Summary: 1. We must face the reality of evil in the world. 2. God has given governments the responsibility for the restraint of evil in the world. 3. If war becomes necessary, it must be done justly.
The United States is in the middle of a great conflict. There is a civil war of words that is not always so civil. On the one side there are those who believe it would be immoral for us to go to war, and on the other side are those who believe that there is justifiable cause. Demonstrations are taking place around the world, and pressure is mounting to come up with a peaceful solution. Pope John Paul II has made his sentiments for peace clear as he has met with the President and other world leaders. Religious leaders, rock stars and media personalities have entered the fray. Two former presidents are making their voice heard. It is a difficult and tense time as we wait for a resolution to the current global problem we face.
I come this morning realizing that there are sincere people on both sides of this issue and that the issues are extremely complex. But I want to try to give a biblical perspective this morning concerning the issues of war and peace. I also want to present how the church historically has felt on this issue. Throughout history this has been a recurrent problem, and Christians have had to think and rethink their positions. I have personally struggled with the ethical issues involved. What about the innocents who will suffer? What about the hate that will be generated by a war that will affect generations after us? What about the loss of life, and the resulting loss of these people’s contribution to the world? What about the scars, physical, emotional and spiritual, that will affect the lives of those who fight the war — on both sides? What will this war do to our nation’s soul? What about our fellow believers who will die at the hands of our millitary? How does my belief in the sanctity of human life affect my beliefs about the justification of war? There are many questions that haunt me. As a friend of mine said, “War is a problem for those of us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace.” At heart, I am an idealist and a pacifist, but at the same time I have to face some other very grim realities. These are realities with which we must all grapple, whichever side of the issue we are on.
The first reality we need to consider in wresting with these issues is this: We must face the reality of evil in the world. I have been amazed, as I have listened to some of the talk shows, where people call in and actually believe that if we try hard enough we can negotiate with Saddam Hussein and get him to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. They believe that if we just give him what he wants, or make our case patiently and clearly enough, he will understand and will ultimately cooperate. Whatever our position on war is, we must understand that there are some people who are truly evil, and are bent on abusing their power even to the point of using instruments of death to accomplish their purposes. Whether we believe we should go to war or refrain from war, we cannot escape the reality of evil, and the fact that there are some people with whom you can never negotiate.
Historically, the church has understood this, because Christians have always understood the reality of the existence of evil in the world — not just in some abstract sense, but in a real and personal sense. There have been two strains of thought in the church through the years: 1) classic pacifism, and 2) classic just-war [as in “justifiable”] theorists. Pacifism has always been the respected, but minority, position in the church throughout the ages. Those who have held to the belief that war is always evil, but perhaps the least of two evils, and therefore sometimes justified have always been in the majority. And it is interesting that those in the pacifist tradition (Quakers, Amish, Mennonites and Brethren) have historically held that war is sometimes justified, but that Christians should not participate in it. It was similar to their belief that political offices were necessary, but Christians should not hold public office, because they were not to be of this world; they were members of another world — the kingdom of God. Basically, they held to the belief that those who belonged to the world should take care of worldly things like public office and war, but those who were a part of the kingdom of God belonged to a different world order, and should not be a part of the things of this world. The point is that classic pacifism believed that war was sometimes necessary, but that Christians should not be a part of it, even though it might be necessary for non-Christians to wage war in order to protect their nation. The view that war is always wrong, even by secular governments, is a relatively recent development. Because of this, Christians were criticized for wanting others to do their fighting for them. Someone has said, “The Christian pacifist does not offer his views as a necessarily workable solution to the problems of political conflict. Pacifism is a matter of obedience, not an alternative diplomacy.” That is an important insight.