Summary: We grapple with the ethics/morality of being involved in a war because it keeps us from becoming what we¡¦re fighting against. Deal with these questions: What is a "just" war? Will we achieve "Infinite" Justice.
September 23, 2001
Scatter thou the people that delight in war.
What is America going to do about the terrorists?
When President Bush addressed the nation Thursday night he ended with these words:
Freedom and fear,
justice and cruelty,
have always been at war,
and we know that God is not neutral between them.
Several questions have been disturbing my sleep (and probably yours) since September 11th:
What is a just (or righteous) war?
In the 60’s John Lennon wrote the lyrics that made patriotic souls cringe. He sang, Imagine all the people¡living life in peace
nothing to live or die for.
I was just barely old enough to be sent to Vietnam, but I never got the words of Lennon’s song.
Nothing to live for? Nothing worth dying for?
Does our contemplation of engaging in war over the recent tragedy constitute a just war? Is there something worth sending our sons (and now daughters) to die for?
If so, how should this war be conducted?
What if we lose?
(Even more perplexing, what if we win?)
I want to do (at least) two things this morning:
a. I want to answer all your questions (because then
mine would be answered as well). And
b. I really want to run home, jump in bed, pull the covers over my head, and not think about war, so it will go away for ever.
It has occurred to me that both my wishes are unrealistic.
1. I cannot answer all the questions.
(I toyed with faking it, then remembered Billy Graham’s address at the National Remembrance Day last week he said he still has unanswered questions.)
So, I decided to put my omniscience on hold.
2. Pulling the covers over my head doesn’t make anything go away. It only makes the darkness much more my reality. This thing is here, and we must deal with it!
Why? Why grapple with the ethics, the motives, the just-ness of our cause? Because we must! Because grappling with our motives, God’s law, Jesus’ compassion, and the seeming endless contradictions of war and peace is what keeps us from just striking-back in blind rage. It is what separates us from the terrorists. It¡¦s what keeps us from doing what they did, and, therefore, becoming what they are evil!
And so, let’s grapple with the questions:
What is a "just¨ war?
We look to history, and historic theological interpretation for beginning points; from the Westminster Confession of Faith we find 350 year-old reference to Christians getting involved in government, and participating in just war:
23.2 It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto;
in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so for that end, they may lawfully now, under the New Testament,
wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.
(Westminster Assembly of Divines, 1647 -- Many Baptist "faith statements¨ lean heavily on this.)
In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas said, For a war to be just, three things are necessary public authority, just cause, right motive.
(Bob Phillips, Book of Great Thoughts, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993, 326)
"Just war" a phrase derived from commentary on the Scripture. Aquinas used three terms,
Public Authority, or the secured good will of those governed.
Just Cause, when the provocation is clearly initiated of evil.
Right Motive, when the end, or aim of response is righteous.
In the current situation, it would appear, even at this early stage of investigating, that all three conditions exist:
The American people certainly have the will to respond; that is the consent of the governed.
The provocation was an evil attack on the unsuspecting and innocent; that is clearly evil, and..
The end, our purpose in responding, as stated by our president is to stamp out terrorism; a righteous motive.
If our government decides to lead us into a warrior response, the conditions of just cause appear validated.
The one qualifying factor is: against whom? The justness of a cause presupposes that you aim your gun at the right target. Sentiment is running sky-high to make Osama bin Laden the enemy. That may prove justified; in which case I will have no questions left concerning the justness of the cause.
Will Our Response be "Infinite Justice"?
Every thinking Christian should be conflicted in his feelings about this. As believers we know what Jesus said, Love your enemies ¡V overcome evil with good. As human beings with natural feelings, we want to scream, Love ’em? Take ’em out! Get those suckers! Make ’em all pay!
As members of a freedom-loving, justice-seeking nation, we also understand that justice, even our imperfect system of justice, requires prudence, fairness and measured responses. To act this way requires patience, forbearance, and resources of stamina and wealth.