Over the course of this year we have again seen the development of hostilities in the middle east and Australian forces are once more involved. It is therefore an appropriate time to reflect on the topic of war because it is a vexed one among Christians, and one which always generates a range of views.
As is evident in the current situation this is an incredibly complex topic; and simplistic and often ill informed opinions already abound in most areas of the debate. Further, because Christians have always had a very wide range of views and probably always will, anything said is likely to be unpopular with some.
There is this time around the additional dimension of Islam, Islamism and what likes to call itself ‘Islamic State’ all of which create a much greater complexity that requires an article of its own, something I hope to write in the not too distant future. Suffice it to say for the moment that we should pray for our politicians who along with the media (perhaps not surprisingly in a secular state) have shown themselves to be highly incompetent in both recognising and responding to the major issue of the spiritual nature of the current conflict and its implications for Australia. However on the matter of ‘War’ in general some comments can be made.
Firstly, we cannot expect to live in a war free world because as anyone who takes the Biblical doctrine of Sin seriously knows that there will always be human conflict. Furthermore, Jesus made it quite plain that wars were to be expected as part of the landscape of a fallen world (Mark 13:7,8). Many struggle with this and ask why God doesn’t stop such things. This is a question which again is too large to address here because it is part of the larger question of the problem of evil on which there are recorded talks available e.g. Why does a good God allow suffering? (See CrossRoads website download crossroadscc.org.au to download)
A second point is that, while I respect different opinions, I do not believe that pacifism (i.e. war is never justified), a position groups such as the Quakers hold, can be argued from the Bible. There is not time nor space here to justify that position but Romans 13:4 (the bearing of the sword) is relevant. Further, neither Jesus (Matthew 8:13) nor the New Testament generally (e.g. Acts 10) indicates that soldiers should give up their job.
Thirdly, even if pacifism is not an option that does not mean that every war is justified and that leaves the question of when is it? The ‘Just War’ argument is often raised to assert that some wars are allowable in the case of an extreme evil (as is currently the case) because they have a ‘Just’ cause. The problem then becomes whose justice? And by what standards? To establish what is “Just” means in the Bible to establish what is in accordance with the Kingdom of God which certainly does mean to oppose evil in all its forms. However we are not going to be able to do that completely and in a war situation there is no ‘good’ option but only the ‘least bad’ option. So probably the best we can do is to think, pray and then act in ways that will bring about the ‘least bad outcome’ i.e. the ‘least evil’.
There are some other relevant things that Christians should bear in mind. Firstly, wars will happen because of human sinfulness, but despite this, and in all situations, while the world may seem out of control God is sovereign Psalm 46.
Secondly, Christians, know, or should know, that ‘heaven on earth’ will never be created, but we are called to work for God-reflecting harmony in the world, not only by opposing military oppression, but also dealing with the root causes of some conflicts. For example the injustice of the massively uneven distribution of wealth in the world. This is why we as a church must support organisations such as TEAR.
We are also very importantly called to pray-
* That the sovereign God will influence international conflicts, and in His providence influence those who have some human control over such events, in order to limit the damage and suffering caused.
* That this current conflict will be short and limited both in scope and particularly in human casualties.
* That the good of the creation of a new, more just and peaceful Middle East will indeed become a reality.
Finally, we need to pray for the people of the region themselves (particularly the Christians who the secular media work very hard to ignore) who are trapped in a situation which they have very little ability to influence, and that there will indeed be a new day for them.
We live in very troubled, indeed evil, times, but despite this the sovereign God is still in control, as His children we should “not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the sea” Psalm 46:2.