We live in one of the most challenging times since World War II, with President Putin recently putting his nuclear forces in a state of “special combat readiness”. Russia has also warned that WWIII could break out.
Closer to home, China has built and militarized bases in the South China Sea, stepped up threatening military maneuvers against Taiwan, and signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands. In response, Australian Defense Secretary Peter Dutton recently warned Australians to prepare for war to keep the peace. The nation must scrutinize acts of aggression, he said.
How should Christians respond to this? The situation can, quite naturally, cause fear and anxiety. I am sure it has happened to great believers. For example, the Psalms express David’s concern and fear as Saul and his army of 3,000 pursued him into the wilderness of Engedi. And from Peter’s bitter tears, after he denied Jesus three times, we can infer that he was anxious and afraid of the future.
The apostle Paul describes how under the misery he experienced in Asia, he was so burdened beyond his strength that he despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8).
Even though the scriptures are clear that God is completely sovereign and just – the loving God who rules the world – being in difficult and precarious circumstances causes fear and apprehension even among the heroes of faith.
So how should we deal with that?
Trust in God. Go to the scriptures and read the scriptures such as Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:6-7 and Romans 8:28. Remind yourself that even if you died, you would be with your savior in heaven (Revelation 21:3-4 and 22:3-4). Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done, and I have even wavered above the heroes of faith on some occasions. So turn to God and ask him for help to trust him. Read in John 21 about how Jesus restored Peter after he denied him. Read Paul’s suffering in 2 Corinthians 11:24-12:8 and take heart from Paul’s response in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God’s grace is sufficient for him. To pray. Our prayers are important—when God wants to give us things, He can work through our prayers (John 16:24). Pray for kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Pray that God will keep evil in check. Pray that God will give our leaders wisdom and courage (James 3:17). Whatever you do – pray! Get help. Of course, if your anxiety and fears grow to unhealthy levels, seek help from mental health professionals, such as a good doctor and psychologist.
But what should Christians do if the worst happens and war breaks out? This is a tricky question about which Christians have disagreed practically from the beginning. This is because there is not a single text in the Bible that says war is right or wrong, so the scope of the Scriptures must be considered. Let’s try that!
A critical point is the character of God. God is a holy God who punishes evil. Violence and war are often described in the Old Testament (e.g., Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 31:3-7; Deuteronomy 20:1-4; Joshua; Judges 3:10; 1 Samuel 15:1-23; Isaiah 45:1). The greatest examples of this book close the scriptures with the flood of Noah in Genesis and the final judgment in Revelation.
This punishment extends to the spiritual realm in the New Testament, where Jesus speaks most of hell (Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51 and 25:30), and the image of the judgment in Revelation 14:14-20 is terrifyingly violent.
Yet the Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:7) and loves even his enemies. He does not want anyone to perish (Ezekiel 33:1-11 and 2 Peter 3:9). Indeed, because Jesus “is the exact representation of God” (Hebrews 1:3) and his behavior is nonviolent, and he teaches nonviolence (Matthew 5:39; 26:51-53), combined with Paul’s teaching of nonviolence (Romans 12:17-21) one could argue that Christians should be pacifists.
However, the New Testament always speaks of military personnel in positive terms (Luke 7:9; 23:47; Acts 10:2, 16:25-34; 27:43), and the profession of weapon is one of many honorable professions to which the Christian life is compared (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3,4; Philemon 2 and Ephesians 6:11-17). The advice from soldiers in Luke 3:14 contains no indication of condemnation of the profession performed with honor.
Paul says that God uses rulers to punish evil through ‘the sword’ (Romans 13:1-7). This is quite striking when we consider the ruling Roman authority, whose police force was made up of soldiers! As part of their verdict mandate, God sanctions the use of appropriate staff if necessary, for without it, they would not be able to carry out their God-ordained job of punishing evildoers (v4). So right violence to suppress and punish evil is openly sanctioned by God.
Elsewhere, God commands rulers to save the weak and needy (Ps. 82:2-4). Governments are ordained of God and are responsible for caring for the people entrusted to them for the common good. Unfortunately, they sometimes have to use force to do this in a sinful, fallen world.
Bishop Grant Dibden
Of course, God wants peace, and Christians should too, but because humans are sinful, sometimes action to bring it about is unfortunately necessary. In a broken world, war can be the loving option. It sounds very strange, so let me explain what it means. Pol Pot should have been stopped. The Rwandan genocide should have been prevented. Hitler had to be stopped. Not intervening and allowing the Cambodians, Tutsis, and Jews to be exterminated is not a wise restraint but a lack of love. It is a lack of love for the victims. It is an unwillingness to sacrifice something for what is right. It is testing God to pray only, but not take physical action. It is a greater failure not to wage war than to wage war. The Bible does not require peace at any cost, and it is wrong to leave physical warfare to non-Christians. Furthermore, where more soldiers follow the Lord Jesus, it is more likely that evil will be subdued in the heat of battle.
In a broken world, war can be the loving option.
So my conclusion, in line with many Christians through the ages, is that rulers must sometimes go to war, as a terrible duty, for “the purpose of making peace, punishing evildoers, and elevating the good” (Augustine). The framework that this outline is known as the “just war” theory.
Just war is never more than crude justice. Battle flows from human sin and is a place for more and greater evil. Just war theory attempts to limit, contain, and quickly complete the bleak task of fighting. God will demand an account of conduct in battle at the last judgment. Unfortunately, until God brings his new heaven and earth, we live in a world where there will be war.
The principles of the law of war are generally regarded as follows:
Have a righteous reason. Just causes defend against violent aggression, but offensive war is allowed only in limited circumstances. It is the last resort. Any negotiation and other means of resolving the problem must have been tried, failed properly, and declared by the appropriate authority. In our situation, this is the nation-state with the right intention. A nation waging a just war should do so for the sake of justice and not for reasons of self-interest or glorification. It tries to limit the infliction of harm or revenge, lust for power, and the like. Have a reasonable chance of success. This is to prevent wars in which a nation faces overwhelming opportunities to preserve human life. However, a seemingly ‘hopeless’ defensive action can still be ‘just’. The goal must be proportionate to the means used. Is the expected gain or only remedy commensurate with the damage likely to be inflicted?
During the conflict, there are two more considerations:
Is the expected military gain from a particular action proportional to the expected collateral damage and injuries? Are the goals legitimate? Citizens are not legitimate targets.
We should not underestimate the gravity of the current events on the world stage, and our response should be one of prayer for those recent victims of war, our leaders, and the leaders of other nations.
This is serious, and life in a fallen world is full of compromises. So when the worst happens and war breaks out, Christians should be at the forefront of serious reflection on the issues at stake. We must engage in the debate using the just war theory, which is biblical in its roots, broad in its compass, and deep in its application, to plead with the government for clear, just, and achievable results.
The scourge of war will be with us until Jesus returns. I thank God for this time of peace in our part of the world. But it is not guaranteed to last. When Jesus returns, swords will be beaten into plows and spears into pruning hooks, and the people will no longer lift their blades against the people. (Isaiah 2:4)