War is a terrible thing. It separates families, and causes much death, pain, and sorrow. It is cruel; to the “victors”, the “losers”, soldiers, and soldiers’ families…war is cruel to everyone. It hardens men to bloodshed, greed, and hate. It ruins God-given economical resources. War violates many Biblical principles, such as…
“Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” – Proverbs 13:10
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” – Matthew 5:38-39
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:18-21
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
“Thou shalt not kill.” – Exodus 20:13
Obviously, war is not a good thing overall, but should a Christian ever participate in war? It is plain to see in Scripture that war is not always wrong.
“The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.” – Exodus 15:3
“Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:” – Psalm 144:1
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,” – Revelation 12:7
“These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” – Revelation 17:14
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” – Ephesians 6:10-11
In this question of whether or not a Christian should participate in war, many people would refer to Exodus 20:13, which says, “Thou shalt not kill”. However, our English word “kill” is a mistranslation of what should be rendered, “murder”. Killing is not always wrong. God sometimes delegates vengeance in the form of capital punishment to civil authorities, such as the priests and judges in the Bible. If killing were always wrong, this would be a contradiction. Murder is always wrong, but are casualties of war murder?
Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but does turning the other cheek apply to individuals only? Well, families are made up of individuals. Communities are made up of families. Nations are made up of communities. Governing bodies are made up of individuals. If turning the other cheek applies to individuals, certainly it applies to groups of individuals as well. So as a nation, we should turn the other cheek when we are insulted. Wars for the sake of national pride are not right. But oftentimes, wrongdoing is the cause of war. Isn’t it likely that someone who has done wrong will continue to do so? I would say yes.
Going back to Romans 12:18, we are to live peaceably with all men, “if it be possible”. If it were always possible, surely this caveat would not be included. Yet three verses later, Paul says to overcome evil with good. Aren’t wars, even so-called “just wars”, overcoming evil with evil?
Is there even such a thing as a just war? Well, let’s take a look at Romans 13:3-4: “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” This passage basically says that one of the purposes rulers exist is to execute wrath on evildoers, and also implies that using the sword to do so is right and just. So rulers can execute wrath on evildoers by the use of the sword, but in that case they need an army. They can’t just expect to win on their own against aggressors like Hitler.
So they need an army; they need private soldiers and officers. But wait a minute: private soldiers are individuals who have NOT received the authority to execute judgment. The rulers are left in a dilemma here… Let’s go back to Romans 13. Verses 1-2 say: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” Is it possible that rulers who have received authority from God to wreak vengeance have also received power to delegate that authority?
This seems to me like it might be the answer. After all, it is impossible for the rulers of this world to personally oversee and accomplish all acts of vengeance and punishment. So when governing leaders of today declare war, it must be right for them to be able to call men of their country to arms and command war efforts.
But rulers are human too. Many of them don’t follow the one true God. There have been many cases, and surely will be many more, where wars fought were unjust. For instance, the Mexican War was fought over land rights, and the U.S. even started it! Those facts certainly do raise questions in my mind as to whether the Mexican War was just.
What about World War II? Hitler and the Axis were doing a lot of wrong things. Yet, those nations were not under the jurisdiction of the United States. Was it right for U.S. forces to step in and fight, when they didn’t directly have that authority? I don’t know the answer to that question for sure, but I do know this: “For he [the LORD] shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.” – Psalm 72:12. Was God working through the U.S.? Probably, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that what they did, stepping in, was right.
You could make the case that the Civil War came about because of wrongdoing – slavery might not always be wrong, but the way they did it was wrong. At the same time, is keeping a country together a good enough reason to fight a war? Sometimes you just have to leave wrongs alone, and God will take care of them in His own good timing. Then again, God does use rulers to accomplish His purposes, and the Civil War did end slavery in the U.S.
Many, many God-fearing people in history, whom I respect very much, have made the choice to fight in wars. Many God-fearing people today fight in wars. Who am I to pronounce whether they do right? “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” – Romans 14:10. They alone are responsible for their actions, and I alone am responsible for mine.
This has been a difficult subject to write about. I’m still not sure if wars that are fought nowadays are ever right. At least, they aren’t usually right. I suppose we must just take war on a case-by-case basis, and beg God for the discernment to make the right decision when the time comes. May He give us His wisdom and grace!