November 21, 2008

The Biblical Perspective of War

I’ve been reading a lot of Ben Witherington’s blog. He has a fantastic mind, and has a fantastic understanding of Scripture. Definitely one of the better biblical scholars out there.

However, he seems to be very strong against the concept of war. Maybe a misunderstand him, but he seems to be against it in all cases, believe that Christians should always refuse to participate in war. I’m not sure if this holds water.

Now, it is very true that God doesn’t like war. War is not really seen as positive, and this is clearest seen in the New Testament, which speaks of peace and love, and speaks of war as demonstration of the depravity of humanity, and signs for the coming of the end of all things. War is a bad thing, and should never be desired.

But a war can also be a necessary thing. To say that war is a bad thing does not mean that a particular war is the wrong thing to do, or participate in. It is very clear in the Old Testament that God does approve of war when the situation calls for it. War can be a very necessary to protect yourself from hostile and oppressive forces. It is not righteous to be idle when the unrighteous abuse the weak. Sometimes you need to fight.

I’ve heard the argument, though, that we are New Testament believers. Even if there is war in the Old Testament, that doesn’t mean that we should be for it now, since we are supposed to be living out the New Testament. To that, I have a few things to say.

First, I’m not talking about be for war, but recognizing that it is, at times, a necessary evil.

Second, I don't believe in the strong dialectic between the Old and New Testament anyway. Saying that “Well that’s the old covenant, and this is the new covenant”, though a relevant argument, is not a sufficient argument because you still have to deal with the fact that in the Old Testament God sanctioned wars. You can’t run away from that, and casting out the entire Old Testament to avoid it is, well, wrong.

Third, the two testaments write on different levels. The OT is written in a more historical way while the NT is written more conceptually. From the NT, we can be sure that God never wants war, but from the OT, we can see that God does recognize the need for war on occasions.

My point is that we should not look to the Bible to deal with the question of war in general to judge a specific war. There is always a difference between the general and the particular. In general, war is to be avoided. In particular, you need to examine the specifics of the specific war to come to a conclusion.

Because we are not part of this nation, but instead belong to God’s kingdom, we cannot follow blind nationalism, and promote “the American ideal in the rest of the world.” But, at the same time, if we are dealing with an evil force, we can help our nation suppress it.


Pizza Man said...

Good read. I agree with you that war is sometimes the best response. WW2 would seem to be a clear example.

War can often be understood as a form of God's judgment for a nation that has turned away from Him. In the OT, this applied both ways for the nation of Israel.

Regarding the USA, I think the nation shouldn't go to war unless it is one declared by congress. This would help avoid things like the politics of "Bush's war" or "Johnson's war". One never hears of "FDR's war" because the nation was united in purpose.

bethyada said...

Second, I do believe in the strong dialectic between the Old and New Testament anyway.

Did you mean "do" or "don't"?

Jc_Freak: said...

Thanks bethyada for the catch. I fixed it in the post.

Jc_Freak: said...

Actually Kevin, there are a couple of things that you have off in your last paragraph. First of all, the current war that we are in was declared by Congress (actually, we currently arn't in a war. The war was over in the first three months. We're in a Reconstruction period). So clearly the act of Congress declaring it won't avoid what you are talking about.

Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Korean War weren't declared by Congress because techniquely they weren't wars. We were providing military support for an ally. In the Gulf War, we weren't the ones Iraq was principly fighting; Kuwait was. The same kind of thing is true of the other two wars. Mind you, we recognize them as wars now because, really, they were, but its not like those presidents just went to war without Congress's approval. That would've be Unconstitutional. Instead they used a loophole.

The Iraq War did not qualify for the loophole, but it didn't need to. Bush went to the Congress, and the Congress voted for a declaration of war. Now, certain senators are claiming that they were pressed into voting that way. However, it's a moot claim. The vote went the way it did, and the war is legal based on American precedures of such things.

The second thing is that you have off is the reason one never hears WWII referred to as "Roosevelte's War" is because we live in 2008. If we lived in 1943 that would be a different matter. Check out the movie "In Harm's Way" starring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. There's a remark by the son who disapproved of WWII, where he calls it "Mr. Roosevelte's War". Wayne retorts that WWI was called "Wilson's War" as well. Mind you, all the evidence I have is this movie, but given it was made in 1965 and most of the viewers were around during WWII, I think it is sufficient evidence that this was done.

There will always be desenters of a war, and they will always target the president. The difference is then most of the media was behind the president, while now the reverse is true. The guy who owns the microphone gets the loudest word in.

Pizza Man said...

Hi Martin, you make some good points, there will always be dissenters.

Regarding Iraq, Congress authorized Bush to use force. They did not formally declare war. We are dealing with semantics here, but "authorizing" and "declaring" are not the same thing. A formal declaration of war is a bigger commitment than an authorization of force. A formal declaration gives the president a bigger mandate. Having said that, no doubt there would have been some dissension either way.

You are absolutely correct with Wilson, Korea, and Vietnam. I disagree with your assessment of FDR. Prior to Pearl Harbor there was a strong isolationist movement. But post Pearl Harbor the nation was quite united. Congress didn't declare war until after Pearl Harbor.

TrueHope said...

In the NT, soldiers are portrayed in a relatively positive light. If participating in a war is a sin, John the Baptist would probably have asked the soldiers to quit their jobs. And Paul probably wouldn't have told us to equip the full armor of God.

When the cause is just, war is justifiable.