CAN THERE BE A JUST WAR TODAY?
Bishop Brian J. Kennedy, O.S.B.
The Celtic Orthodox Church, like all men of good will, longs for peace. We long for peace, but not peace at any price. We must carry the banner of Christ high and proclaim without fear, JESUS CHRIST IS LORD TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER. Those who desire to live with us in peace will find us lovers of peace. Those who would seek to destroy the Christian faith and are avowed enemies of Christ will find we are prepared to stand firm, be courageous and not fearful in our defense of all that is holy.
12 Biblical Rules of Engagement in
The Just War
Sin in the world and the unwillingness of evil people to live peaceably with those around them, oftentimes oppressing and victimizing vulnerable people, makes a just war to stop them a necessity and only alternative at times. Such was the case in World War II. There are those (inspired I believe by Satan himself) who seek to dominate and subjugate the world for their own proud personal sinful pleasures. War is a horrible thing (see Psalm 79:3; Jeremiah 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 34:20). But if peace and justice cannot be established by peaceful means, a just war is the alternative.
There is such a thing as a just war. But what makes a just war just? The Bible does give guidelines for a just war. Below are twelve Biblical guidelines that make war just or that characterize a just war.
First, pray for guidance in a just war. Prayer is a declaration of dependence upon God and in the tension between attempting to avoid war as much as possible and also not appeasing foolishly an aggressor to try and maintain peace, God’s wisdom and direction is indispensable. God’s wisdom is obtained through prayer. When the Philistines attacked David, the first thing he did was go before the Lord to seek God’s guidance. In Second Samuel it states:
* 2 Samuel 5:17-21 – “Now when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. And David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. The Philistines also went and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. So David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.” So David went to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there; and he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water.” Therefore he called the name of that place Baal Perazim. And they left their images there, and David and his men carried them away.”
The name David gave to this place, “Gaal Peraziim” where God gave him victory, literally means, “LORD [or Master] of breakthroughs.” God is the one who enables the just to break through and defeat the enemy. Because of this, to seek God’s guidance in prayer is the first and priority step of one entering a just war situation.
Second, those fighting a just war should depend on God’s resources, not just their own earthly resources. The resources of God are far more important than any earthly resources. For instance, God’s angels are far mightier than any human soldier and He will send them to help when we fight in a just war (2 Chronicles 32:8; Psalm 3; 4:8; 35:1-7; Isaiah 37:36).
On one occasion in the Old Testament the Assyrians came up against Judah and King Hezekiah. The Assyrians were a terrorist nation who was known for their atrocities against anyone who might resist them and this created great fear in the hearts of those they came up against. When Hezekiah was confronted with this enemy, he went to the Lord through Isaiah the prophet to find help. The Lord assured him that he was not alone and Hezekiah conveyed this to the people saying:
* 2 Chronicles 32:6-8 – “Then he set military captains over the people, gathered them together to him in the open square of the city gate, and gave them encouragement, saying, “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. “With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.”
The results of the ensuing battle (if you can call it that) was the defeat of the Assyrians by the Lord. Isaiah gives the details when he is inspired to say:
* Isaiah 37:36 – “Then the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead.”
When you are led by God in prayer and rely on Him for help, no enemy can prosper before you (Isaiah 54:17).
Third, always keep in mind that earthly wars have spiritual elements. Paul was inspired to write that our primary battle is not against flesh and blood people but against Satan and his minions and we should fight it as such. The Lord provides us with weapons to fight the spiritual aspects of wars. Paul wrote in Ephesians:
* Ephesians 6:10-18 – “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”
Note the main points here. Depend on God’s might and power not your own (6:10). Put on the “whole” or entire “armor of God (6:11). If a soldier forgets their helmet or gun or flak jacket, they make themselves very vulnerable to enemy attack and that not because they can’t be protected, but because they are unprotected because of their own neglect. The battle is not primarily against flesh and blood people; it is against the evil spiritual forces of Satan who manipulate people who are living in their sin (6:12). Wickedness and every sort of atrocity are instigated by Satan, (which by no means excuses the human perpetrating such atrocities). The only way you will be able to stand in the evil day of spiritual conflict is to put on all the armor God provides you (6:13). Truth, like a belt, holds all your equipment in place. Never sacrifice truth to gain a perceived advantage (6:14). Many have lied and relied on their own deception only to suffer later when the truth inevitably comes out. Let righteousness cover your heart like a breastplate (6:14). Going into battle with a pure heart inspires courage and is greatly supported by the Lord. Wherever you walk look to take steps to further the gospel (6:15). Without the proper footing and footwear, your feet (one of the most sensitive parts of your body) will be injured and you won’t be able to make progress. Unless the gospel is brought with you, you may advance outwardly, but no hearts will be won for the Lord. “Above all take the shield of faith” (6:16). Wear your flak jacket of faith that will stop the bullets of doubt and falsehoods that are thrown at you. Be certain of your salvation in your mind; wear it like a helmet that protects your thoughts through faith in Jesus in the power of the Spirit (6:17). And by all means don’t forget the word of God, the sword of the Spirit that can be used to defend as well as attack (6:17). God’s word will guide the one in a just war in a righteous path that is pleasing to God. The final part of this armor is to pray always in the Spirit for guidance, strength, sensitivity and alertness to what is happening around you so that you won’t be taken by surprise or caught off guard (6:18). This is the equipment God has provided to fight the spiritual war raging since Adam and Eve disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden.
Fourth, as much as is possible, overcome evil with good. Even though military force is sometimes needed, mercy and goodness is to be shown to enemies as much as possible (2 Samuel 9:1-8; Psalm 35:11-16; Proverbs 25:21-22; Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:14,20-21). In Romans it states:
* Romans 12:14, 20-21 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
One of the things that is so evident in the Iraqi Freedom campaign is that even though Saddam Hussein was willing to break the laws of the Geneva convention, willing to use his own people as human shields for his soldiers, willing to have his soldiers dress like coalition forces and execute his own men who are surrendering, even though he was willing to fake surrender in order to try and catch coalition forces off guard, and may even use chemical and biological weapons, the coalition forces were unwilling to stoop to his level and presented a good example of overcoming evil with good. Instead the coalition forces went out of their way and even took a longer amount of time and effort to pursue the cause in a way that avoided damage to the Iraqi infrastructure and danger to civilians.
Fifth, a heart of revenge can lead to atrocities in war. Those fighting a just war must release any thought of revenge to the Lord. Who better to dish out justice rightly than the Just One of the universe? (Romans 12:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7). Again in Romans it states:
* Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”
When satanically inspired enemies perform atrocities with fellow soldiers or civilians, it would be easy to allow anger to rule the day and respond in kind. But those fighting a just war leave revenge in the hands of the Lord and follow the rules of war righteously.
Sixth, don’t take pleasure in the demise or pain of your enemy. Even though the elimination of a ruthless enemy is sought, we should never take pleasure in the pain of another no matter how evil. Taking pleasure in the pain experienced by an enemy displeases God. In Proverbs it states:
* Proverbs 24:17-18 – “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, And He turn away His wrath from him.”
It would be oh so easy and is oh so tempting to want to gloat gleefully over a fallen foe, but rather than do this, those in a just war cause should humbly thank God for the victory. Victors can get so full of themselves that they need to be knocked down a peg or humbled. Better to be humble than to be humbled.
Seventh, understand there are those who will refuse peaceful means of reconciliation or problem resolution. Some refuse diplomacy as David said in Psalms when he was inspired to write:
* Psalm 120:6-7 – “My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war.”
David’s words here speak to us about the limitations of diplomacy and that appeasement does not work with evil powers. World War II and the appeasement of Hitler and what resulted is enough evidence to make this point. Though I should point out that countries such as France who have opposed the just war against Saddam Hussein and have tried to undermine it (likely so that their material investments such as oil resources, are not effected) have not evidently learned this lesson. The over 50,000 dead American soldiers buried on the shores of Normandy shout out against appeasement.
Eighth, understand there are ruthless and evil entities in the world. These need to be dealt with for they destroy the peace and victimize the helpless at every turn (Psalm 41:5; 54:3; Ezekiel 36:5-7). The Bible says that there are evil people who do not respond to negotiation or peaceful diplomacy. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel was inspired by God to write about such a situation when God pronounces judgment against Israel’s perennial enemy Edom saying:
* Ezekiel 35:5-7 - “Because you
have had an ancient hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by
the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, when their iniquity came
to an end, “therefore, as I live,” says the Lord God, “I will prepare you for
blood, and blood shall pursue you; since you have not hated blood, therefore
blood shall pursue you. “Thus I will make Mount Seir
most desolate, and cut off from it the one who leaves and the one who returns.”
There are evil people who exhaust the goodness of God and have to be righteously judged by God.
Ninth, those who persist in evil and refuse to live at peace are to be firmly dealt with in the Lord. We are not to sit back and do nothing or continually appease those who do evil. We are not to be naive or pacifistic. In Psalm 109 it states:
* Psalm 109:4-5,15-20 – “In return for my love they are my accusers, But I give myself to prayer. Thus they have rewarded me evil for good, And hatred for my love. . . . Let them be continually before the Lord, That He may cut off the memory of them from the earth; Because he did not remember to show mercy, But persecuted the poor and needy man, That he might even slay the broken in heart. As he loved cursing, so let it come to him; As he did not delight in blessing, so let it be far from him. As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment, so let it enter his body like water, And like oil into his bones. Let it be to him like the garment which covers him, And for a belt with which he girds himself continually. Let this be the Lord’s reward to my accusers, And to those who speak evil against my person.”
There is a time to act. There is a time for a just war.
Tenth, allow the enemy to undermine and defeat himself if possible. Dictators and tyrants are often destroyed from within. Wait for this and facilitate it if you can. The Bible states:
* Psalm 57:6 – “They have prepared a net for my steps; My soul is bowed down; They have dug a pit before me; Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen. Selah”
* Proverbs 5:22-23 – “His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin. He shall die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.”
Those who live for lust and evil are often the victims of their own evil ways.
Eleventh, forgive enemies once they are defeated. Jesus said, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Stephen said, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” We should treat enemies as God has treated us for we were enemies of God before coming to Christ and He forgave us (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60). In Colossians it states:
* Colossians 1:21-23 – “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
This is the mindset that one should carry into a just war. Paul also states in his letter to the Ephesians:
* Ephesians 4:30-32 – “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
These verses tell us that just as we have an enemy, we were once God’s enemies. God loved us, even as enemies (Romans 5:8) and therefore we ought to love our enemies too.
Twelfth, fear God more than the enemy. This will motivate those fighting a just war to fight it according to God’s rules and not their own. The most important element in a just war is to fear God. Don’t be caught up and solitarily focused on the immediate conflict. Understand that there are eternal consequences to that which occurs in war, even just wars. Jesus said:
* Matthew 10:28 - “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
The understanding of God as Mighty, Holy, Just and Good and that He has everyone’s eternal destiny in His hand, is enough to direct those fighting a just war to fight it justly according to God’s guidelines.
What To Do In Times of War?
What should we do in times of war? If we can’t enlist or be involved directly we can write letters to the military men and their families that we know. But the Bible gives us very clear instructions; we are to pray for those in authority. Paul said this when he wrote the following to:
* 1 Timothy 2:1-7 – “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”
When there is a war, those not directly involved need to pray for those who are. In our time however, with the threat of domestic terrorism within our borders, we need to pray for safety and for authorities that are at home to protect us as well. This includes, police, firemen, and those involved in catching terrorists in this country.
There is such a thing as a righteous war, a just war. There are also unrighteous and unjust wars waged by those who in their sin of selfishness seek merely to profit personally at the expense of others no matter what the cost. Such war is abhorrent to God. When such things happen, God raises up those who will wage just war to right the wrong perpetrated by unjust warring.
Approximately two hundred and twenty five years ago, before the United States was a nation, a man by the name of Patrick Henry rose to speak in a continental congressional meeting concerning the injustices imposed upon the colonists by the British. Mr. Henry said in part:
“Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of the siren till she transforms us into beast. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it. I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. . . . Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation, - the last arguments to which kings resort. . . . Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. . . . In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free . . . we must fight I repeat it, sir, - we must fight and appeal to arms, and to the God of hosts, is all that is left us. . . . Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any forces which our enemy can send against us. . . . Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. . . . It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun. The gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? IS LIFE SO DEAR, OR PEACE SO SWEET, AS TO BE PURCHASED AT THE PRICE OF CHAINS AND SLAVERY? FORBID IT. ALMIGHTY GOD I KNOW NOT WHAT COURSE OTHERS MAY TAKE, BUT AS FOR ME, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH ”
There is such a thing as a just war, a time for war. May God lead us wisely and gracefully and may His truth reign and His justice flow (Amos 5:24).
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