I saw a war protester on the news carrying a sign that read: “What Would Jesus Bomb?” Clever. And it’s a good question, because it plays to the stereotype that many people have about Jesus, that he was a 1st-century pacifist.
The trouble with stereotypes is that they contain a grain of truth without telling the whole story. Jesus lived out a ministry of compassion and love. He didn’t lift a finger against his tormentors as they led him off to his execution. But that same humble Jesus also drove the money-changers from the Temple with a whip, overturning their tables and spilling their goods. And how’s this for a statement of sympathy and love:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. —Matthew 10:34, NIV, (Jesus speaking)
Among the peace crowd, that may not be one of Jesus’ top-ten quotes, but it illuminates a side of Jesus that isn’t well understood by the general public: he did not appease evil. Rather, he practiced and preached a demanding form of love that called people to lives of selfless service of others and uncompromising holiness.
The Scriptures are full of war and violence in the service of God’s work. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, made famous during Vietnam by the Byrds, tells us that there is “a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.” This includes “a time to kill,” “a time to tear down,” “a time to hate,” and “a time for war.” One imagines David approaching Goliath with a list of ten resolutions for disarmament—how different Israel’s history might have been had he not had the courage and wisdom to fell the Philistine hero with a stone and remove his head with a sword.
The concept of “Just War” is an attempt by the Christian church to work out the morality of war through the lens of history and the Scriptures. And one of the conclusions of a long line of Christian thinkers is this: war is not inherently immoral.
In his essay Moral Clarity in a Time of War, George Weigel says:
“…those scholars, activists, and religious leaders who claim that the just war tradition ‘begins’ with a ‘presumption against war’ or a ‘presumption against violence’ are quite simply mistaken. It does not begin there, and it never did begin there. To suggest otherwise… inverts the structure of moral analysis in ways that inevitably lead to dubious moral judgments…” (First Things, January 2003)
Weigel continues by saying that Christianity presumes “…that rightly constituted public authority is under a scrict moral obligation to defend the security of those for whom it has assumed responsibility…”
The use of force to bring about justice and security is not prima facie evidence of moral failure. Rather, when war is undertaken to protect the well-being of the community, it becomes an act of sacrificial, Christian love. The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. (Jesus again, John 15:13)
- A dire threat to our community was exposed on 9/11. Love demands that we remove from power those who are committed to terror against America, in order to secure a future of peace, liberty and security.
- Even if we ourselves were not at risk, Christian compassion would demand that we find a way to intercede in Iraq, to prevent further starvation of Iraqi children and further torture and murder of political dissidents. The Christian world is as morally obligated to stop the bloodshed in Iraq, by force if necessary, as it was to shut down the ovens in Dachau.
- In this world, fractured as it is by sin and evil, men and women will never be able to live free as God intended unless they are willing to buy that freedom with their sweat and blood.
That last one is key. It is precisely what Christ did for each of us, 2000 years ago.