When Christie and I were filming an episode of Bayside TV, one of the most incongruous things we experienced was our pacifist guest getting angry! We asked questions that challenged his view and, well, things got a little heated to say the least.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those warmongering fundamentalist Christians who appears to delight in bombs going off in faraway places. Such people are a living contradiction, saying they are “pro-life” and yet delighting in their guns, weapons and death penalties. But neither am I an antiwar peace lover.
A Bible verse that is invariably quoted to support pacifism is Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This is the only time the word peacemaker appears in the Bible, and it should be noted the word is peace maker, not peace lover.
In a modern context, we think of this Beatitude as meaning an end to war or violence. Peace lovers often want peace at any cost – or no cost at all. Peace lovers fall into two categories – the pacifists and the peaceful. The peaceful are people who want peace at any price even if it is to their detriment or the ultimate disadvantage of others. The pacifist, on the other hand, is a person who believes that war and violence are unjustifiable in any circumstance.
Pacifists emphasize the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount – turn the other cheek and love your enemies. They use the example of Jesus in his betrayal, arrest, torture, and crucifixion when he didn’t resist, and that he even prayed for those who nailed him to the cross. The pacifist’s conclusion is that Jesus has called us to live a life of non-resistance and non-violence, but they ignore verses like Luke 22:36, “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” The truth is, peace is not always an option. Consider Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Sometimes, it doesn’t depend on you!
In my opinion, the Bible does not teach pacifism; in fact, it gives three times when it’s right to fight:
To Preserve Freedom
Many times, in the Hebrew Scriptures, God told the Israelites to go and liberate a particular group of people. In Numbers 32, God expresses anger at two tribes in Israel because they wouldn’t go to war. Moses says to these two tribes, “What are you going to do? Just sit here while the rest of your brothers go to war? Aren’t you going to participate?” (Num 32:6). If you don’t know what’s worth dying for, you won’t know what’s worth living for!
To Defend Innocent People
The Wisdom literature states, “When justice is done it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”[i] Christians are not just interested in peace – we want peace with justice. Peace at any price is not peace at all. Peace at any price is appeasement. God is not only a God of peace, He is also a God of justice.
Edmund Burke, the Irish political Philosopher famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” British Philosopher, John Stuart Mills wrote, “A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares about more than his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free.”
To Stop The Spread of Evil
Paul the apostle believed that God had empowered governments to enforce the law and punish offenders.[ii] While the context is primarily speaking about civil matters, there is little doubt that governments also have the authority to act in order to stop the spread of evil regimes and the plans of tyrannical leaders. What if the world had not responded strongly against Hitler’s plans for world domination or, as in more recent times, to seek to stamp out so-called Islamic State?
Someone may ask: “Doesn’t the sixth commandment say, `You shall not kill?” No, it doesn’t. It says, “You shall not murder.” The word is used 47 times in the Bible, and it always means murder. Is there a difference between killing and murder? Absolutely! C.S. Lewis said, “All killing is no more murder than all sexual intercourse is adultery.” There is a difference. When is it right? When its goal is to bring about justice, preserve freedom, and reduce evil in the world.
God’s Ultimate Desire Is For Universal Peace
War is not God’s ideal, but we live in a far from ideal world. His eternal kingdom will only be inhabited by righteous people, and so then there will be no need for war: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” [iii] This verse is written on a wall across the street from the United Nations building in New York City, but they left out a significant part – “He … will settle the disputes for many peoples.” He – Jesus, not the United Nations. We’ll never have ultimate peace until the Prince of Peace establishes His reign on Earth. In the meantime, Christians should pray, work, and fight for peace.
[i] Proverbs 21:15
[ii] Romans 13:4
[iii] Isaiah 2:4