Pacifism and Peace
When I saw a press photo of a priest carrying a placard with the message that nuclear war is sin, I realized that as a Christian I had to make up my mind about the issue. This is not just a political-military matter! It also involves ethics and religion. In a book by Prof. C. Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, I found this statement:
The more orthodox a group or individual, the more likely the attitude will be militaristic, while the professed aim of Christianity has always been peace. How come? Orthodox families read the Bible, read the warlike material of the Old Testament — wars commanded by God, wars blessed by God. Hardly stuff to teach children an aversion from warfare; hence the militaristic attitude of orthodox Christians.
Another book appeared on the market which has made its way to the top of the bestseller list, which means that at the same time it is working its way into the minds of the Western world: Jonathan Schell's, The fate of the earth. On page 33ff. of this book Schell gives a short and frightening description of what happened on August 6, 1945, the day on which Hiroshima was destroyed by an atom bomb, a small one (12 kiloton; the average bomb in today's arsenal is 1600 times more powerful). On page 47ff. he continues with a description of what would happen in the event of an attack on New York City, with a one megaton bomb, then a twenty megaton bomb, then an all-out attack on the whole of the USA: the sudden flashes of white light, as of a thousand suns, each one brighter than the sun itself; tens of millions of people in the first moments simply going up in smoke, literally disappearing physically; then the blast waves which destroy everything; the mushroom clouds, turning day into night all across the huge country, followed by fires burning all of the USA; and finally, the deadly fallout which will kill off those who managed to escape death so far. In an all-out world war, the whole planet would be destroyed. The ozone layer would be ripped apart. Life on earth would become extinct forever. Schell calls this the nuclear capability of bringing about the second death. Normal death is a natural phenomenon. Men, plants, animals — they all live for a while and then die, but the chain of life is continued in the birth of new generations. But the second death, according to him, is the extinction of all the species. The human race will be gone forever. Nothing will be left but a dead planet inhabited by grass and insects, moving through space for endless eons to come; empty, dark — a darkness in which no nation, no civilization, no society will remain, in which a child will never again be born, in which human beings will never again appear on earth, and in which there is no memory that anyone ever lived. Man is finished: second death.
This book will certainly strengthen the growing antinuclear sentiment. It would be a disaster if this sentiment would lead to a one-sided disarmament by the West. Under the motto "Better Red than dead," the world would be cruelly delivered up to communist world dominion. It must be admitted that man indeed possesses powers of destruction, enough to destroy forty planets the size of the earth. Awesome indeed, and threatening. And if all nuclear arms were dismantled, the ability to make them cannot be destroyed.
What we have to do now is to determine, on the ground of our Christian convictions, our position regarding these terrible nuclear weapons.
In our examination of Christian views, we meet, in the first place, the Pacifists. In this word you recognize the word "peace." Christian pacifists are against the use of violence under any circumstances. They believe that the Lord' condemns the use of force as a means to resolve disputes. According to them, Jesus did not use violence, but He suffered violence on the cross, and thus He brought about peace. Christians are called to follow the Lord in refusing to use violence. The law of the kingdom, they say, is Matthew 5:38:
But I say to you, 'Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.'
The Lord forbids retaliation, revenge, and violence. The "soft answer" of turning the other cheek may make the enemy ashamed; it will heap burning coals of fire on his head; it may make it impossible for him to persist in his hostility. If the soft answer does not work, nothing will. Violence only breeds more violence; it never solves anything.
Pacifism has an interesting record of history within the church. During the first three centuries the church's leadership frowned upon Christians in military service, but the attitude to warfare changed dramatically after the third century when the church was recognized by the state and the emperor became a Christian. The synod of 411 at Arles even decreed that those who refused military service should be excommunicated. Emperor Theodosius issued a law that only Christians could enlist in military service. This change in attitude in the church came about by the fact that Christians had become respectable citizens and felt responsible for the affairs of the state, which included the protection of justice, peace, and freedom against the barbarians at the borders of the empire who threatened to overrun the empire and, with it, the church.
The Church father, Augustine, developed the theory of the just war. Not all wars are condemned as sinful. Some are justified. Certain conditions must be met for a war to be just. One of those is that it must be waged with means which fit the purpose (for example, an apple thief must not be opposed with a gun). Another is that a just war must reckon with the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, between soldiers and civilians. Another condition is that there must be a just cause, as well as the right intention, namely, to restore or protect justice and liberty. Actually, only defensive wars can be considered just wars. Sometimes, however, the best defence lies in attack, but such a war would still be defensive in nature. The theory of the just war, developed by Augustine, was taken over, among others, by Calvin, and thus it became the Protestant (Reformed) view in the churches. The Eighty-year War of Holland against Spain, the first and second world wars in this century against Hitler and Japan — nobody, generally speaking, had any problem accepting these wars as just wars in which Christians could partake with a good conscience before the Lord, in the service of peace.
War remains a horrible thing, and every avenue should be explored to prevent war. War, like illness and death, is an intruder in God's good creation. All these evils must be fought, war no less than the others. No Christian can ever glory in war. God calls us to peace, not to war (Psalm 120); to work for peace, not for war. But that is no argument against a just war, because it is waged for the sake of peace, the restoration of liberty and justice. Think of Lord's Day 40: the task of the government is to prevent murder, and for that very purpose, the protection of life, the government is armed with the sword. The sword that kills serves to protect life. In the same sense a just war is an instrument of peace.
There is no need to give a detailed account of our rejection of the pacifists' view. We may refer you to Dr. Douma's discussion of Romans 12 and 13 in Reformed Perspective, November 1983 and May 1982. Pacifists are in conflict with the Scriptures when they keep all use of force out of the realm of Christ's rule. Christ is the King of Psalm 2. Christ is the King who is described in Revelation and 1 Corinthians 15 as definitively using force in His government of the world, in His fight against the enemy, against all who oppose God. Of course, all this violent use of force is in the service of peace, the establishing of the kingdom of peace. But that does not make the use of force any less violent.
Another point the pacifists overlook is that Christ is King of the church and King of the nations and that He rules the world differently than He does the church. The church He rules by His Word and Spirit; all violence and revenge is forbidden within the church by the members of the church in the world. But Christ rules the world differently: by the sword which He has entrusted to the government. This means that King Jesus can order me on the one hand to turn the other cheek, and on the other hand to drop an atom bomb as the pilot of a B1. The one act is in no sense in conflict with the other. In both I follow my King in His two-fold regimen, as King of the church, and as King of the world, when the government calls me to arms in a just war in the fight for justice and freedom.
But many argue that a nuclear war cannot be waged as a just war because the means defeat the purpose. There are many, also among Reformed people, who are against pacifism and who wholeheartedly accept the calling of the government to execute the wrath of God in the defence of justice and liberty, but who are nevertheless atom pacifists. They are not against war as such, but they definitely oppose nuclear war, because, according to them, the conditions of a just war no longer apply if the means to achieve victory will destroy the life of the nation. In an all-out nuclear war there are no winners! One's own nation will be destroyed as well as the enemy nation. Therefore the means (nuclear arms) defeat the purpose. They are not in accordance with the nature of the conflict. Besides, the distinction between combatants and non-combatants disappears as well in a nuclear war; no distinction is made between military targets and civilian populations, for everything goes up in smoke.
Theoretically, it is possible for the whole earth, with all life therein, to be destroyed. Many experts agree that it would be difficult, if not impossible; to keep a nuclear war under control, to prevent it from escalating to a stage in which the possessors of these weapons will throw in everything they have in the end. Controlled use may well be intended but could perhaps not be implemented for several reasons, among them the human mind, computer failures, automation, or a flight into irrationality.
These Christians claim that God could never approve of these weapons which lead to the destruction of His creation. More and more spokesmen, also of orthodox Reformed churches, condemn the possession of nuclear weapons, even as a means of deterrence. Prof. Schuurman considers these weapons demonic, completely contrary to the norms which God has set for the sword of the government. These weapons are typical of a lawless, godless Babylonian civilization; they bear the mark of the evil one. The government, as God's servant, cannot use just any weapon as its sword, and, because of their potential to destroy all created life, nuclear arms are in conflict with God's norms for man and governments.
Dr. J. Douma's View
An interesting, but in my view untenable, position is taken by Dr. J. Douma, ethics professor at the theological seminary in Kampen, The Netherlands. Taking his starting point in the government's calling to protect its citizens, he gives a cautious "yes" to nuclear armament. But he agrees that nuclear arms themselves are evil; they should be on the list of forbidden weapons which cannot be used lawfully in any war, the same as chemical and bacteriological weapons which are forbidden by international agreement.
However, Prof. Douma defends the possession of nuclear arms because the enemy possesses them. If the West would not have them, Russia, with its demonic intentions and practices, would immediately take over the free world. Solzhenitsyn has described what that would mean: the beast from the abyss. The beast can only be kept inside its cage by a credible threat. This threat the government must maintain; it is a divine duty which, in today's circumstances, can only be fulfilled with arms which actually should be on the list of forbidden weapons. Dr. Douma also thinks these weapons are necessary as a political signal to the enemy if he were to try to overpower the West with conventional weapons, in the expectation that this will stop the aggressor, who, like most people, is not suicidal. The strongest drive in man is self-preservation. Russia, knowing that attacking the West would mean its own total destruction, will not attack. Therefore possession and a controlled limited use of nuclear arms is allowed to prevent war or to stop a war from continuing. But that is as far as Dr. Douma wants to go. He says that we may not plunge the created world into perdition to keep the Russians off our back. Thus we may prevent a war with these weapons (deterrence) or stop a war with them, but one cannot wage a war with them, like one can with conventional weapons.
In my opinion, Dr. Douma, by stopping short of approving of an all-out war, undermines the credibility of the threat which he wants to see maintained. He wants everything to be done that is responsibly possible to keep the West free from communist domination, but all-out war he does not consider responsible, since it would make God's creation uninhabitable, and that can never be God's will. Dr. Douma is not an atom pacifist, but in the end I see him taking their side, against his own will and intention. If the enemy knows that we will never go all the way, the road is clear for him to press his attack to the end, without the danger of self-annihilation.
In God We Trust
What do the nuclear pacifists place over against the Russian threat if it is not nuclear weaponry? Some think that the communists are not all that bad. Behind the mask of the demonic ideology they believe, there are good communists. Either they will leave us alone, relieved, since they have nothing to fear from us, or, inspired by our good example, they will also disarm. Or, if things work out differently, life under the Soviets will still be bearable. Others believe that we must put our trust for protection in God's power and not in nuclear missiles. God is stronger than Russian nuclear power. And if it is God's will that we be conquered by the East, then God is able to preserve His children under Soviet domination, like God protected and preserved for Himself a church in the catacombs during the days of the Roman Empire. "Trust in God" they place over against nuclear arms. But that is a false dilemma, like the trust-in-God argument against vaccinations is a false dilemma. God uses means.
Our Own Stand
We must now come to the formulation of our own position. I believe that in our days God gives the governments nuclear weapons as the sword meant in Romans 13, to fulfill their divine calling as God's servants — not only to have this sword to deter the aggressor and threaten him, but also to use it to destroy him if necessary.
The argument that this weapon does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants is not valid. That criterion was developed in a period in history when kings fought kings with their mercenaries. But in modern warfare entire nations are involved, with their economic apparatus and with the backing of the populations (the Vietnam war was lost in the streets and in the Congress of the USA). Therefore the question of guilt or involvement is not divided between soldiers and civilians.
The other argument, that nuclear war is forbidden as sin since it would destroy all life on earth, is not valid either. I cannot see why God would agree with the destruction of some life in a conventional war, but would call the destruction of all life sin. God Himself will one day utterly destroy the earth. 2 Peter 3:10 says that the elements will be dissolved with fire.
Then there is the argument that nuclear weapons defeat their purpose of preserving justice and liberty, because those concepts are meaningless in a world of grass and insects. But what is the real purpose of the power of the sword according to Romans 13? It is not to protect our human values, our freedom, or our physical life, or to ensure the survival of mankind. The purpose is clearly stated: to execute the wrath of God (Romans 13:4). Some people say: "Rather dead than Red!" Others turn it around. But both are humanistic positions. The one values his freedom more than his life; the other believes that survival is more important than freedom. It is the humanist who makes the choice. But to the Christian the question what I as a human being want is not decisive, but what God wants. There is no choice between alternatives such as dead or Red.
What is the will of God concerning the government? It is that God's wrath be executed against the evildoer who threatens to destroy the freedom and justice of the nation. It is the sword of the enemy which determines the choice of the weapons that must be used to oppose him. And then the government must use it, in obedience to God. The cost in human lives is a matter which is in God's hand. As long as there is power left with the government to stave off the enemy's aggression, to prevent the victory of evil, it must be used. Trust in God means that we do our duty and leave the rest up to God. Think of Abraham, who had to sacrifice his son. His trust in God was not put to shame. Abraham considered that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Isaac's death would not be the "second death," the end of Abraham's generation as Schell calls the possible physical extinction of the human race "second death."
The real second death is continued existence for all eternity in hell. In the strict sense of the word, a final destruction is not possible. There will be resurrection of the dead. If in the process of carrying out our duty the whole created world would perish, nothing will be eternally lost.
So, the whole issue is settled by Lord's Day 40 and Romans 13: God governs the world. His servants must fulfill their divine mandate. God can bless the governments of the free world by limiting an all-out war or by keeping the beast in its cage. God can also punish the free world by letting a war grow into a holocaust, thereby bringing down judgment on the gross sins and evils of Western civilization, which is anti-Christian as is communism, only in a different way. The West deserves God's judgment, like Sodom. May God be gracious for the sake of the ten righteous ones who are still there and who use their freedom of worship faithfully.
Does this mean that Christians should be indifferent with regard to the horrible threat of a nuclear holocaust? Of course not. Christians will support all efforts to lessen the dangers of war, such as arms reduction talks and the prevention of attacks caused by miscalculation — but all this on the condition that the sword of the government not be weakened unilaterally, so that a permanent advantage of the East over the West would pose a constant threat.
When I see the mass demonstrations of our days, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I share the people's concern about the horror of nuclear warfare, and I hope that the governments will take this concern seriously and do all they can to prevent the holocaust. But, on the other hand, we as Christians cannot identify with these demonstrators, because they show that to them the highest value in life is biological survival. In their despair these demonstrators are very much in line with the third part of Schell's book, "The Choice," in which, as the only solution to escape "second death," he advocates the establishment of ONE world community, with ONE world government, which can only be brought about when the voice of the people force the governments. But then we are immediately reminded of Revelations 17, about the ten kings who transfer their power and authority to the beast. In that world, united under the beast, war between the nations will be eliminated. Only the war against the Lamb will be left. But the Lamb will conquer.
What can we then do as Christians? In the first place, we must pray that the government may do its duty as God's servant and not give in to the voice of the people. We must pray to God to so rule the world through the governments that in His mercy He may protect us from a nuclear war.
In the second place, we must use our freedom to serve the Lord according to His Word, and not the idol of physical life, "for he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 5 and 6). We should be as ten righteous in Sodom and preach the message not to fear that which can only kill the body, but to fear Him who can throw both body and soul into hell; that is the second death. The people must be taught that physical life is not god, but the Creator and Savior of life is God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Dr. J. Douma, Gewapende Vrede , Ethisch Commentaar, No. 6 (Amsterdam: Bolland), 1980
- Prof. Dr. A. Troost, "Religieus-ethische verantwoording van de kernbewapening," in Opbouw , Vol. 25, Nos. 19 and 20 (May 1980). I followed his line of thought to establish our own position.
- Peter C. Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Eerdmans), 1978.
- Dr. G.J.D. Aalders, Van huisgemeente tot wereldkerk (Kampen: Kok).
- Het vraagstuk van de kernwapenen, nadere beschouwingen over oorlog en vrede van de Generale Synode van de Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (Het Boekcentrum, Den Haag), 1962.