A quick scan of history underscores the fact that the outbreak of hostilities in a relatively limited territory often results in major conflict spread across a much larger geography. The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia Herzegovina resulted in the First World War. Approximately 60 years earlier, the rights of Christians in Palestine led to the Crimean War that engulfed the Crimean Peninsula, the Caucasus, and the Balkans, and pitted Russia against the French, British, Sardinians and the Ottoman Empire. Hence it is quite natural to fear the intended and unintended consequences of a possible military conflict between the two largest countries in Europe.
Russia, the largest country in Europe under President Putin, is actively seeking to reassert its global dominance, lost during the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union, while Ukraine wants to escape the historical bear-hug of Russia and move economically and militarily closer to the West. What with the current military build-up along the shared border, and the very real possibility that NATO could be drawn in on the side of Ukraine, a global conflict, quickly spiraling beyond the immediate participants seems quite likely. How then should we respond? Is there anything we can or should do? Is God in control, or not? Are there other dimensions that we are unaware of? Can we find a biblically mandated response?
Job says, “He (God) makes nations great, and destroys them. He enlarges nations and disperses them. He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason.” 1Job 12:23-24a NIV Speaking about the coming destruction of Israel, the Lord tells Isaiah, “Do not say ‘Conspiracy,’ every time these people say the word. Don’t be afraid of what scares them; don’t be terrified. You must recognize the authority of the Lord who commands armies.”2Isaiah 8:12-13 NET (emphasis mine). Both these passages indicate that not only is God not absent or helpless when war breaks out, but that he is for some reason actively involved! Can that be?
The American Civil War General William Sherman said, “War is hell.” Most of us would agree, even though, thankfully, we haven’t had to experience the horrors first hand. If war is hell, can God even be there? Could a good God be involved, even to orchestrating events? In Revelation chapter 6, we have the four horsemen riding out to conquer, fight, bring economic destruction and to kill. These are the effects of war. The passage also tells us that it is hellish because it is the consequence of, and judgment upon sin. It is the Lamb himself who opens the seals that release the four horsemen; it is the Lamb who died to take away the sin of the world who sends the four horsemen into the world as part of the judgment of God upon sinful humanity. But war is not hell. Like all human self-willed chaos, it is only the foretaste of hell.
So, how then may we respond? Possibly in one of five ways. The first is pacifism. Pacifists are the doves who opposed all war and violence. They pray for a world that “will beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” 3Isaiah 2:4Where the Prince of Peace will usher in the time when “the wolf will live with the lamb.” 4Isaiah 11:6 However this is not yet. We are not today in the Garden of Eden, nor in the heavenly city. Now cannot be the time for world peace. Pacifism is a godly mistake because it fails to take seriously the sinfulness of the human heart, for monsters do exist and do need stopping and sometimes war is the only way.
The opposite of the doves are the hawks – those who believe force is the appropriate answer to all problems. However this position is biblically untenable. The psalmist says, “The Lord … hates the wicked and the one who loves violence,” 5Psalm 11:15 ESV and “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”6James 1:20 Scripture consistently warns against those who love violence. Hence if this is our default response, we need to examine our hearts.
The third and fourth approaches are neither pacifist nor militaristic. The difference is simply one of timing. Ecclesiastes says there is, “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” 7Ecclesiastes 3:8 There is then an appropriate time for governments to take action, to step into the affairs of the world with punitive force, be it by the police, the judiciary, or the military. There is “a time for war.”
But when is that time? Was Neville Chamberlain right in his timing, or was he too slow to go to war? Was Winston Churchill right or precipitous? It is a matter of human judgment of the pragmatics and strategy of war. We are not God, and we do not always know what to do. “Not yet,” then, is the third position.
Many genuinely believe their governments act too hastily and condemn them as trigger-happy and possibly immoral. But the Bible says we must nonetheless respect those who are appointed over us in government, even as the first century believers obeyed Rome. Also we need to respect those in authority such as the armed forces and police who serve the government faithfully.
The fourth attitude then is that of “at last” we must act. However we must remember that God is not on one side in a war. Phillip Jensen writes, “He is not utterly disinterested, but neither does he identify completely with one side or the other. Wars are ours, not his. Our wars cannot be fought in the name of God.” 8Apocalypse again and again- Phillip Jensen Furthermore, we need to keep listening to others and weigh the costs and benefits of war. For as Proverbs says, “Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.” 9Proverbs 24:6
The fifth and final possible attitude is ‘the fence’. We feel unable to decide. We do not want to go to war, but we also do not want to see tyranny grow. We seek a just and lasting peace but have no idea how to achieve that.
Faced with the many unknowns, what we can do is to pray; pray “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” 10I Timothy 2:2 Pray in the confidence that the Lord of history is still in control, pray in the assurance that the day will indeed come when swords will become ploughshares, and that, in the meantime, blessed are the peacemakers.
This article was first posted on February 4th, 2022
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