Let’s look at a controversial topic, because why not?
The subject of war is a divisive one, even, or perhaps especially, in the Christian Church. It seems to be such an emotional subject, and perhaps it is tied to our modern sense of justice or ‘rightness’, but we seem to be unable to let go of this violence that grips our world.
The cry of the world today seems to be, “An eye for an eye!” that is what we think justice is, retribution, repayment, you took a life, you must pay a life, you invaded us, that gives us the right to fight and kill you. That is the just response! That is the strong response, anything less is weakness, it is giving in to the evil that would take over the world! All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, and what they should do is fight, and kill to stop someone else from killing.
I want to let you know that, at this point in writing, I am only talking about war, not violence in general, so international, or even internal conflict such as a violent revolution or a military coup d’état, but domestic violence, police force, or even non-physical forms of violence will be out of the scope of this article.
The second thing that I want to state is that I will be advocating a position of Christian ‘non-violence’ or ‘pacifism’. Both of these terms I do not like – the former because it privileges violence, and the second because it is too passive, it implies exactly the parody that people give to those who claim the title of pacifist – that they do nothing to protect the nations, families, or people that they represent.
Thirdly, I also don’t expect to be able to cover everything in such a short format. I will come back to this topic later, as part of a series, to flesh out some of the ideas that are here, but for now, it will be a short introduction to the topic.
When we look at the history of the world, it is clear that war has played a massive role in the shape of history – but does that justify its existence? Here are some numbers that we might want to keep in mind while we are talking about the subject of war: In the 20th Century alone it is hard to know exactly how many people died due to war – we simply haven’t been able to keep accurate records – estimates range anywhere from 150 million to 1 billion lives lost. The most costly war of the century was Word War 2, in which an estimated 70 million lives were lost, half of them non-combatants. To put that into perspective, if all of those lives lost were a single nation-state, it would be the 20th most populous nation on earth, just behind Turkey, and just ahead of France. That’s a lot of lives lost! But some would say that it was worth the price for the freedom that we enjoy today. Whatever your position, it is clear that war is brutal, that the world we inhabit is steeped in violence, conflict and violence is not something that we should quickly and readily pursue, and to me, war as a way to peace is an interesting dichotomy.
Being Christian and being a pacifist are not two things for me. I would not be a pacifist if I were not a Christian, and I find it hard to understand how one can be a Christian without being a pacifist.
If we want to see what it means to live in this violent world, and to do it in a way that is faithful to the call of God, then we need to look at how this is bound up in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. BUT… what I want to do is to take a look at the whole revelation of Scripture, beginning at the start, as they say, and moving forward to the life of Christ. That’s the subject of the next post! But let me say this as a final word – I believe that a case can be made for living non-violently in the world from looking at the Scriptures and seeing how God interacts with people, and calls people to interact with each other, throughout the ebb and flow of history. We will start next time with the story of Cain and Abel.