God, War, and Christians’ Response
What is the biblical response to the threat of war?
President Trump recently issued a new warning to North Korea that, should North Korea make a move to fire off four Hwasong-12 missiles toward Guam, our military is “locked and loaded” and prepared to strike back. The threat of war is on everyone’s mind. What is a biblical response?
Wars May Be Sanctioned by God
Surprisingly to some, war was often sanctioned and ordered by God. Throughout Joshua’s war conquests the Lord was not only present but actively involved. Joshua 11:15-20 says,
As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses. … For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel.
Later on, the Israelites cried out to God after an eight-year period of subjugation to the king of Aram. He heard their cries and appointed Caleb’s youngest brother Othniel as the first judge over Israel. Judges 3:10 explains that God delivered the Israelites through war. “The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.”
The prophet Samuel confronted Saul on his disobedience to God during a time of war: “[God] sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out'” (1 Samuel 15:18). God wanted the Amalekites destroyed completely; Saul disobeyed. Because of his disobedience, God appointed David king of Israel.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw that God would assemble an army to destroy Babylon. “Listen, a noise on the mountains, like that of a great multitude! Listen, an uproar among the kingdoms, like nations massing together! The Lord Almighty is mustering an army for war. They come from faraway lands, from the ends of the heavens — the Lord and the weapons of his wrath — to destroy the whole country.” (Isaiah 13:4-5 ) Once again, the Lord commanded war.
Just War Theory
How could God do that? It was St. Augustine who first developed the ideas that have come to be known as Just War Theory. He believed that some wars were necessary to amend an evil. Others, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, drew on St. Augustine’s principles and proposed that there were three criteria for a just war. It must be waged by a legitimate authority, it must be based on a just cause and it must have the right intentions. Others since then have debated over the principles necessary to define justice in going to war. A good summary may be found in a list like this one:
- War is a last resort. All other options are considered first.
- It must be waged by a legitimate authority, such as a legitimate government.
- It is a response to a wrong suffered. Self-defense can serve as the basis for a just war, however, the objective of the war must be to correct the wrong suffered.
- There must be a good probability of success. A just war cannot be based on a lost cause.
- The intention must be to re-establish peace. The war must focus on justice.
- The violence must be proportional to the casualties endured. The war must use only the amount of force necessary.
- The war must seek to avoid civilian casualties. The deaths of civilians “are only justified when they are unavoidable victims of a military attack on a strategic target.”
Do Not Be Afraid
Even a just war is awful. It’s fearsome. Nevertheless throughout the Bible we are told, “Do not be afraid,” and “Do not fear.”
King David says in Psalm 27:3-6, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. …For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.”
Isaiah 41:10 says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.”
Even Jesus told us not to be afraid if war is imminent. Matt. 24:6 says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”
The Christian Response
So what is the Christian response to the threat of war? Leaders — and I am speaking specifically of Christian leaders, who know how to seek the Lord — must act with great care, seeking wise (and hopefully godly) counsel. They must ask, Is war necessary? Is it commanded or sanctioned by God? What are our motives? What does the Lord want us to do in the face of war?
No one pretends these decisions are easy. They shouldn’t be. Once it’s clear that war is called for, however, they should proceed, with great regret, yes, but without fear. If they are doing what is right, for just reasons, God will be with them.
What about those of us who are not part of the decision-making process? Pray for our leaders to listen to godly counsel and seek the Lord’s will. Trust God. Even in times of war, if He is with us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).