Summary: Jesus defined the crucial test of friendship when he said on the night before he was crucified, “Greater love has no man than this, but that he lay down his life for his friends”.
In 1930, a movie was made about World War I called “All Quiet on the Western Front”. In one scene, some American soldiers were talking. One soldier asked, “Where do wars come from anyway?” Another replied, “Well, one country gets mad at another country, and they start fighting.” The first soldier asked, “Do you mean that one piece of land gets mad at another piece of land?” “No,” the other replied, “the PEOPLE of one country get mad at the PEOPLE of the other” The first soldier picked up his rifle and started walking away. When asked where he was going, he said, “I’m going home. I’m not mad at anybody”.
Don’t you wish it was that easy? Don’t you wish we could just walk away from war? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The Christian is the pacifist way. Pacifists claim to be peace-makers, but sometimes being a peace-maker means going to war. The great Roman Emperor Julius Caesar once said, “If you want peace, prepare for war”.
How should we treat our enemies?
One day long ago, when things were looking darkest for the free world, Adolph Hitler was addressing a large audience in Germany. In the front row sat a man of pronounced Semitic appearance. Following his address, Hitler came down from the platform, walked up to this man and said, “While I was speaking, you were laughing. What were you laughing about?” The man replied, “I wasn’t laughing. I was thinking”. “What were you thinking about?” asked Hitler.
“I was thinking about my people, the Jews, and that you are not the first man who didn’t like us. A long time ago, there was another man who didn’t like us. His name was Pharaoh, and he put heavy burdens on us down there in Egypt. But for years we Jews have had a feast called Passover, and at that feast we have a little three-cornered cake and we eat that cake in memory of Pharaoh”.
“Years later there was another man who didn’t like us. His name was Haman and he did his best to get rid of all the Jews throughout the realm of King Ahasuerus. But for years we Jews have had another feast called the feast of Purim and at that feast we have a little four-cornered cake and we eat that cake in memory of Haman”.
“And while you were up there speaking, sir, I was sitting here thinking and wondering what kind of a cake we were going to eat to remember you by”.
The Jewish man had a point. We must love our enemies if at all possible, but sometimes we need to heed the words of an old Irish blessing that goes like this. “May God bless those who love us, and those who do not love us, may He turn their hearts. If he does not turn their hearts, May he turn their ankles so we may know them by their limping.”
No one wants war. Pacifists believe that if we prepare for war, we will get war. In their view, the only way to achieve peace is to eliminate the causes of war, but sometimes this means going to war. Sometimes war is the only way to get rid of dictators and terrorists like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Hussein and bin Laden. The goal of pacifists is admirable and in fact we must try to avoid war is possible, but sometimes war is necessary and inevitable. Sooner or later war destroys those who resort to it, especially with nuclear weapons.
True pacifists believe in fighting with the weapons of the Holy Spirit. The pacifist position has always been a respected minority position among Christians. Jesus was not a pacifist. Just look at what he did to the moneychangers in the temple! He even told his disciples to be armed with swords-not for fighting snakes, but for self-defense. That’s why Peter was able to cut off the soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Christ was crucified.
What does God have to say about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban and el-Qaida? The Old Testament gives several examples of situations where war is necessary-even desirable. War is something that can be learned, just as peace can be learned. Peace comes when all sides experience the freedom to be whole, creative and participating in decisions that affect their destiny. Peacemaking does NOT mean obtaining security at someone else’s expense. One of the recent popes said it well. “If you want peace, work for justice”. On some occasions working for justice means literally fighting for justice.
The New Testament ethic for individuals differs from the mandate for national leaders. Individuals are called to “turn the other cheek”, but Romans 13:4 calls a national leader “God’s servant, an angel of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. If there were no enforcers of justice, chaos would prevail. War is always a tragedy, but occasionally the alternatives are worse than war (Pause).