Monday, September 16, 2013

Just War

Scatter the nations that delight in war.     Psalms 68:30b (NLT)
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:18-21  (NLT)
When President Bush addressed the nation a few weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and also a plane which crashed in Pennsylvania before it could complete its mission, he ended with these words:
Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.[1] 
We are now a dozen years (and two wars) on the other side of those words.  And now we face yet another crisis – this one is Syria and the unfathomable Sarin (nerve) gassing of men, women and children by action of the president of Syria.  Syrians killing Syrians.
For the last few weeks the news has been filled with what response, if any, the United States should make.  Typically the President, Republicans and Democrats are at each other’s throats politically. 
Russia, Syria’s closest and strongest ally wants to get everybody to the peace talk tables.  On Tuesday of this week President Obama addressed the nation, ensuring us that if the Russian initiative fails, military strikes by American bombs would deter President Assad (and other so-called rogue nations) from further use of these weapons of mass destruction.  The President said he would do this if Congress will agree, “…because this cause is so finely just[2].

Several questions are begged with that thinking:

¨              What is a just (or righteous, justified) cause sanctioning war?
¨              Does our contemplation of engaging in war over the recent terrorist-tragedy in Syria constitute a just war?  Is this something worth sending our sons and daughters to die for?
¨              If so, how should this war be conducted?
¨              What if we lose? 
(Even more perplexing, what if we win?)
I want to do (at least) two things this morning:
a.              I want to answer all your questions, and…
b.              I really want to run home, jump in bed, pull the covers over my head, and not think about war, so it will go away forever.
It has occurred to me that both my wishes are unrealistic. 
1.        I cannot answer all the questions.  This is way above my pay grade, and therefore I have as many questions as you do.
2.        Pulling the covers over my head doesn’t make anything go away.  It only makes the darkness much more my reality.  This thing is here, and we must deal with it!
Why?  Why grapple with the ethics, the motives or “justness” of our cause?  Because we must! 
Because grappling with our motives, God’s law, Jesus’ compassion, and the seeming endless contradictions of war and peace is what keeps us from just striking-back in blind rage.  It is what separates us from the terrorists.  It’s what keeps us from doing what they do; becoming what they are – evil! 
And so, let’s grapple with the questions:

What is a “just” war?

We look to history, and historic theological interpretation for beginning points; from the Westminster Confession of Faith[3] we find a 350 year-old reference to Christians getting involved in government, and participating in just war:
It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto;  in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so for that end, they may lawfully now, under the New Testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.
In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas said, for a war to be just, three things are necessary – public authority, just cause, right motive.[4]
Just war – a phrase derived from commentary on the Scripture.  Aquinas used three terms,
Public Authority, or the favorable support of those governed.
Just Cause, when the provocation is clearly initiated of evil.
Right Motive, when the end, or aim of response is righteous.
In the current situation, it would appear, even at this early stage of investigating, that not all three conditions exist:  
While the provocation was an evil attack on the unsuspecting and innocent; which is clearly evil, and…the end, our purpose in responding, as stated by our president is to stop acts of terrorism; a righteous motive, the third leg of Aquinas’ requirements seems lagging behind!  Not all, or even a majority of the American people have the will to respond; the consent of the governed is missing here.
If our government decides to lead us into a warrior response, the conditions of just cause do not appear validated. 

Will Our Response be “Infinite Justice”?

Every thinking Christian should have a conflicted sense of heart feelings about this.  As believers we know what Jesus said, Love your enemies – overcome evil with good.  As human beings with natural feelings, we want to scream, Love ‘em?  Take ‘em out!  Get those suckers!  Make ‘em all pay!
As members of a freedom-loving, justice-seeking nation, we also understand that justice – even our imperfect system of justice – requires prudence, fairness and measured responses.  To act this way requires patience, forbearance, and resources of stamina and wealth.
We certainly must respond.  Exactly how is the agonizing part.  As much as the cause of a war-response must be just, so the conduct of the war must pass the same scrutiny.  All forms of war are not acceptable; pro’s and con’s weigh heavily:
¨  Surgical Warfare is an option, as in the Gulf War and Iraq.  We suffered minimal casualties because our technology beat-up the enemy before our ground troops met them head-on. 
But the term “surgical warfare” is misleading.  It is cleaner for us to drop laser-guided bombs – but the so-called collateral damage, the deaths of civilians – women, children – this is not surgically-clean.  It is hardly different than crashing a hi-jacked Boeing 767 into a marketplace building. 
¨  We could just close our borders to the world.  Us four and no more is never a Christian response.  It doesn’t square with how we all got here in the first place.  Without exception every one of us is the child of an immigrant from the Garden of Eden. 
     It also doesn’t square with the Great Commission, which tells us to spread the Gospel, and to welcome strangers.

Personal Conflict
what to do?

Am I conflicted over what should be done?  You bet!
Do I have an answer as to what should be done?  Yes, emphatically so!  We must pray.
We must pray that we will keep the perspective of Christian people, engaged in a just war, in a just way. 
Here are the perspectives I see we should keep:

Perspective #1. 

Keep the High Cost of War in Your Mind

War is extremely costly.  It is not only the price tag of a radio-controlled drone, or a Phantom Jet; war costs life.  Will Rogers once said, You can't say civilization isn't advancing; in every war, they kill you in a new way.[5] 
A 5th century philosopher had it this way:  In peace sons bury fathers, but war violates the order of nature and fathers bury sons.[6]
The high cost of war is incredible.  One preacher I read said, …our casualties in Vietnam were 58,000 dead, but there have been 75,000 Vietnam-veterans' suicides since the war--more than our casualty list.[7]
Perhaps the highest cost of war is that it drives us to animal-like behavior.  Keep that high cost of war in your mind.

Perspective #2

Keep the Higher Price of Peace in Your Heart

War is not a good option.  Sometimes it is the only option.  It should never be greeted warmly.  The commander of our troops in Desert Storm 20 years ago was Norman Schwarzkopf.  The general was interviewed by Ted Koppel, and he gave his understanding and philosophy of war:  I would never want to serve under a general who enjoyed war.[8] 
Loving peace and keeping peace are vastly different in the toll it takes on a person.  Loving peace only requires wanting to live without conflict.  Keeping peace has a higher price of sacrifice.
My father hid his tears in 1967 when his son got on a plane bound for Vietnam.  A year later he soaked my shoulder with tears of joy to receive me back home.  Yet, there were those who did not make it back.  What did their fathers think?  What will I think if my son now has to go to Syria? 
There is a high price for peace and safety from terrorism.  Is it worth it?  Only if freedom and justice are more highly prized than fear and cruelty.
We would do well to listen to the voice of the prophet:
No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.                       Micah 6:8 (NLT)
Keep the high cost of war in your mind, the higher price of peace in your heart…   …and…

Perspective #3

Keep the Only Prince of Peace on His Throne

Wars begin with days of flag-waving to display love for our country and her ways of freedom and justice.  The real sacrifices take a lot longer. 
It is never easy to sacrifice, but if you are assured of the rightness – the justness of the cause – then the sacrifice must be made…or we trample under the cause in cowardly excuses. 
Spiritually, this has happened before.  Satan, the master terrorist attacked the whole of humanity in the Garden of Eden.  Sin took our spiritual freedom. 
A tower of cross beams was raised on a hill called Golgotha – and the sacrifice was made.  The terrorist thought he had brought down the tower to the shame of the heavenly host. 
But, out of Friday night’s rubble came Easter morning’s message, as clear and strong as on the day of creation – The sacrifice is complete – don’t look for the living among the dead.  The life I bring is abundant and free
That war had the highest cost – some souls lost for eternity.
That peace was bought with the highest price ever paid – the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who took the sins of all man, so we might be forgiven.
That Prince of Peace now sits at the right hand of the Father – a throne like no other.
And he sits on another throne – located in the hearts of all true Christ-followers.  One may rightly say, “What can I do in such matters of international relations, world peace or war?  I’m just one person.”
That is true, but as it has often been said, Jesus would have gone to that cross for you – one person, if you had been the only person on earth.  And, therefore, what happens in your heart is of eternal significance to Jesus.  What you think and how you live cause him eternal peace or anguish.
So, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you struggle with this, and then live out your struggle.  Because your neighbor next door to where you live, who also is eternally significant to God, is in need of how you will love him; and so is your neighbor in Syria!

[1] President George W. Bush, Televised national address, September 20, 2001
[2] President Barak Obama, Televised speech, September 10, 2013, WH.Gov, at approximately 13:40
[3] Westminster Assembly of Divines, 23.2, 1647
[4] Bob Phillips, Book of Great Thoughts…, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993), 326
[5] Will Rogers (1879-1935)  -Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992).
[6] Herodotus (C. 484-C. 425 B.C.) , Ibid
[7] Bruce Larson, When Your Enemy Prospers, Preaching Today, Tape No. 78.
[8] Earl Palmer, Weighing Others Heavy, Preaching Today, Tape No. 134

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