Friday, February 13, 2009


In the springtime, when kings go out to battle, it is worth pleading with Christians to reconsider our prevailing ethos of war. I might as soon question the ethics of oxygen than the American military juggernaut. We have so deeply cast our lot with our armed forces that it is difficult to locate where the church ends and Americanism begins. But the Scriptures clamor to be heard on this very point and to them we must go.

There are basically two categories of warfare in the Old Testament. First, God used his covenant people Israel as an instrument of judgment on surrounding nations. It was generally total warfare, a nasty business of razing cities to the ground, sowing salt, executing survivors, kidnapping virgins, collecting foreskins, and dashing babies to bits. The second category of war was that of secular nations used by God to judge and then were judged by God for judging. It was live by the sword and die by the sword - no sooner did God judge Israel with Assyria than he judged Assyria for her wickedness in the matter (Is 10).

Contra wishful thinking, America is not the new Israel. In fact, Israel is not even the new Israel. If you are looking for support for a secular government to be used by God to judge another nation and in turn be blessed for her efforts you won't find it in the Old Testament. Try Greek mythology. If you are looking for a "just war theory" - taking the word war from the OT and baptizing it in some of the humanitarian kindness from the New - you won't find that either. Try Augustine or Geneva.

There's no space to cover Romans 13 here. Suffice to say that it would take some fantastic hermeneutical gymnastics to balance America's worldwide jurisdiction over sovereign states on the point of the sword mentioned there.

Generally a defense for warfare is drawn not primarily from the Bible but our predicament, concerning Hitler, Al Qaeda, Darfur. At best this is thinly veiled scorn for the naivety of our Lord who failed to foresee this. At worst its blatant disregard for everything he said about laying down rights and taking up the cross.

Jesus said "blessed are the peacemakers" and Paul, "for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh"; and yet somehow we've spiritualized the peacemakers and materialized warmongers. Its long overdue for the burden of biblical proof to reside with the war makers.


John Paulling said...

Great thoughts. I especially like your second-to-last sentence. We have spiritualized Jesus, and materialized Paul. I wonder how/why that happens.

P.D. said...

this is something i can get down with. great post.

what about the "gnat in my ear" response i always get that Jesus didn't tell the soldier to not be a soldier?

spencer said...

I definitely agree with what was said here, but the question that remains unanswered is what is to be done when we are facing a situation like Hitler's Germany. It seems a bit too convenient to take this position yet still reap the benefits of wars won.

david gentino said...

PD, I hear that a lot too; John the Baptist also missed an opportunity to decry the military. In response I would say two things: first, Jesus and John didn't say a lot of things they should have to a lot of different people. We simply don't have access to their conversations - just the point the Gospel writers are making at the time. Second, I think the soldiers in the Gospels more closely resemble police than a warring army which I don't have a problem with. I know its more complex than that (i.e. an occupying army in a country who have jurisdiction there for a very long time).

Spencer, you made two great points, one about dealing with Germany and another about enjoying the benefits of war. First, I'm not going to attempt to trace some ways God's sovereignty could work against the Nazi's without war. Suffice to say if war is wrong its wrong. And perhaps God used the Allies to judge Germany so that he could judge us like he regularly did in the OT. The Allies committed some unspeakable atrocities against the Germans and Japanese, things that would make the Assyrians cringe.

Secondly, it is hard for me to reap the benefits of war. Its also hard to reap the benefits of slavery, exploiting the poor, sweat shops, subsidizing crops that cripple West African markets, destroying nature, over-consuming, etc. By being born here we are implicit in crimes we don't even realize just by living. At the end of the day, we are still to call sin sin and distance ourselves as much as possible.

Jon Furst said...

I think you are all forgetting how wonderful war is at stimulating the economy. Remember the depression? (Of course you do...) Boom! World War II and, voila! Japan is flattened and Ameerica can go back to filling its landfills.

Let's remember what's at stake here.

spencer said...

Good stuff. I think you're right I guess at the end of the day God is sovereign and everything that has happened he has ordained, just as he has everything that is to come. So has he ordained sin? It sounds like a simple question but I can't say I've ever really asked it. Or is sin an unnatural distortion of God's plan? Also, I hadn't even considered all the numerous other atrocities that I personally benefit daily from. It's kind of a helpless state to be in, in that leaving America would only allow access to the exploitations of a different nation. I guess the only thing to do is to ask forgiveness for our nation, pray for change, and await the day when we can enter the kingdom of God, the only place to escape all this.

david gentino said...

Does God ordain sin? That's a very important question, one responsible for a lot of ink in church history. The best answer I've heard holds the mysterious tension between God's absolute sovereignty (e.g. he planned from all time for man to fall) and man's absolute responsibility (e.g. Adam and Eve were not coerced to reject God). The best biblical text that points to this tension is Acts 2:23 - Jesus was crucified according to the "definite plan" of God (e.g. God wasn't sweating about Pilate freeing Jesus) and yet it was at the "hands of lawless men". Its certainly not a clean answer but it avoids what someone in Systematic Theology said in class today, that evil is eternal.

I feel like an accomplice to more evil than I know, just by being a citizen and a consumer. The only relief I have is that Jesus too was (for a season) a good standing, tax-paying member of one of the cruelest, exploitative empires of all time. And we get a glimpse of a sinless interaction with such an empire.

Christina Ottis said...

theres just so much i could say. i read and breathe this stuff all day long. but one thing that has stuck with me on the subject of pacifism is the absence of creativity in modern day politics. Why do we look at things so plainly, as if the only way to combat a Darfur or a Holocaust is by force? God gave us minds as well as fists. It's time the church began formulating creative alternatives to solving disputes within and without. also, Naomi Klein's book "Shock Doctrine" is an excellent read concerning the appalling ways the West has profited on catastrophe. True, the US economy boomed as result of a world war, and not necessarily the New Deal, but the benefits of war have become a business, and for that we should be outraged.