“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.” – Romans 12:19-21 (NIV)
How has war become the mark of Christians in Western culture? We are well past the notion of tacit condonation to the extent of active approval. War is contrary to all of what Christianity stands for. It is illogical, untenable, and indefensible.
First, we see that it not our place to revenge wrongs committed against us. Isn’t that a greater portion of war, assuming of course we accept our government’s justification? Wasn’t that the reasoning used to justify the war in Iraq? Isn’t that the reasoning used to justify our entrance into World War II? And yet, it says very plainly that vengeance is not ours to mete out. We are also told not to resist the evil person (Matthew 5:39). War is quite a bit further down the spectrum of responses compared to non-resistance.
I will dare a guess as to why we condone such action. I would say that most Christians who hold that war is justifiable also hold their lives above their faith. This life has been valued above true life. We don’t trust God for miracles, but place our faith in our own hands. I don’t suppose we could accept a God who would allow us to die either.
Martyrdom is looked at as an archaic device of the ancient faith. But every one of the apostles, aside from John, was martyred. Still today, Christians around the world are martyred. If God asked us to lay down our life, would we? It seems unlikely.
Not taking revenge is only prescriptive. There is a deeper normative truth to which we as Christians are bound: the Laws of Love. It was laid out very clearly by Jesus that all of lives are bound by the ethics of love. We are to love God first and foremost. And second only to that, to love people as ourselves. These Laws of Love ought to govern every single one of our actions.
The problem is that war does not, can not, fit in to the ethic of Christian love. We were commanded by Jesus to “[l]ove your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” This quite plainly states that we are to love our enemies which does not include killing them. Tell me, if you who now know Christ put yourself in the shoes of one who did not, would you want to be killed? If you truly believe that heaven is only for those who accept Jesus, there is no way you, doing to others as you would want done to you, would condemn another to hell by killing them. And yet that is exactly what would happen.
That is also not to mention the Great Commission. If we are to make disciples of all the nations, how exactly does war accomplish that? Can a dead man accept Jesus as Lord? Can he serve God?
There are also a multitude of questions that must be answered such as under what conditions war is to be considered justified (read up on Just War Theory)? How many civilian deaths are acceptable? Can a war truly be considered righteous if any civilians are killed, even one? In the Iraq War, over 100,000 civilians were killed and that is based on an underestimated figure. I refuse to believe in an acceptable civilian casualty rate. If each life is important to God then each life must be important to us.
Christians are called to preserve life, whether they are “enemy” or “friend”. War steals precious lives, lives that are not ours to take. Civilian or combatant, each life is valuable to God. Each ought to be revered for its divine value even if no redeeming human values can be found. Millions of lives are at stake and the Christian cannot be complicit to their destruction. For the Christian, love must prevail; a love that lays down its life for the sake of its neighbor, its enemy, its God.