A Just War?
At the time of writing (March 26), the world’s attention is focused on a fierce American-led attack on Iraq. The aim is to destroy so-called weapons of mass destruction and replace the regime of Saddam Hussein that is held responsible for aiding and abetting the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon building in Washington that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans as well as Canadians and other nationals who “happened” to be in those buildings. The fantastic developments in technology, especially in cyberspace, have resulted in a war that is waged unlike any previous wars. Not only does this technology allow for incredible precision in hitting enemy targets, but it also allows the war to enter every living room that has access to the media. Moreover, the freedom of speech and assembly that characterizes our western democracies allows everyone to express an opinion on this war and openly demonstrate in front of government buildings to utter even the most foolish slogans.
Because of the complexity of the political, religious and socio-economic factors that have led to the decision of the governments of America, Britain, Australia and other members of the “coalition of the willing,” to invade Iraq, we wonder if anyone who does not have access to confidential government intelligence is in a position to offer a legitimate opinion. You will say that as Christians we have the infallible Scriptures as our guide and we are to judge everything by its standards. True, but Christians certainly are not infallible in their opinions, even if they are based on the Bible. It may be helpful to trace some views held by the Christian church through the ages in order to formulate our stand.
It is a biblical given that military service, whether in defense of one’s country or as part of an occupational or invading army is an honourable profession; witness John the Baptist’s exhortation to the soldiers who came to be baptized: “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). There were also the Roman officers who came to Jesus for healing and to whom the apostles brought the Gospel (Cornelius, etc.).
The theory of a “just war” gradually took shape in Christian thought. The Church Fathers lamented the tragic consequences of war and urged believers to seek peace and to love their enemies. Some early Christians (like the Mennonites today) refused military service. The Church Fathers did not, however, challenge the right of governments to wage war. Augustine emphasized the sinfulness of human nature that is at the root of all wars. Because of our fallen human condition, no war is ever fully just. A just peace is desirable and war may be legitimate in order to secure peace and reduce injustice. But it may only be waged on the authority of the rulers, and must be conducted with restraint and mercy.
The Reformers renewed Augustine’s emphasis on the sinfulness of man. They pointed out that according to Romans 13, the state is an agent ordained by God to bring about retributive justice, to engage in war in self-defense and for the righting of injustices (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14; see also Calvin, Institutes iv, 20).
There are those today (Chuck Colson and others) who see America’s engagement in Iraq as a “just war” in this sense. Others disagree. There ought to be no disagreement, however, as to how a government is to conduct war. Anyone who has followed the news reports must have seen or heard that the Brits and Americans treat their innocent victims and prisoners of war humanely, according to biblical principles; while the Iraqi’s do not. There may be those who argue that we are given a one-sided picture. We acknowledge that this is possible. But is it likely that the plethora of news reporters who are “embedded” with the American and British service men would keep coalition atrocities a secret? All the evidence and the pre-war history of Iraq indicates that the allies wage war against an evil regime that uses the most horrendous cruelty and torture to keep its citizens cowed, including the use of women and children as “human shields” as they engage in warfare, even disguising themselves as civilians and appearing in American uniforms.
There is also the principle of obeying and supporting the powers that be — the powers that God has ordained — in this case the American government. As citizens of a free country we have the “freedom to protest,” which in all too many cases has become a venting of anger and frustration born of a depraved human nature. Can this way of exercising “free speech” be defended on biblical grounds? I think not.
There is also the principle of friendship and compassion. We know it is inevitable that innocent people become the victims of war and our hearts go out to them. We love all who serve the Lord in sincerity and in truth. We grieve for our Iraqi brothers and sisters in the Lord. As Rev. Bergsma has articulated so well in his “News and Comments” column elsewhere in this magazine, we pray that the Lord will spare them from suffering. War is always horrible and brings out the worst in human nature. We pray therefore for our American government — that they will continue to wage war according to the just and compassionate principles set forth in God’s Word. May the Iraqi government do likewise.
We pray for a quick end to the war and we pray that the American and other coalition service men may come home safely. We know that many Christians are praying for this in our churches, no doubt most fervently in the Grand Rapids, Michigan FRC, where at least five young men serve their country in the military service, one of them in a dangerous position at the frontlines in Iraq.
For “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Wars will not end until the Lord Jesus comes again on the clouds of heaven to bring true and permanent peace on earth. Let us pray, therefore, that somehow, even through this war, God’s kingdom may come!