Warring Thoughts: A Christian Perspective on Military Conflict

These are a condensed version of the notes from Glen’s Chi Alpha message on 4/1/2003.

Since war is a such a regular part of human experience, it’s crucial that we reflect on war and answer two urgent questions about it:
* What should we think about war?
* What should do in a time of war?

First, what should we think?

You can divide people into four camps:
1. Pragmatists: We gotta do what we gotta do. Us or them. No rules in love or war.
2. Principalists: War is always regrettable but not always evil. It must be waged according to certain rules.
3. Pacifists: War is always evil, killing is tantamount to murder, so to die helpless is preferable to taking up arms in defense of one’s life, family, country, or values.
4. Passivists: Not my problem. I’m not a soldier nor a governmental leader. I’m sorry that people are dying, but it’s no skin off my nose.

I would suggest that for a Christian, two of these perspectives aren’t even an option. We can’t be pragmatic or passive about these issues. No, our choices are between principled war or total pacifism. Which we choose depends on our understanding of the Biblical teachings.

The Bible Adopts a Principled Perspective
* God commands military action at least 35 times in the Old Testament.
* Many heroes of the faith were military leaders (Hebrews 11:32-34).
     Abraham (pursued the armies that abducted his relatives)
     Joshua (conquered the Promised Land)
     David (waged war throughout his reign as king)
* The New Testament endorses war
     Soldiers are specifically told it’s okay to be in the military (Luke 3:14).
     Some soldiers are commended as righteous people (Matthew 8:5-12, Acts 10:1-2)
     The Christian life is described using military metaphors (Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Timothy 2:3-4) this point is more powerful than it might seem at first glance: try to reimagine these passages as though Paul were using the metaphor of a prostitute serving her client and see how different they are: the metaphor assumes that the profession is not morally reprehensible.
* The Bible also acknowledges the horrible suffering that war brings and talks of war as a bad thing.
     The Bible explicitly claims that warfare is rooted in our sinful nature—it is a byproduct of living in a fallen world (James 4:1-2)
     David is not allowed to build God’s temple because he is “a man who has shed much blood.” (1 Chronicles 22:7-9)
     The Bible looks forward to a time of ultimate peace, when there will be no more wars (Isaiah 2:3-4). This won’t happen until Jesus, the Prince of Peace, reigns as King.

So what do we do in the meanwhile? The greatest theologians in history have thought about this, and the two who have been most influential are Augustine and Aquinas. They each proposed some criteria for waging a just war—a moral war. You can read Augustine’s original perspectives in The City of God book 19 chapter 7 or in his Against the Manicheans part 22.74 (it’s way down the page) and you can read Aquinas’ perspective in his Summa Theologica in the second part of the second part question 40 (that’s how it’s referred to—2.2.40). I personally suggest you explore Aquinas first–he’s more readable. For a more contemporary perspective, check out this selection of articles on just war theory.

For a war to be just, it must be waged
* by a legitimate authority
* for a moral reason
* in a moral manner
* with a reasonable chance of success
* and only as a last resort.


We Should Be Careful Lest We Sin
The greatest dangers of war are not mortal, they are moral. Even just wars can lead to very sinful attitudes and actions—we begin to hate, to loathe, to detest, to seek vengeance, to become driven by fear, to become slaves to our own emotions.

I’d like to suggest three corrective steps we can take tonight.

* We Must Trust God: Psalm 27:3
* We Must Love Our Enemies: Matthew 5:43-44
* We Must Seek a Just Peace: Proverbs 25:5; Psalm 82:3-4

We Should Pray
* We Should Pray For the Innocent : 1 Timothy 2:1
* We Should Pray For Our Leaders: 1 Timothy 2:2
* We Should Pray For Our Enemies: Luke 6:27-28
* We Should Pray For Our Missionaries: 2 Thessalonians 3:1