TO WAR OR NOT TO
WAR?

Just a few days ago
it seemed as though military strikes on Syria were imminent. Now it appears
that a new diplomatic initiative may save the day and prevent an act of war –
though whether this will save innocent lives or cost even more as the ongoing
civil war is prolonged is very much a moot point. But what does the Bible say?
What would Jesus say? What is God’s line on all this?

The problem is that,
if you think you have a hard time getting a straight answer out of a
politician, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve tried to get a straight answer
out of God! Te trouble is that the Bible never says what you want it to, and
neither does God. You picture God as a God of peace and want some hard hitting
condemnations of war? Well, you have “love your enemies”, “turn
the other cheek”, and “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning-hooks Nation will not take up swaord against
nation, nor will they train for war any more”but the first two sayings are
instructions for individuals in their relationships with others, and the last
quote is in the context of a (hypothetical) situation where God has won an
overwhelming victory and no-one dare contest his right to rule. You also have
to contend with God telling the Israelites to invade Canaan and destroy its
people (they never did, of course. All efforts at ethnic cleansing throughout
history have been failures, mot notably the Holocaust) and God fighting the
mother of all battles at Armageddon in the Book of Revelation

On the other hand,
if you believe in taking a strong military and wish to make the case for war,
you have to cope with a Jesus who tells
his followers to love their enemies, who tells Peter to put away his sword when
he tries to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and Isaiah telling a king
of Judah who is being attacked by external forces, “in repentance and rest
is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength”! The problem
is that there is more than one strand of teaching in the Bible on this matter –
and on many otehr matters. We cannot just turn up the chapter and verse and
find the answer served up to us on a plate. We have the responsibility, with
the help of God’s Holy Spirit, to discover which message is the one God is
giving to us in our day and our situation. This will mean asking questions
about what Jesus, or Isaiah, or God meant when they said this or that, about
what kind of situation it was that these words were spoken into, and is our
situation more like this one or that one. We need to bear in mind that Jesus’
commands to love enemies and turn the other cheek were addressed to his
followers, and at most to people who considered themselves part of God’s chosen
people; that Old Testament calls to arms were given at a time when God’s people
were identified very precisely with a geographic and political entity; and that
the battle of Armageddon in Revelation is largely a clash of spiritual forces
using means not found in amy military arsenal on earth. So in each situation, we
are left with balancing one divine principle against another, and weighing the
consequences of taking military action against the (less visible, but
nonetheless real) cost of doing nothing. I’m glad I don’t have to make the
decision, and I pray for those who do.