The Bible on When War is Justifiable, Part 2

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This past week I gave you the first study in this two-part series regarding a scriptural understanding of war. We examined if or not the “Just War Theory” — the historic, determining guidelines used by American leaders to ascertain the use or non-use of war — are based in Scripture. We found that the theory is firmly based on Scripture. It raises the question that as our culture quickly jettisons its Judeo-Christian bases, will we continue to be informed and guided by The Just War Theory and The Four Principles Of Fighting A War? You are leading the United States at a time when the world is filled with violence, aggression and conflict, and some nations are even attacking their own innocent civilian citizens. As you make decisions about when to engage in conflict or war, learning what Scripture has to say about the principles of war is critically important.

Ralph Drollinger

Ralph Drollinger

I. INTRODUCTION

In last week's Part One of this two-part series we gained an overall understanding of what the Bible has to say about war. We then elaborated on what the Bible says is the role of God’s institution of government. Importantly, we distinguished and contextualized the institutional role of government from passages that speak to individual responsibilities. Third, in understanding this subject we examined if or not there is a biblical basis for the historical, Christian-author-based, now internationally accepted Just War Theory. There are eight principles that comprise the Just War Theory: We asked the question, does Scripture support each of them? If so, what passages of the Word do each of the points spring forth from? My intention was and remains to root your understanding of War in the Scriptures: As a federal Public Servant it is critical that you be able to reason the use or non-use of war from a biblically-informed conscience. This week we will examine the two leading camps opposed to the Just War Theory. Those are the Christian pacifist and the noninterventionist positions (the latter view is held by some Christians and non-Christians alike). How do advocates of these views attempt to underscore their beliefs — are they biblically based?

THIS STUDY SHOULD PROVE MOST HELPFUL IN THINKING CLEARLY ABOUT THE PRESENT CRISES

Examining these subjects will hopefully aid the Public Servant in his or her awareness and confidence in biblical principles — which lead to the proper formation of convictions — regarding the just and ethical use of war.

WE DISCOVERED IN THE FIRST BIBLE STUDY ON WAR THAT GOD IS NOT NECESSARILY OPPOSED TO WAR. RATHER, THE QUESTION ONE SHOULD BE ASKING IS:

WHEN IS WAR JUSTIFIED?

The eight internationally accepted aspects of the Just War Theory represent the biblically and time-accepted criteria for answering this question: When is war morally and ethically justifiable? Supposing all the criteria are met, what then are the biblically-based and time accepted principles for fighting a just war? There are four. Let us examine them first (before studying the pacifist and nonconformist views) and discover the scriptural basis for each.

II. THE FOUR PRINCIPLES OF FIGHTING A WAR

The Latin phrase for this is jus in bello meaning “the right conduct within war.” Advocates of the Just War Theory have developed these four moral guidelines as to how a war ought to be fought. Those four principles follow with scriptural support.

A. PROPORTIONALITY IN THE USE OF FORCE

This criterion differs from Proportionality of Results (as discussed in the first study on war) which relates to a nation’s consideration of going to war, wherein consideration is given to the cost of further damage in relation to the accomplishment of the objective prior to the decision to engage. The point being made here is that relative to fighting a war, there should be no greater use of force during the war than is necessary in order to achieve the objectives. Deuteronomy 20:10-12 serves to illustrate this particular moral consideration when fighting a justifiable war. In the context of this passage God is instructing Israel as she enters the Promised Land regarding how to wage war and in this case, obliterate the many and varied detestable, staid purveyors of evil: the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perezzites, Hivites and Jebusites (v. 17). Notice the passage: “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.” In this case the war plan included a siege. The point is God desires a proportional use of force in order to accomplish the objectives of the war. Additional or misdirected force that does not serve to accomplish the actual objectives is unethical. Notice further — very importantly — in verse 17 of Deuteronomy chapter 20 that God does not equivocate after having instructed Israel to proffer an offer of surrender; He doesn’t start a negotiation! He states very pointedly that if the offer is rejected: “But you shall utterly destroy them.” This might seem harsh, but not when viewed through the tightest context in which it is written. God informs Israel (and other nations throughout the coming centuries) of a necessary ingredient for successfully waging a war: there can be no vacillation once a nation has determined to go to war. When one studies the whole of Deuteronomy 20:

THERE IS A VASTLY DIFFERENT APPROACH AS TO HOW GOD INSTRUCTS ISRAEL TO GO TO WAR IN COMPARISON TO HOW SOME WOULD DEAL WITH CURRENT CRISES

Additional passages from God’s Word could be mentioned to further illustrate this principle of proportionality in the use of force, but for the sake of brevity, let’s discover the second principle of fighting a war.

B. DISCRIMINATION BETWEEN COMBATANTS AND NON-COMBATANTS

In the pursuit of war, appropriate consideration and care of non-combatants need occur. Deuteronomy 20:13-14 speaks to this principle: “When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you.” Often in war, the citizens of the country are innocent and not in concert with the evil deeds of their leadership. This reality need always be considered and somehow remedied when waging a fight. Likened to children in a marriage divorce, innocent bystanders need to be treated with love and compassion, and as best possible, sheltered from the fight.

C. AVOIDANCE OF EVIL MEANS

There are various evil means of fighting a war. I will develop only one here: During a war the captives of the other country need be cared for with respect. Quite often prisoners of war are relieved that they no longer have to live with a conflicted soul — having been forced outwardly to go against their inner conscience by an evil ruler. Often times they are victims of propaganda campaigns wherein their country’s leaders have not provided them with the whole truth of the story. Psalm 34:14 and a myriad of other passages might be explanatory of their hearts — and the passage should typify the hearts of their captors: Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it. All captives should be treated with justice and righteousness. (The use of torture on a captured perpetrator of evil is an exception — and another Bible study: Considering the moral equation of the welfare of one evil person versus the good of many innocent people.) In a pragmatic sense of motivation relative to the respectful treatment of captives, those captured have been successfully removed from the battle; like captured pieces in a chess game, they are neutral agents no longer in play. (Keep in mind that Hitler lost WWII in large part due to an utter lack of manpower.)

D. GOOD FAITH

This last of the four criteria for justly fighting a war is Good Faith. Informed by the biblical truth that all men are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), there must be a genuine, sincere desire going into and fighting any war that the nation desires to restore peace and live in harmony with the other nation because in an ultimate sense, even though the nation has done wrong, once it is punished and humbled, forgiveness can and should follow. The requisite of good faith is commensurate with personal and corporate maturity; when these ultimate motives are present during battle, they serve to govern and manifest the aforementioned methods used in the battle. In Matthew 5:43- 44 Jesus states the following in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” These passages and others provide a nation’s leadership with the right kind of attitude as it relates to the ultimate desired outcome of a war:

THE MOTIVE OF WAR SHOULD ALWAYS BE THE DESIRE FOR RESTORATION NOT ANNIHILATION

This is similar in principle to what we as parents have in view when we punish our children — an oft necessity in a fallen world. In summary, these are the four biblically based inviolable and measured principles for fighting a war that is at first justifiable. Fortunately and historically, America’s culture of war has largely been informed by these principles and our nation has emulated these values in its use of force. However, we should not assume that will always be the case. As our culture is bent on jettisoning its Judeo-Christian bases, it is reasonable to expect that we will not continue to be informed and guided by The Just War Theory and The Four Principles Of Fighting A War. Ideology and outward actions are intrinsically intertwined; one follows the other. Accordingly, teaching what Scripture has to say about these principles to lawmakers is critically important.

III. THE PACIFIST POSITION

A minority view opposed to the Just War Theory is Military Pacifism. This view believes it is always wrong to use military force and that believers should claim a conscientious objection if drafted into the military. pacifists believe that violence is always wrong. The supposed biblical arguments for pacifism are as follows. I will attempt to argue against each of these respectively.

A. JESUS COMMANDED US TO TURN THE OTHER CHEEK

Contextually, this passage (Matthew 5:39) is often misunderstood and misapplied. It is talking about the believer being non-retaliatory, or personally vengeful in his personal nature and demeanor. The passage is not advocating that an offended party simply forget about injustice as a result of some sort of wrongdoing. Notice the same idea in Romans 12:19 — only it goes on to provide a solution for injustice: It indicates the proper way in which justice is gained relative to a personal offense: Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Very importantly, several verses later God’s agent for justice is introduced: government. In Romans 13:4 (there were no verse numbers or chapter divisions in the original autographa of Scripture, those were added later by man, and sometime such as here, in the wrong place), Scripture states that God’s institution of government is His means of invoking justice, wherein it states, it does not bear the sword for nothing. It exists to avenge God’s wrath on evildoers. What Scripture is actually teaching in Matthew 5:39 and Romans 12:18 is not pacifism. Rather it is teaching that individuals should not seek personal revenge. That is to say, they are not to take the law into their own hands. Rather, they are to appeal to God’s means for achieving justice: the institution of government. Further illustrating the point, it is interesting to note that in Luke 22:36 Jesus actually commanded His followers to carry a sword: “Whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” Not a pacifist Himself, this instruction indicates that Jesus was aware of the existence and remedy for sinful aggression in the world. But mind you, Jesus was not suggesting a self-styled vigilantism in or by this passage; the sword was to be used for self-defense and protection from thieves. In summary, the idea of turning the other cheek in Matthew 5:39 is not supportive of pacifism; rather, pacifism uses this passage improperly, out of its biblical and theological context in order to support their opinion.

B. JESUS COMMANDED US TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS AS OURSELVES

While God does command us to love others, He simultaneously ordains government to protect man from evildoers. Both truths are evident in Scripture. It is therefore a misuse of Scripture, if not disingenuous, to proclaim half of a truth in order to argue for pacifism. It follows that if I personally love my neighbors as myself (Matthew 22:39) I too will also be willing to protect them from all kinds of evil.

C. THE USE OF MILITARY FORCE SHOWS A FAILURE TO TRUST IN GOD

Such a statement has the flavor of legalistic condescension — as if the one holding this position is more spiritual than the other. But the fact is, as seen previously, God specifically ordains the use of corporate force against evil in Romans 13:1-4 and 1Peter 2:13-14. It is incongruous for someone to ask another to “trust in God” for things that are not akin to what the Bible teaches. This is like saying you don’t have to work for a living, but to “trust in God for your food” because Scripture is clear that we must work to eat. In light of the perspicuous teaching of Scripture on this subject, it is not more appropriate to say to someone that we should trust in God to use the military force of government — which He put in place — in order to protect us from harm’s way.

D. VIOLENCE ALWAYS LEADS TO MORE VIOLENCE

This statement is not necessarily true. It was American military power that kept Hitler from further violations and world conquest. The pacifist should instead consider the biblically informed slogan, “Superior force stops criminal violence.” Violence does not necessarily lead to more violence. In summary, pacifism has no biblical justification. It amounts only to wishful thinking in an evil, fallen world.

IV. THE NONINTERVENTIONIST POSITION

Advocates of noninterventionism believe in the principle that one nation should never interfere with the events of another in any way. The noninterventionist would say that if some nation invaded an innocent country, it is not justifiable for a nation like America to come to that nation’s rescue. But such a view is not in keeping with the purposes of government as outlined previously in Romans 13:1-4. In fact, God rebuked Edom for not intervening and helping Israel in Obadiah 1:11: “On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem — you too were as one of them.” When the Babylonians invaded Israel, the neighboring country of Edom stood by and watched. God states here that that nation was guilty for not helping their neighbor, pronouncing, you too were as one of them.

WHEN AMERICA IS STRONG, AND THE THREAT OF HER INTERVENING IS EVER-PRESENT, THE WORLD IS A MUCH SAFER PLACE

There can be no doubt that America’s presence throughout the world — its just, historic presence outside its own boundaries — be it as a member of NATO, signing the Monroe Doctrine, defense treaties with Taiwan and Israel, or its willing and welcomed presence to support military bases in the Philippines, Germany, Korea and Japan, have all greatly aided in peacemaking and peacekeeping throughout the world. This is the fruit of biblically justified intervention! When America is strong, and the threat of her intervening is ever-present the world is a much safer place. And the opposite is apparent: When American intervention is of a lesser possibility, unrest and evil aggression rise. Noninterventionists must intention­ally disregard the implications of the fall in Genesis 3 as well as God’s re­vealed purpose for ordaining Govern­ment in Romans 13:1-4 and 1Peter 2:13-14. They are not aligned with a Christian worldview at this point. Rather, they are joining the pacifists in naïve, wishful thinking. There can be no doubt:

AMERICA’S HISTORIC UNDERSTANDING, WILLING OBEDIENCE, AND FAITHFUL APPLICATION OF THESE BIBLICAL TRUTHS HAS LED TO A MUCH SAFER WORLD AS A RESULT

Praise God we have gotten this right! May you as a Public Servant help curtail the unbiblical present secular trend­ing toward pacifism and non-interventionism! Such will lead to increasing worldwide chaos.

V. SUMMARY

Secular Humanists, who believe man is basically good, have a resulting ideological problem with war. They believe all problems can be solved intelligently by appealing to reason. The Christian worldview stands in sharp contradiction: man is fallen and has a propensity toward evil. It follows that war is necessary at times; God even sends His people to war in Scripture. If God advocates war at times, it follows that He insists on the guidelines outlined in this study for the justification of going to war and fighting a war. It follows too that the pacifist and noninterventionist viewpoints are biblically unfounded, and portray a theological naïveté relative to the grave and serious ongoing implications of the fall.

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