During World War I many German soldiers marched into war with their imperial motto Gott Mit Uns—“God With Us”—emblazoned on their helmets and belt buckles. Priests, pastors and chaplains on both sides encouraged the men to fight in their side’s righteous cause, proclaiming it was God’s will that they emerge victorious.
At home, the Anglican bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, declared this “a holy war” and urged British soldiers to “kill Germans . . . not for the sake of killing, but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old . . . As I have said a thousand times, I look upon it as a war for purity, I look upon everyone who died in it as a martyr” (quoted by Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, 2014, p. 71).
In Germany, pastor Dietrich Vorweck rewrote the Lord’s prayer to say:
Our Father, from the height of heaven,
Make haste to succor Thy German people.
Help us in the holy war . . .
Lead Thy German Reich to glorious victories.
Who will stand before the conquerors? . . .
Lord, Thy will be done! . . .
Smite the foe each day with death and tenfold woes . . .
Lead us not into the temptation
Of letting our wrath be too gentle
In carrying out Thy divine judgment. (quoted on p. 13)
Such pleas apparently went unanswered as millions died or were permanently maimed on muddy, bloody battlefields in four years of fighting during which the border barely moved.
“A striking commentary on the war was offered by Britain’s Harry Patch, the last soldier to have fought in the war’s trenches and who died in 2009 at the age of 111. He felt the war had not been worth a single life . . . He recalled seeing half-savage dogs fighting over biscuits taken from dead men’s pockets and wondering, ‘What are we doing that’s really any different? Two civilized nations, British and German, fighting for our lives.’ In summary, he commented, ‘What . . . we fought for, I now don’t know’” (pp. 2-3).
This is not to say that World War I was without result. Four empires fell, the world’s first communist state came into being, the world that existed before 1914 was destroyed and the stage was set for even greater carnage in the Second World War. One effect that continues to this day is that millions of people lost their faith in a God who could allow such indescribable suffering.
But God is not uninvolved or uncaring. He cares deeply about His creation, about His children of all nations and races. One of the Bible’s best-loved passages tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
And God will bring about offering the opportunity for salvation to all mankind—just not in the way most people expect. As explained in this issue, God is not offering salvation to the entire world now. Nor is He trying to end human suffering now. He knows that human beings the world over must learn some very painful lessons before being willing to admit that “the way of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:17, quoting Isaiah 59:8).
Why do we not know the way to peace? Because “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25). The way that seems right to our thinking has led to generations of bloody wars in which we have learned to kill each other in increasingly efficient ways!
But it will not always be this way. As also explained in this issue, a time is coming in which Jesus Christ, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people . . .” (Isaiah 2:4). As a result, “. . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (same verse).
This is describing the coming Kingdom of God—the same Kingdom for which Christ tells us to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). We hope you’ll join us in that prayer. Read this issue to learn more about the need for that Kingdom and how it will come!