Wars and Heroes of War
By Rev David L Cross
This sermon was selected for publication because we thought it to be a timely topic. However it was written in 1984 for the Sunday before an American “Memorial Day”.
Most Americans do not get very involved in the ceremonies commemorating those who have died in the defence of their country in all of the past wars of their history. But they will be influenced by the various governmental proclamations and the media presentations as to how they regard those wars and the men and women who fought them.
Regardless of our political view of recent military actions, we who call ourselves Christians have to face some general questions regarding war. How shall we, as Christians, view war? How shall we, as Christians, view those who wage war – the military and the politicians who direct the military?
Shall we praise the glories of war and exalt violence and destruction? General George S Patton is reported to have said about war, “*** how I love it!” Shall we close our eyes to such things, go on a picnic on the days set for commemorating the war dead, and pretend it never happened? Shall we take a stand against war and all the industries related to it and declare ourselves to be pacifists in the name of Jesus Christ?
Does God say anything about war and warriors in his Word?
To hear the variety of responses coming from churches one would think that the Scriptures were either silent or hopelessly confused. Perhaps the reason for this confusion comes from an attempt to oversimplify a very difficult issue. Indeed, there are two issues here that tend to blend together in our thinking. The answer to those two issues or questions may not be the same.
Question 1: How does the Bible view war?
The short answer is: the Bible views war as a great evil.
Where do wars come from?
War arises from the wicked hearts of fallen men. If Adam had not dragged the whole human race into sin there would be no war. In heaven, where sin is abolished, there will be no war.
In this world, however, we will not be free from sin and its results, and that means we will not be free from war as one of those results. We will have “wars and rumours of war”. Sanctification does not reach the level of sinlessness even in Christians (as evidenced by the factions and fights that occur in churches) and it certainly does not produce that holiness that would end war in the non-Christian world. Glorification is required to attain such a level of peace.
I cannot accept the Post-millennialist hope that such a large proportion of the population will become believers, with such a level of sanctification that it will usher in a thousand years of peace. However, our Post-millennialist brethren have served us with an important challenge and it is this.
Christians ought to pray and work for peace on every level of society.
The command to pray for rulers in 12:2 is to the end that we may live peaceful lives. It is a general principle that what we are to pray for, we are also to work for.
The fact that sin will be with us throughout this life does not excuse us to indulge sin. For example, the fact that I may never fully overcome the temptation to lustful thoughts does not mean that I can excuse myself for sitting in front of a TV sit-com that is filled with adulterous suggestions and innuendo. So too: the fact that I will never stop all war in this world does not allow me to indulge the fleshly appetite for mayhem and destruction.
The Christian is obligated to stand against every effect of sin in our world including sickness, alienation, destruction of the creation (the environment) and WAR!
In taking a stand that war is an evil that has come into the world because of sin, we have not necessarily answered the second question.
Question 2: How does the Bible view war heroes?
Since they are a part of the evil of war, are they also evil? The short answer is: Maybe Yes and maybe No!
The Bible does not consider all who wage war as evil
It is obvious that many of the great men of the Bible were war heroes – men like Joshua, David, and David’s “mighty men” who are described in terms of how many enemy soldiers they slaughtered. These men were not evil men.
In fact, they are types of Christ. Jesus is just the Greek form of Joshua and Christ sits on the throne of David.
Lest someone try to say that such men are only heroes in the Old Testament, let me remind you that the New Testament considers men like this to be heroes of faith (Hebrews:32-33) who demonstrated that in their heroic war activities.
On the other hand, we find the prophets speaking out strongly against the cruelty and destruction of Israel caused by nations like Edom (see Obadiah 1:9-10). This may, at first seem to be purely nationalistic prejudice – When Israel kills a Canaanite it is the work of a hero but when Edom kills a Jew it is the work of a villain. But the real difference is much more significant than Nationalism.
The Real Difference
It is true that the difference between a hero and a villain is over which side he is fighting on, but the sides are not East vs. West, or North vs. South or some such geo-political designation.
The difference is drawn between those who fight for good vs. those who fight for evil. It is one of right vs. wrong.
The difference between war heroes and war villains in Scripture is not between those who fight and those who do not fight.
The distinction between good and evil has to be determined by biblical standards and not merely current social conventions.
(NOTE: This does not mean that everything that a war hero does is right, e.g. David set out to bring personal revenge on Nabal for his mistreatment of David and had to be stopped by the wise counsel of Abigail. However, the essential direction of David’s life was to do what was right, and that is what often has to be the deciding factor in our judgement.)
The problem of not maintaining this distinction
If we fail to maintain the distinction between war as essentially one of the evil consequences of man’s fall into sin, and war heroes who wage war in order to protect the good, we run into some terrible problems as Christians.
First, Jesus is presented as coming again with a sword to wage war on the wicked. Of course liberal scholars simply dismiss that part of the Bible. Truly Christian pacifists would probably say, “That’s OK for Christ because vengeance is God’s right. We simply should not have any part of it ourselves”. They might quote, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord”. But they are overlooking the statement in Romans 13:4 that says of the “governing authority”, “he does not bear the sword for nothing”. Certainly, we must make a distinction between personal vengeance, such as David wanted to carry out against Nabal, and David’s use of the sword in conquering the enemies of Israel.
Second, we become terribly embarrassed by the divine call in the Old Testament to annihilate the Canaanites. We get so caught up in the morality of the action of Israel that we fail to see the destruction of the Canaanites as a picture of the judgement that awaits all those who live in rebellion against God and refuse to have Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
We should always remember that grace was given to Rahab the Canaanite prostitute when she heeded the warnings of pending destruction and pleaded for mercy.
Third, the whole of the Christian life is presented as a battle or war against evil forces. In Ephesians 6 we are commanded to take up the weapons of our warfare. It seems a strange figure to use if all warriors are villains.
No, we are called to be the heroes of war and fight for the good and the right, rather than being those villains who protect evil.
Yes, war is a terrible and evil consequence of sin and the fallen condition of mankind. We must hate every manifestation of sin in our world today and we must strive against it.
In any given war, sincere Christians may be on opposite sides of the political debate about its necessity in that instance. But when war does come, Christians must choose to stand for the right against the wrong, and that may mean that they have to choose the lesser of two evils.
May God give us wisdom to see the right and the grace to stand for it in an evil day!