of power any time he likes, or reduce them, as he did Nebuchadnezzar, to a crawling animal eating grass. And God made sure Nebuchadnezzar got that point for the sake of all leaders of all nations after him. And here is that point from Nebuchadnezzar’s own mouth in Daniel 4:27, that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men.”

Nebuchadnezzar recognized three things, that God is the ruling government on this planet, God is the one who puts people into power and removes them, and God has perfectly good reasons for the people he puts in power, even the most despicable or “lowliest” ones.

Nebuchadnezzar, therefore, was used by God to establish the rules of the game for leaders who are in power or seek power. For all Nebuchadnezzar’s tyranny God used him to expose the ultimate good for all aspiring and sitting leaders, and that is to recognize the supremacy of God. Most leaders probably won’t take Nebuchadnezzar’s experience or advice seriously, which God knows, but he chooses them anyway to show what happens when leaders don’t recognize God’s supremacy.

As Christians, meanwhile, we can relax and trust that God knows exactly what he’s doing, no matter how bad things get.

Is there anything we can agree with God on?

God says he created the world, but we say, “No, he didn’t, the world just happened.” God says he made humans, but we say, “No he didn’t, humans evolved.” God says he made humans in his own image. “No he didn’t,” we yell, “humans are just advanced apes.” God says he has a wonderful plan for us, but we say, “Rubbish, life is all about survival of the fittest.” And God says he loves us, but that’s rubbish too we say, because “Even if he does exist why does he let us suffer?”

We really are a disagreeable lot, aren’t we? Anything God says, we challenge it. We moan about teenagers thinking they know everything, but God’s got billions of teenagers on his hands and more being born every day. And he allows it. He allows us to thumb our noses at him, snort in derision, become toffee-nosed professors who go on and on about the stupidity of believing in God, and he lets us carry on as if our own brains are the ultimate source of all knowledge and wisdom.

Is there anything, therefore, that we might possibly agree with God on? Well, God did say in Romans 8:24 (King James Version) that we are “saved by hope.” And who could disagree with that? Rich or poor, healthy or sick, we all live in hope. Hope is what keeps us functioning in a crazy world. Hope is what gets us up in the morning, hopeful that something good will happen that makes life worth living. Hope is what drives the young to make a future, despite the lack of fulfilling jobs and the expense of living. Hope is what keeps people wanting to live, despite their desperate circumstances in poverty, terminal illness and refugee camps. Without hope what have we got?

Well, we have a world that shows us what we’ve got. We’ve got people riddled with depression and anxiety, and a host of other mental problems. We’ve got young folk in the prime of life committing suicide. We have talented people in politics, business and entertainment addicted to petty lives of exploiting and lying, because in their minds there’s nothing else to live for other than what you can get out of people for your own ends today. But all these things are understandable in a world where hope of a better life for everyone seems ever more like a pipe dream.

But it isn’t a pipe dream, God says, he’s always had a great life in mind for humans. But have we ever stopped being disagreeable enough to find out what he meant and how to go about it?