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Friday, 12 September 2014

War or Peace

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 military expert Vegetius wrote, “If you want peace, prepare for war”. (Ancient Languages - English to Latin phrase translation help) 

Since 3600 BC, the world has known only 292 years of peace. During this time there have been 14,351 wars, large and small, in which 3.64 billion people have been killed. The value of property destroyed would pay for a golden belt around the world 97.2 miles wide and 33 feet thick. Since 650 BC there have also been 1656 arms races. Of those, only 16 have not ended in war. The remainder ended in the economic collapse of the countries involved. (Anderson)  

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! Some interpreters of the Bible understand Luke 22:35-36 to mean that Jesus encouraged people to carry swords for self-defense and protection (ESV Study Bible, 2006). That may explain why Peter was able to cut off the soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Christ was crucified. (Fox, 2000) 

The Old Testament gives several examples of situations where war is necessary-even desirable. A good example is in 2 Maccabees 15: 1-6, a passage about being attacked on the Sabbath. 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. Pope Paul VI said it well. “If you want peace, work for justice”. (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation). 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. Paul urges us in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 to ask God to give wisdom to all those in authority so that even corrupt leaders will work for peace.  

A just war must follow St. Augustine’s guidelines:

1.      It must be declared by a legitimate authority

2.      It must be carried out with the right intention-for example, to restore justice or to fight Satan and his evil followers.

3.      It must be approved as a last resort

4.      It must be waged on the basis of proportionality. That is, the good to be accomplished must be greater than the suffering and killing that will be unleashed

5.      There must be a reasonable chance of success.

6.      It must be waged with all the moderation possible. In other words, it must follow the rules of The Hague and Geneva Conventions. Civilians and POWs are to be protected as much as possible. (Henry, 2006) In other words, non-combatants are to be spared the destruction of war as much as possible and they are not to be directly and intentionally attacked.

War is hell. It might be necessary at times, but it is not “good”. It has been a necessary evil since the beginning of time, and it is a necessary evil today. We find strength not in our weapons, but in our faith in God.  God prefers peace, but he often sends his people into war. He does so under three conditions:

1.      To liberate oppressed people.

2.      To punish evildoers

3.      To defend themselves

Is God against war and military people? No. Is pacifism the right way for Christians? Not necessarily. Is the violence of war ever acceptable? (Fox, 2000) Yes. Is there a time to go to war that is right? Yes. As the apostle Paul wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:8,To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. “ (Eccl 3:1-8 (KJV))

As I mentioned earlier, on rare occasions the alternatives to war are worse than war. Surely no reasonable person believes the world would have been better if Hitler had not been defeated. In fact, many historians believe that if the British and French had intervened in 1936 when Hitler illegally occupied the Rhineland, World War II could have been prevented. The League of Nations was unwilling to enforce its own mandate, and the League died.

A more modern example occurred in 1991 when Europeans tried to solve the problems in Yugoslavia without American help. But when the situation in Kosovo degenerated into genocide, no other nation was willing to act without American help. The U.S.-led coalition stopped the genocide and brought war criminals to justice.

The great German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer was a pacifist at the beginning of World War II, but before the war ended, he was part of a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. The Gestapo imprisoned him. He died at age 39 on a Nazi gallows at the Flossenberg concentration camp, stripped of clothes and dignity. Bonheoffer paid the ultimate price while realizing that the only way to stop Hitler was by tyrannicide-the death of a tyrant (Gunkell).

We are to resist evil in ALL of its forms. Jesus encourages us to go on the attack against Satan and his evil forces. That’s why we fight people like Hitler and bin Laden. Behind every evil dictator who would destroy freedom, behind every evil force that would bring fear into the hearts of people is the evil one- SATAN. Peace at any price is not peace-it is appeasement. War is simply enforcing a law by protecting yourself, your fellow citizens and all freedom-loving people with great numbers from those who would destroy you and them. An enemy who follows Satan will destroy us unless we defend ourselves. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest thing. We must pray that God will use war to bring salvation and freedom to many.  

How should we treat our enemies?

One day long ago, when things were looking darkest for the free world, Adolph Hitler addressed 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”. (Henry, 2006)

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.”  

Some of you may remember a song that Kenny Rogers recorded several years ago called “The Coward of the County”. The song is about a fellow who was able to follow Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek”, until evil was so strong that he had to retaliate, as shown in the following lines:

Twenty years of crawling were bottled up inside him.
He wasn't holding nothing back -- he let 'em have it all.
When Tommy left the bar room, not a Gatlin boy was standing.
He said, "This one's for Becky”, as he watched the last one fall.

(and I heard him say,)

"I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you've done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek,
And papa, I should hope you understand --
Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man".
(Wheeler, 1979)

Peace comes through power, especially God’s peace. It guides us through the storms of life, especially war, terrorism and crime. It is there to comfort and strengthen us. It gives us the power to come together with our fellow man to create hope and healing, especially in times of despair. It comes to us in the deepest, darkest and most depressing times in our lives and creates goodness and hope from the ashes of the situation we are in. In a letter sent to members of the World Council of Churches in 2005, the General Secretary, Rev. Samuel Kobia stated, “We believe that for Christians, it is appropriate to join the concern and desire of humanity for peace and non-violence by applying their most consistent way of intervening in world affairs, that is, by prayer” (Mavunduse, 2005)
Peace also begins with us. This can often be hard to do, especially when someone has been nasty to us. It takes maturity, experience and wisdom to realize that peace (or lack of it) is about stuff (who has it, who wants it, and what people will do to get it). If we push for peace, we have to stand for it, no matter what. The road to peace is not easy, but we must stick with it as far as humanly possible because the benefits far outweigh the costs which must be paid. (Sentamu, 2006)

Peace is a matter of embracing Christ’s message of reconciliation, of coming together. It requires letting go of some of the things we hold dear. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu summed up the requirements for peace best:

If there is to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.


If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.


If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbours.


If there is to be peace between neighbours,

There must be peace in the home.


If there is to be peace in the home,

There must be peace in the heart. (Keating, 2007)


Ancient Languages - English to Latin phrase translation help. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2009, from All

Anderson, N. (n.d.). The World's Peace. Retrieved from Daily in Christ:

Bible, E. S. (2006). Luke 22:35-36. Bible Explorer .

Fox, L. (2000, May). A Christian Perspective of Self Defense. Retrieved February 25, 2009, from

Gunkell, C. (n.d.). Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from

Henry, R. J. (2006). A Time for War-A Time for Peace. Retrieved 2007, from

Keating, D. (2007, December). Reflections on Life and Faith. Retrieved from Seems Lilke God:

Mavunduse, D. (2005, September). Churches urged to pray for peace.

Sentamu, T. M. (2006, August). Archbishop ends fast with call for new efforts for a sustainable peace in Middle East. Anglican Communion News Service .

VI, P. P. (1998-2009). Peace Quotes. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from Nuclear Age Peace Foundation:

Wheeler, R. B. (Composer). (1979). The Coward of the County. [K. Rogers, Performer] Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

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