Nick Rohlf, a friend and fellow NWC graduate wrote this article in response to some of the conversation surrounding my last post.
It would be very easy to cite the book of Joshua as a reason for Christians to pursue acts of war and violence. It would also be a cop-out. It would be just as easy and just as much a cop-out to refer to “turn the other cheek” as a reason to pursue pacifism. The reality behind the matter, however, is a good deal more complicated than a self-rightous one-liner.
Here in America, we seem to have a notion that God helps those who help themselves. This notion goes both into our economic theory and into our theories on pacifism. For example, it is considered good sense to own a gun, just in case someone should break in at night. Here’s the thing though: if you accept that God is in control of all things, owning a gun is not going to protect you. If it is God’s will that I should die tonight, all the weapons in the world are not going to protect me, and in a good bit of irony, one of these weapons could in fact end up harming me quite greatly. The fact of the matter is, God is in control. When Christ says “turn the other cheek,” it isn’t entirely out of a desire to humiliate ourselves in front of our enemies. It is also out of a desire for us to turn over our fate to God Himself. We as Christians have no need to defend ourselves because God is ultimately in control of our fate. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword, and those who live by peace…may well also die by the sword. But that’s for God to decide, not us.
Consider some Biblical examples – as Christ was being apprehended by soldiers, Peter took up his sword to defend Him and was stopped. Why? Because it was God’s will that Christ be crucified, and there was nothing Peter or anyone else could have done to stop it. Could Christ conceivably have demanded that it all cease at once? Yes, and it may well have happened. But Christ understood that such an action would go directly against God’s will and therefore was not a righteous path to take.
The easy conclusion to draw from this would be that we should be pacifist and count on God to do our fighting for us. This would also be an incorrect assumption, and it would be equatable to saying that the rich should count on God to feed the poor. If I am poor, perhaps I can count on God to feed me, but it will often come through the aid of the faithful. If I am rich, however, it is my obligation to feed the poor. Similarly, if I am strong, it is my obligation to defend the weak.
Consider World War II. At its very core, WWII was about an insane power grab from a group of very dangerous forces who, if left unchecked, could very easily have conquered Europe. Unknown to many outsiders, however, something far more sinister was occurring within the borders of the ever-expanding German borders: a swift and efficient genocide, the likes of which had never been seen before. How could such a thing occur at such a scale? Because the forces of good were either silent or impotent. Again and again, Hitler tested his freedom in the 1930s, and again and again he was shown that he could do whatever he liked. This in and of itself was not a dangerous thing, but when combined with the rampant anti-semitism of the time, it created a perfect storm of evil. Was it a good and just war for us to fight against a nation that would commit such unspeakable acts of evil against its own citizens, whom its leadership swore to protect? Yes, absolutely. Though Christ was able to defend a woman from stoning without lifting a finger against her persecutors, often things are not so simple.
There is, however, a great danger with fighting against so terrible an evil – we are made to believe that we are an unimpeachable force of good in the world. Did the Holocaust give adequate reason for us to fight against Germany? Yes. Did the mass-rape and mass-murders going on in China give us adequate reason to fight against Japan? Yes. Did this, however, give us the right to firebomb Dresden, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in a most horrible manner? I don’t believe so. Did it allow us to use not one but two nuclear weapons, the most powerful and devastating weapons of the age, against masses of civilians? In and of itself the answer to this questino is “no,” though extenuating circumstances may reveal that the nuclear attacks were perhaps the least bloody way to end the war in Japan.
It is here that we come to the notion of American righteousness and military superiority. As many know, our military spending is seven times greater than China, who comes in at second. Our spending is in fact greater than the top ten countries below us, combined. There are those among us, Christians among us, who believe that such spending is not only acceptable but necessary in order to protect us from foreign threats. Unfortunately, this tremendous spending prevents us from giving adequate care to the weakest among us, as those same Christians who support this great spending are entirely against the relatively minor spending that goes toward protecting our poorest members of society from poverty and starvation. Also unfortunately, our great military power will do us no good if God decides it is time for our place as a world power to end.
Consider the story of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was one of the “good” kings of Judah, a man who was for the most part righteous in God’s eyes, though he made a few mistakes. One such mistake occurred in the face of certain doom. As the vastly superior Assyrian army made its way toward Judah, conquering and sending into exile neighboring Israel, Hezekiah feared for the sake of his country. He made his military ready, made his capital ready, and even went so far as to build extensive tunnels to an underground water source so the nation could survive an extended siege. Could any of this possibly protect him from Assyria? Absolutely not. In the end, it wasn’t Hezekiah’s military or his tunnel that protected him. As the Bible says, one night God simply executed the Assyrian army as it stood at the gates of Jerusalem. As 2 Kings 19:35-36 says, “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.” Though Hezekiah built an army against Sennecherib, ultimately the fate of Judah was in God’s hands and none others.
We in our great strength build up an army vastly superior to those around us, and we selfishly believe that we can protect ourselves. But consider our enemies. Any enemy foolish enough to attack us would not be concerned for its own safety. Our armies could not protect us from 9/11, and Israel’s armies could not prevent Hamas from attacking with rockets as they did recently.
Here is another interesting point – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Consider the recent attacks between Israel and Hamas. Does God side with Hamas, who would put its own people in danger to harm its enemy? Hardly. Does God side with Israel, who would kill innocent civilians for the sake of completing a military objective? Unlikely. Where is God in all of it? Where he always is – with the weak and defenseless. We as Christians are often told that we should solidly side with Israel, no matter what they do. Thus when I put up a story about a Palestinian father grieving for his child, I was greeted with a rather insulting remark about how Israel should be able to defend itself – as though a small child would pose a threat. God Himself often did not side with Israel, pulling away His support as they pulled away their faith. Israel was made to go through terrible punishments at the hands of Assyria and Babylon, all because they wandered away from God’s command. Should we support Israel? Only as much as we support any other country. Should we defend them to the death if they come under attack by a force with the power and will to destroy them? Yes. Should we defend them to the death as they rain death upon innocents? Hardly.
In the end, there is no simple answer to the question, “Should Christians be pacifists?” My answer to the question is: yes, unless we are required to fight for those who cannot. But we must always remember that we are only acting as agents of God’s will for better or for worse, and nothing we ever do can stray us from the path He desires for us. Thank you for reading.