March 24, 2017

September 10, 2015

A Just War?

In 1942, at the parsonage of the Lutheran church he shepherded in central Austria, my grandfather received the following slip of paper; his call-up for active service in the Wehrmacht.

Although his status as clergy might normally have led to his exclusion from conscription, being a member of the Confessing Church (that movement that opposed Hitler, including Dietrich Bonhöffer) meant he was always destined at some point to have to fight. He got on a train bound for the Eastern Front and wasn’t seen by his family for another 4 years.

That my grandfather fought for the aggressors in World War II is beyond doubt, not that he himself had much choice about it. We can look back at those years and clearly identify a “right” and “wrong” side. Sometimes, however, it’s not so clear. This is, of course, not a new question. In the 13th Century Thomas Aquinas argued that a “Just War” could only be established when a rightful sovereign declared it, a just cause existed and that belligerents entered into war with the right intention; to advance the good at the detriment of evil. (Summa. 2.2.40)

Aquinas clearly draws not least from Paul’s statements in Romans 13.

Rom. 13:4 for [the ruling authority] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.

Whereas in the previous chapter the Apostle urges us as individuals not to rush to revenge, since this is God’s prerogative (Rom. 12:19), he now shows us how, perhaps, God will seek his just retribution - through the governments He has ordained (Rom. 13:1). What is jarring about this is that the ruling authority, to which we are all called to submit (Rom. 13:1), may not itself be pure as the driven snow. The letter to the Romans was written while the church found itself under the rule of the despotic Nero.

All of this means, I think, that when American soldiers landed in North Africa in late 1942 and captured my grandfather along with countless other German soldiers, there is a sense they were carrying out a just and godly act. Of course we don’t want to discount wider questions about war crimes and individual responsibility but the wider principle, I would suggest, is well-established in Scripture. The obvious conclusion that I can’t avoid, therefore, is that as our nation contemplates expanding it’s military action in the Middle East, that same principle tells us that we ought to be using that force which we have to punish those evil-doers we can clearly identify. Can I be so bold as to suggest that the question might even become not “do we have the right to do this?” but “how can we not do this?”? Could it even be that Christians ought to be speaking up and urging our government to fulfil their God-mandated responsibility to come to the aid of those most oppressed by evil, not out of some misplaced desire for war but out of a deep sense of justice? Can we really sit back and watch the Hitlers, the Pol Pots, the Saddam Husseins and the ISIS’s of this world run amok? As today we consider how we ought to address the current humanitarian crisis developing in Syria, don’t our governments have a calling from God to intervene?

Of course even as I write this I feel uneasy. God is a God of peace, isn’t He? Jesus is the Prince of Peace. And yet the Scriptures prod me with constant reminders that God’s peace might look different to the way I think it should. Throughout the Scriptures are reminders of God’s status as warrior (Exo. 15:3; Isa. 42:13 etc.) fighting on behalf of His people to save them. It’s not a coincidence that of His names is “Lord of Hosts (Armies)”. Nor is this a uniquely Old Testament representation of God. If anything, the New Testament only amplifies the image, most notably as we see the Lord Jesus Christ,

Rev. 19:11   Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war.

This final devastating battle charge is one that will right every wrong, casting down all evil that sets itself up against God (Rev. 19:15 cf. Rev. 14:19-20). We are told these confronting truths not only to provide assurance to the Christian that there will be vindication, but also to encourage those who have not yet bowed the knee to King Jesus to do so. He graciously offers forgiveness to all who have rebelled against Him. He demands an unconditional surrender and then proceeds to pour His good and gracious gifts upon those who come to Him.

When my Grandfather returned from a POW camp in 1946 he arrived to a hometown under American occupation with the first U.S. aid, a precursor to the Marshall Plan, already arriving. The German government had had the good sense to surrender to the Allies before total devastation came and were now receiving good things from their former enemy. So it is with the gospel. The choice before each and every one of us is to fight to the death against God or to surrender to Him and receive His generosity poured out upon us. I can’t help think that this is also the way we need to view our own military conflicts. If the governing authorities act as God’s agent when they go to war, then surely they must also act as His agent after terms of surrender are received; graciously pouring out good things upon former enemies.

I know that these aren’t simplistic matters, and I don’t discount the complexities of the current situation but when it comes down to it, if our government approaches this question with those God-ordained priorities clearly before it, as it appears the Scriptures call them to, then for all our good and proper desire for peace I’m slowly becoming convinced that war might just be the right way forward. One wonderful day the Lord will beat every sword into ploughshares and every conflict between nations will be ended (Isa. 2:4) but until then He calls our government to wield it’s sword for good.

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RE: “as our nation contemplates expanding it’s military action in the Middle East. . . “

I can’t comment on England as I’m not familiar with their ruling documents.  But the answers for the US are strikingly clear.  The government does not constitutionally enlist the military to do anything but *defend the country*.  Its role is not to “enact justice” or “help people” or “wreak vengeance” or anything else, but it is to defend the United States of America.

So the answer for American Christians—bound as every single one of our leaders is by a sworn oath to uphold the Constitution—to the question of “how can we not do this” is really easy.

RE; “Could it even be that Christians ought to be speaking up and urging our government to fulfil their God-mandated responsibility to come to the aid of those most oppressed by evil, not out of some misplaced desire for war but out of a deep sense of justice?”

No—American Christians should not be urging our leaders to violate their oaths by enlisting the military to “come to the aid of those most oppressed by evil” and if that *were* the job of the military, then it should have been enlisted to “come to the aid of those most oppressed by evil” in many many other countries besides the Middle East.

RE: “Can we really sit back and watch the Hitlers, the Pol Pots, the Saddam Husseins and the ISIS’s of this world run amok?”

Oh why stop there?  There are at least two score of evil dictators of minor countries right now running amok.  And yes, American Christians can really “sit back and watch” if that means *not urging our military to run around and interfere in other countries which do not threaten the safety of the United States of America.  In fact, it is unloving and wrong to randomly submit our military into actions that violate the Constitution of the country they have sworn to defend.

RE: “Don’t our governments have a calling from God to intervene?”


[1] Posted by Sarah on 9-10-2015 at 07:48 PM · [top]

Sarah, I thought David Ould is in Australia.

Genocide against Christians is under way in the Middle East and across Africa on the “bloody border of Islam” there.  I certainly don’t want our country, or David’s, to intervene without a plan which can reasonably be accomplished.  But I don’t think I want to say categorically that God doesn’t want us to do anything but pray for Christians who are being slaughtered.

[2] Posted by Katherine on 9-10-2015 at 08:16 PM · [top]

RE: “But I don’t think I want to say categorically that God doesn’t want us to do anything but pray for Christians who are being slaughtered.”

Hi Katherine—I’m with you.  We can give, and do all sorts of things as Christians. But I understood David’s post solely to be about engagement of the US military [or his country’s military which I thought was the UK, but maybe I’m confused] to come to the aid of the oppressed [wow, does *that* expand the mandate of our nation’s military!] or enact “justice” [ditto to that as well].

Not only do those notions of the proper use of America’s military drastically expand their usage to dozens of countries around the world—maybe more—but that’s simply extra-Constitutional, along the lines of declaring that the Federal government should be engaged in health care choices and Social Security and scads of other non-Constitutional things.

[3] Posted by Sarah on 9-10-2015 at 08:43 PM · [top]

Hi Sarah and Katherine,

Yes, I’m currently in Australia.

Sarah, if the US Constitution didn’t have the clauses in it you refer to would you be happy with the argument?
If not, where is the flaw?
If so, which is higher; God’s call in the Scriptures or the US Constitution?

[4] Posted by David Ould on 9-10-2015 at 10:18 PM · [top]

A very interesting topic.  How about if we merely contribute money to a mercenary crusader force that would protect and defend Christians in the Middle East?  It’s been done before with the blessing of the Church.

On another note, does God call us to peacefully submit to torture and murder at the hands of whoever besets us until Jesus returns to end history and claim the final victory?  By submitting to any and all oppressors will we ever spill enough blood to slake their lust for conquest and power?  I assume Christian peace advocates are just fine with the complete pacifist approach, particularly when they live in safe places with their sinecures intact, but I am troubled by it.

[5] Posted by Daniel on 9-10-2015 at 10:59 PM · [top]

#5 - you are thinking what I’m thinking. 

I’ve also wondered lately about the “Just”-ness of war, for post-Christian, nominally democratic societies.  Wars tend to become unpopular with electorates, so they change the guard. As Charlie Wilson noted with Afganistan, “We ****** up the endgame.” 

Maybe it’s wholly wrong for countries such as ours to enter into wars into the first place. 

But a Christian band of mercenaries, unmired from changing political tides ... that might be the ticket.

[6] Posted by J Eppinga on 9-11-2015 at 05:59 AM · [top]

There are several point being missed here.  And, frankly, this topic doesn’t lend itself to “black and white” analysis - way too many moving parts.

1.  With terrorists, and especially with ISIS, it may be required, in order to protect the US, to take the battle TO THEM.  It may require we kill people and destroy things in countries (such as Iran) in order to “nip it in the bud”.  Basically, the more ISIS spreads and gains people, power and resources, the more danger they are to the US.

2.  BTW., IF the Obama administration hadn’t wasted the invasion of Iran by UN/US over a decade ago by pulling out ALL the troops I suspect this conversation would be pretty different.

3.  Think of it this way - what would have happened if England blew up Germany’s ability to wage war in the late 1930’s?  Would WWII have been averted?

4.  With regard to the Iran deal - really?  Does anyone remember why the UN/US invaded Iran in the first place?  Could it be that Iran thumbed their noses at UN inspectors for 12 years running, and UN/US intelligence indicated that Iran had developed WMD’s?  The Obama Administration is putting us right back in the same situation - even worse, with the whole “self inspection” thing.  It boggles the mind…

5.  And speaking of “rinse and repeat” - how many times did we “arm the enemy of our enemy” in the Middle East, only to have them turn on us after defeating them?  We have to be extremely careful who we deal with.

It’s about as complicated as it gets dealing with the Middle East.  But doing nothing - probably NOT the right strategy.  The battle WILL EVENTUALLY end up on our doorstep and probably make 9/11 look like a picnic.  :-(


[7] Posted by B. Hunter on 9-11-2015 at 08:24 AM · [top]

I was surprised by our liberal revisionist rector when we discussed the theology of the “just war” after 911. Surprised, because he could not find fault with the idea of a “just war”,  but he still could not find justification for going to war in virtually every hypothetical conflict I could dream up.

[8] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 9-11-2015 at 09:02 AM · [top]

Posting here as were are on Sept. 11, we should not forget that radical Islam is not an ordinary state-based enemy.  We might need at some point to wage actual war on its manifestations, and we need to wage spiritual war on it everywhere.  Europe is being overwhelmed with Muslim migrants, and European countries have shown incompetence in facing what that means for their societies and cultures.  Radical Islam is also here in the US.  I wonder if, for instance, Minneapolis-St. Paul residents feel they’re in a completely “safe place.”

[9] Posted by Katherine on 9-11-2015 at 09:59 AM · [top]

RE: “If so, which is higher; God’s call in the Scriptures or the US Constitution?”

If an elected leader of the US says “hey, my notion of God’s call in the Scriptures is higher than the US Constitution” then I will not vote for him, nor will a whole lot of others, so it’s a moot point.

As a country, we have agreed to some written documents that SPELL OUT the nature and role and *extent* of the Federal Government’s ability to act. We have all agreed on this [though many have determined not to obey this] and we force our representatives to swear that they will uphold this major, primary written document.

Period. End of story.

Now—there *are* legitimate arguments to be made about whether Islamic jihadists pose a threat to the safety of the US.  I personally believe that they do and that therefore the military may be involved in a war against Islamic jihadists.  Whether that war should focus on “ISIS” and “protecting Christians” and “helping the oppressed” is an entirely different matter.

Make the argument about “protecting the US against all enemies domestic and foreign” and I can listen.  But make the argument “hey, how about you American Christians force your military men and women to run around the world helping the oppressed and enacting justice while getting themselves shot up!” and it’s an entirely different matter, and I’m utterly opposed, nor do I think it at all loving and right.

It is not loving for all the countries in which we interfere, and it is certainly not loving to our military men and women to force them to violate the Constitution and run around trying to help the oppressed.  They are not trained to be the finest fighting force in history in order to help the oppressed.  They are trained to be the finest fighting force in history in order to target and slaughter the enemies of our country.

[10] Posted by Sarah on 9-11-2015 at 09:59 AM · [top]

Posting here as were are on Sept. 11, we should not forget that radical Islam is not an ordinary state-based enemy.  We might need at some point to wage actual war on its manifestations, and we need to wage spiritual war on it everywhere.

What we are fighting is an ideology more than anything else; albeit one whose followers are militant, well organised and well armed. Ultimately one cannot beat an ideology with bombs and guns alone, but only with a better idea—and even if we are not going to reach the extreme militants, we might still have a chance with those who might seek to join them. The problem is that our present governments—Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Labour, whatever, plus the apparatus that supports them don’t have a better idea (since liberalism, whether theological or the modern political variety is built on intellectual sand—and the Islamists can see that just as well as we can). or the convictions to fight against radical Islam at the level of ideas. Which is why I can’t see this getting better for some time.

[11] Posted by Boring Bloke on 9-12-2015 at 04:59 AM · [top]

RE:  “Period. End of story.”

You sound like you believe that you have a choice in such matters. 

You know, one town over from me, in small town Ohio, the school system of our county-seat hosted an ‘informational’ meeting to parents who might have questions about the school systems new transgender bathroom policy.  The local liberty group sent me an ACTION! (tm) email to make sure I came over.  I didn’t - it was plain that the decision had been made.  There probably would have been useful idiots in the audience standing up to give heartfelt soliloquys about thousands of flowers growing, or something. 

I’ve just about had it with such shams. 

The country will either invade the Middle East to “fix” it again, and then pull up stakes too soon.  Or, it will not. 

We will either take in 10,000 or more refugees from the Syrian Crisis., or we will not. 

It does not matter if we can help them or not - it will simply BE.  Because the people in the Gated Communities said so.  Because it’s “Justice.”  Because sometimes sacrifices have to be made for Justice.  Why, just the other day, I was at the country club, and wouldn’t you know it, someone said something that sounded discriminatory, that reminded me of Nazi Concentration Camps.  Right Wingers will say that it’s not a perfect comparison, but I think it’s a good comparison, so I will use it in my narrative. 

We are ruled by imbeciles.  They will do what they will do, what they have always done. They will fight the wrong fights for the wrong reasons, and not fight the right fights for similar reasons.  They will welcome refugees into suburbs where they do not live.  They will decry Right Wingers who “just want to rule,” while appealing to our American sense of Jeffersonian Democracy.  They will label observations that the people we bring in will never own these ideals as racist. 

Let them. 

Let them wallow in their narratives.  Let them alone to their rage over having to repeat and re-invent their bs narratives.  Let them be overrun in their peaceful fortresses.  Let them plea for their daughters and wives, with their good hearts and kind intentions. 

Let them thrive.  Let them eat cake.

[12] Posted by J Eppinga on 9-12-2015 at 10:45 AM · [top]

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