Friday, November 2, 2012
What Does Jesus Say...?
"What is Jesus' teaching about war? Chapter and verse."
I would like to respond here (with the acknowledgment that I've done this before), to allow room to reflect upon this sometimes contentious, sometimes difficult question.
1. Jesus had NO STATED position on war. That is, Jesus never once is quoted as saying "I'm for war." "I'm against war." "I think war is hell." or "I think war is cute and cuddly." It never happens in the Bible where Jesus specifically addresses war.
2. On the other hand, Jesus has a good deal to say about how we deal with the "enemy" and with living lives of peace in general. Consider these from Jesus and his disciples...
A. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
B. But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
C. Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
...“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
D. If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good.
Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.
Never take revenge, instead let God’s anger do it.
If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.”
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts."
E. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
F. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
G. Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
H. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
3. So, while Jesus CLEARLY had no stated position about War, he had a great deal to say about love for neighbors, love for enemies, how to treat enemies, how to live peaceable lives, etc. Notably, there is not ANYTHING in Jesus' teachings that suggests, "Sometimes, it's okay to kill your enemies. Sometimes, it's okay for Christians to go to war." It's not there, anywhere.
While there are multiple "peace-making" commands and teachings, there are zero encouraging us to go to war, especially a modern-type war where shedding of innocent blood (consistently condemned biblically) is a given.
4. When asked something like this by those on the Religious Right, I always ask in return, "Given what Truths Jesus and his followers taught us, the guidelines for living in the Christian Way, what verses/teachings would you offer to suggest, sometimes it IS okay to go to war? and even sometimes shed innocent blood...?" I rarely get an answer.
5. You really have to go to the Old Testament to find even a hint of a suggestion that war is okay. But even there, what you have are the same overall Truths/Teachings to be peaceable ("Love your enemies," "Shed no innocent blood," cries out against the sorts of oppressions and killings found in wartime) and beyond these general truths/teachings, you find some EXCEPTIONS to those teachings where God specifically says, "Israel, go to war and wipe out this other evil nation, including the men, women and children..."
But these are obviously EXCEPTIONS to the rules (even if you take these stories literally, which I would question the wisdom of) where God makes a specific-to-Israel exception. Normally - hopefully we can all agree - it is wrong to slaughter men, women and children, even of an enemy. God made an exception in these stories. But the constant, overarching guide/rule/truth/teaching remains: Love your enemies. Shed no innocent blood. Period. NEVER do we find a command, "Sometimes, when dealing with an enemy, I want you to go to war." It simply is not in the Bible.
6. So, GIVEN THAT, where would any Bible believers find a biblical place that supports war-for-Christians?
7. The one New Testament passage that most often gets quoted is Romans 13, the passage that says government should punish wrong-doers...
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
8. This passage is not a defense of Christians going to war. It just isn't. It isn't even specifically about war, although one could make the case that it might include gov't's waging war, possibly.
9. This passage, though, more closely sounds like a defense of a government having a police department to deal with "whoever rebels against the authority" of government.
10. This passage also sounds quite time- and place-specific. I don't think anyone would argue that a government that chose to punish a group or individuals for no reasons (ie, they had done nothing reasonably wrong) is acting on God's behalf, for instance.
11. Still, at best, this passage is an argument saying that Governments have the responsibility to (some would say) go to physically punish wrong-doers. But saying that the government has a responsibilty to punish rebels is NOT the same as saying Christians can biblically go to war.
12. No, the idea that Christians can choose to go to war is a very difficult argument to make if one is only using the Bible. And, indeed, most of the time, the argument I hear - even from the Religious Right - is one borne out of fear, not out of the Biblical witness...
Arguments along the lines of, "If we don't go to war, then bad things will happen... 'the enemy' will try to harm us or kill us or otherwise misbehave... therefore, sometimes we have to go to war." That is a pragmatic argument and one that could be debated, but it's not a biblical argument.
13. So, looking at the totality of what the Bible does and doesn't say about Christians engaging in War or Christian peacemaking efforts, I'd say the totality of biblical witness comes down heavily on the peacemaking side and only by stretching and reaching outside of the Bible can one create an argument for Christians being war-makers.
Thanks for asking.