Some sources have said that, over the past 5,500 years, the world has been at peace for only about 300 years. And over this period of time there have been approximately 14,000 wars, counting the very small to the very large ones. And in those wars, it is estimated that some 3.5 billion have been killed. That is about half of today’s entire population. None of these wars should ever have been, if all men would have followed the dictates of the almighty God.
We know that man grew evil in the sight of God in the first 2,500 years after the creation, causing Him to destroy all except 8 people from the face of the earth. And as it became well populated again, wickedness and evil once more prevailed and God chose a faithful man, Abraham, to furnish the lineage to the coming messiah. So through Abraham, his son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob came forth the 12 tribes of Israel (Jacob’s name having been changed to Israel). And because of the prevalence of wickedness, These chosen people of God were led into many wars by the Almighty God Himself to remove those evil people and their influence from the lands which they were to occupy. And throughout Old Testament history, wars were frequent and fierce.
There is no question whatsoever that those people of God under the Law of Moses, were authorized and even commanded by God, to fight the evil inhabitants of those lands. So that offers no question as to God’s people having the right to fight the enemies of God under that law. But again, it has nothing to do concerning the Perfect Law of Liberty under Jesus Christ. It may serve as an insight into the outlook of God against evil but one must be very careful not to read too much into it.
As a brief personal example of the dilemma with which a Christian is faced under the Law of Jesus Christ, this writer was baptized into Christ in 1948. World War 2 was over and although there were problems in the far east, the Korean war was not in full force. However, it very soon became intense and the draft of young men was increased. My own situation became a sincere worry for me. I considered filing as a conscientious objector. But I had already witnessed those who did so during World War 2 and they were often ridiculed. I determined not to allow what people thought of me to be the deciding influence, but rather I would do whatever I could determine would be acceptable under the law of Jesus Christ. I’m not sure to this date, if I made the proper decision but I determined that it was a justified war, eventhough it only became this nation’s problem due to our treaty commitment with South Korea. So I made no effort to be excluded. I did pray earnestly to God that I might serve well and not be placed into a position of having to kill anyone. And also that I might not be killed.
Whether or not this was acceptable to God, I do not know, but I do know that those prayer requests were realized. I was chosen to serve as an Anti-Aircraft Intelligence Plotter and after months of training, was stationed in an Anti-Aircraft gun battalion in Chicago’s southeast corner next to the shore of Lake Michigan for the remainder of my tour. It was not without tension however. Every two weeks we were assembled and names were called out for those being deployed to Korea. It caused one to perspire in Chicago’s cold winter.
One of the most beneficial things to help the student understand what is expected of a Christian, is to read Jesus’ entire sermon on the mount which is recorded in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.
But now, we come to the point of determining what the Law of Christ says in the way of guidance for this matter. In Jesus’ personal ministry, you find many things said which gives strong questions as to whether a Christian may even retaliate against violent attacks. Following are some scriptures concerning these thoughts:
Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing. (Matthew 5:25-26 ASV)
Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others?] do not even the Gentiles the same? Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 ASV)
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matthew 5: 38-42 KJV)
Such sayings are difficult to fully accept. They go against the nature of most people. Read the last quote and see. Under the Mosaical Law, the eye for and eye, was the thing of the day. But it is indeed the duty of Christians to live exemplary lives before the world and to win souls by our patience and non-aggressive physical violence. If one is truly living by the edicts given by Jesus, even the evil person is forced to say, this is a good man. And even though they may ridicule, deep down within they have an admiration and respect for the strong Christian.
So what have we now determined? Certainly the Christian cannot be a violent and vengeful person. There are feelings involved here that are difficult to explain and also to difficult to acquire. It is human nature for man to retaliate when attacked, or it seems so. Can we now find some inferences which show that man may do certain things under certain circumstances which probably are not covered under the above conditions? Let us see. One condition, written only slightly different by Matthew and Mark, Jesus is speaking and makes this remark:
Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. (Matthew 12:29 KJV)
No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. (Mark 3:27 KJV)
The remark quoted by Jesus infers that the strong man of the house would without doubt, protect his household goods and there is no evidence from Jesus that this would be improper. So, this probably is authorization for one to do whatever is necessary in self-defense or defense of his family or property. But it is evident that even in this case, anger and hatred should not enter into the fracas, but simply defense. It is impossible to say what conditions might arise in case of a burglary, or other crime that might befall one. But love, kindness and patience is to be the trademark of the Christian.
One thing which causes some misunderstanding, it seems, is statements such as the one above which includes, “but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”. Think about this one…if one had intent of beating another’s brains out, this would not work out well. So this type is referring simply to someone who became angry and smacked another. God does not want his children to retaliate in anger or vengeance, but if the person truly intended to do hurt or damage, then self-defense actions would be appropriate.
Another factor to consider here in discussing the Christian and war, comes from our responsibilities to governmental laws. We know from verses such as the following:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. (Romans 13:1-2 KJV)
This statement has reference to governments an shows that their laws should be oeyed and observed by Christians as well as others. On the other hand, there are such things as governmental laws which are contrary to God’s laws and in such cases, one must obey the Bible. This is proven by Peter and the other apostles, when they were brought before the high priest, read this:
Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:28-29)
These questions have been tossed about and discussed for centuries, and there are still differences of opinions. If one desperately fears that he will be sinning if he has to kill people in war, and if the military draft should be renewed, they should seek to be placed into a non-combatant position. I believe they created such positions a number of years ago. However, some have even gone so far as to say it is sinful to be a part of the military under war conditions. It is difficult to imagine how that would classify as sin since paying of one’s taxes would be contributing to such as well. It seems that this question will never be completely acceptable either way for some.
Here is a statement from a famous Christian preacher of the 19th century, with his take on, particularly the civil war here in the U.S.:
“I know not what course other preachers are going to pursue, for they have not spoken; but my own duty is now clear, and my policy is fixed….In the meantime if the demon of war is let loose in the land, I shall proclaim to my brethren the peaceable commandments of my Savior, and train every nerve to prevent them from joining any sort of military company or making any warlike preparations with men of the world, and especially with political and military leaders; and there are some who might style it treason. But I would, ten thousand times, be killed for refusing to fight, than fall in battle, or come home victorious with the blood of my brethren on my hands” (April, 1861, a private letter written by J. W. McGarvey).
The statements found in the Holy Bible do not always cover all circumstances, so one must attempt to reach conclusions on their own, without prejudice, hatred or vengeance. If we truly are concerned about human souls, we will regret any whom we see die in their sins, regardless of whatever they may have done.
We also have another example of defensive preparedness issued by Jesus himself:
And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. (Luke 22:35-36 KJV)
Some may have confused the fact that Jesus told them to sell a garment and buy a sword, had reference to protecting him when the soldiers came for him. However, this could not be the meaning since he rebuked Peter when he drew his sword and cut off one soldier’s ear. Besides, the other remarks in the quote explains why they should get themselves a sword. Notice what the subject was about, he had sent them out without any money or scrip and yet they lacked nothing. God had arranged for their sustanence. But now, as he is about to be crucified and the apostles will soon be on their own, he lets them face the facts. The country surrounding them in those times were teeming with robbers and with wild animals, so the sword was for their self defense.
When man is in dire danger of serious injury or death from robbers or other evil, they have the God given right to defend themselves. Instances where the apostles, evangelists and other Christians were approached by a crowd angry at their teaching, you never find where they offered resistance. This is apparently because of two or more factors. One, it would be futile and would not make nearly the impact upon those around them as did their submission to the punishment or even death which came because of their stand for Christ. The early church grew swiftly and strongly, and much of it was from the admiration others realized by seeing the strength of faith in those who went peacefully and unafraid to their martyrdom rather than renounce Jesus Christ.