Thursday, April 23, 2015

Making Peace

Christians are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:15). But how does this apply to international affairs? There are two contrary approaches to this. We can believe that we are all basically good, reasonable people, and if we just act nicely toward one another, we will all be friends. We can believe that we are all basically sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), but we have an obligation to work to avoid conflict in spite of that. We need to avoid wearing rose-colored glasses; we also should avoid getting on our high horse and looking down on others. We may reach the place where we have to stand up on principle or fight for what is right. But we should be reluctant to do so too easily.

However, does Christianity require us to be pacifists? The Old Testament very clearly upholds fighting for one's country. But there is always the question of how much of the Old Testament requirements apply in the New. On the positive side, the government is said to bear the sword (Romans 13:4). The reference is more to internal than external use, but it upholds the principle. Soldiers are not admonished to quit their job, but to be careful how they perform it ( Luke 3:14). Soldiers are held up as examples of faith, rather than deplored for their profession (Matthew 8:5-13; Acts 10:1-6; Mark 15:39). On the negative side is the command to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). This is a response to an eye for an eye being taken out of context, not as instructions for a judge, but as an approach to life. It is an admonition against always trying to get your own back.  But I do not think it is saying there is no point where justice or duty may not require another response. There is also "he who takes up the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). This seems to be a general principle that speaks against seeing the sword as the obvious or first recourse. It seems to be a rule of thumb, not an absolute prohibition. I would conclude that the weight of Scripture is in favor of appropriate military service. But I can see how someone could draw the opposite conclusion.

While I would then conclude there is such a thing as a just war, I get the impression that very few wars clearly live up to this. Though there are exceptions, most wars seem to be stumbled into by two nations, with guilt on both sides. While I would therefore not oppose all wars, I think it is worthwhile to try to avoid them where possible. I do not believe in naively ignoring aggression. But I do believe in giving careful consideration and in legitimate attempts to make peace before going to war. This, at least, is involved in turning the other cheek.

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