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Can There Be a "Just War"?

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Can There Be a "Just War"?

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An impending war with Iraq has dominated the news. On one hand, there is almost universal agreement that Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, is a rogue dictator responsible for the savage murder of innocent people and a man who has not cooperated with United Nations' demands that his country destroy and account for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that intelligence reports confirm exist. On the other hand, the world is divided over what to do about his refusal to comply. In recent years, it has been somewhat like Mark Twain's quip that everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. Now U.S. President George W. Bush proposes military action against Hussein in order to make the world a safer place.

Building a coalition of nations to justify going to war with Hussein has not been an easy task for President Bush. The news has been filled with stories citing the division among European nations over this issue. While Britain, and some eastern block European nations support Bush's position, Germany, France and Russia want to send more UN weapons inspectors to Iraq in an effort to buy more time and, hopefully, avert an impending war. The rift threatens to destroy NATO and the good relationships that have existed between the United States, France and Germany since World War II. Many Europeans just don't think that going to war is the answer.

In the United States, President Bush's support is much stronger. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the American populace has rallied behind the president's efforts to strengthen homeland security. Interestingly, even though the economy is in a prolonged sluggish period, something Democrats could normally expect to propel their party to power, voters today are more concerned about security than the economy. People reason that if they aren't secure, there is no economy and they trust the Republican leadership to do a better job of protecting them than the Democrats.

Today approximately 60 percent of Americans believe the United States would be justified in going to war with Iraq. Yet there are still many who disagree with this decision for various reasons including the number of American lives that would be lost and the huge financial cost involved. Some cynically claim that this would simply be an "oil war"—one the United States would fight so as to keep the cost of oil under control. Such talk, however, doesn't factor in the huge oil business France enjoys with Iraq—one of the more obvious reasons the French oppose war.

Within the United States, division over whether to go to war is not confined to political parties—for there are notable exceptions to the general perceptions of Democrats being doves and the Republicans being hawks. Iraqi immigrants to the United States do not believe a war with their native country is morally justified. While many openly admit that Hussein is a horrible leader, they don't want to see their country ravaged by war and innocent civilians killed. They argue that Hussein's non-use of WMD in the previous war with the United States shows that he wouldn't use them now—because if he did, he knows the entire world would come after him and annihilate him and his country.

The "Just War" Theory

Christians, too, are divided over going to war with Iraq. While some reject war—any war—as inappropriate, others claim that war is sometimes a necessary evil in order to prevent a greater evil. Those who support war generally do so under a concept called the "just war" theory that says war is justified when there is a just cause, just intent and is enacted as a last resort.

Furthermore, proponents of this theory say that a legitimate authority must make the decision to go to war, set specific, honorable goals for the war and strive to limit the number of casualties, particularly civilian, in order for a conflict to be considered "just." Based on this criteria, several prominent Christian leaders including Richard Land, Bill Bright, Chuck Colson, D. James Kennedy and Carl Herbster recently wrote President Bush saying they believe a war with Iraq would be a "just" war.

Those who believe in "just" wars note that God has set up governing authorities, nations, which have the responsibility to punish evildoers and that it is our Christian duty to support them. As Romans 13:1-6 explains: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing."

The preceding passage shows that God intends for national governments to use their authority to curtail evil. But does this justify the theory of "just war"? Many Christians have a hard time reconciling this theory with Jesus' admonition to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45). After reading Christ's instructions, such individuals wonder how anyone could consider any war "just." Calling violence and bloodshed "just" violates the clear intent of Jesus' instruction.

In an effort to make sense of these apparently contradictory instructions, some have reasoned that when Christians engage in "just" wars, they aren't doing so as Christians—but as necessary servants of the state. But even with this belief, analyses of preceding wars by "just war" proponents reveal that even just wars often include unjust incidents. For example, World War II is considered by many to be a just war because it was fought to control forces that would have limited personal freedoms. Yet within that war, many innocent civilians lost their lives in the saturation bombing of cities—a clear contradiction of "just war" criteria. Given the confusion and complications that abound over this issue of going to war, how can we make sense of Jesus' and Paul's teachings?

Two Trees

When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden and gave them instructions regarding which foods they were to eat. Within the garden were two trees: "the tree of life" and "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:9). Adam and Eve were told that they could eat of every tree except the latter. Eating it would exact the penalty of death (verse 17).

Soon Satan came along in the form of a snake and enticed Eve to disobey God by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. Satan told Eve that she wouldn't die if she ate the fruit and that it would really be good for her to do so as she would then "be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). As the account explains, Eve ate this fruit, as did her husband, Adam (verse 6). Because of their disobedience, they were driven out of the garden and denied access to the tree of life whose fruit would have yielded "eternal life" (verses 22-24).

As subsequent scriptures reveal, this was a pivotal point in the history of mankind. Adam and Eve's poor choice set a precedent that most humans have mistakenly followed ever since (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21). By sinning against God, they incurred the death penalty (Romans 6:23). Following in Adam and Eve's path of self-determination and sin, we, too, were "alienated" from God and in need of "reconciliation" with Him—a process made possible by the death of His Son (Colossians 1:21; Romans 5:10).

In rejecting Divine revelation, our first parents decided for themselves what was good and evil. Important to note, the tree they ate of was called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"—not solely evil. This represents the mixture of both good and bad that exists within our societies today. All human beings continue to eat the fruit of this tree of the knowledge of good and evil and experience both the good and the bad of doing so until they are reconciled to God and given access to the tree of life representing eternal life.

The good and evil portions of Adam and Eve's choice are clearly evident in warfare. Even proponents of "just war" acknowledge the terrible price in the loss of human life that accompanies it. President Bush, in his State of the Union speech, candidly revealed that in deciding that it was necessary to go to war with Iraq, he did so reluctantly.

For those living under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, war is an accompanying evil that is part of the system. Paul's comments in Romans 13 regarding civil authorities represent the human governments God has set up until His Kingdom replaces them. Wars are part of the fruit of living under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that will remain and increase in these last days (Matthew 24:7) before Christ's return to this earth.

War and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Even though God allows wars because of mankind's rejection of Him, God still guides the outcomes of these conflicts according to His plan and purpose. Ancient Israel was a nation who lived under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Even though they were promised many physical blessings for obedience to God's laws, the covenant God made with the nation didn't include eternal life. This is one of the better promises of the New Covenant offered to only a few in Old Testament times (Hebrews 8:6).

When ancient Israel left Egypt, God's plan was that He would fight for them. At the Red Sea, when the Egyptian armies threatened attack, Moses told the people, "'Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace'" (Exodus 14:13-14). In the parting of the Red Sea and its subsequent unparting, God destroyed the entire Egyptian army (verses 26-28).

Though the ancient Israelites saw God's power firsthand through numerous miracles, they still didn't trust God to protect them. When they next faced a disagreement with Amalek, Moses instructed Joshua to select men to go fight against them (Exodus 17:8-11). God intervened and miraculously allowed Israel to win as long as Moses held his hands up beseeching God's help (verse 11).

Subsequent history shows that though God offered to fight for their nation so the people wouldn't have to do so, Israel never really trusted God to take care of them. They believed they had to fight and, like other things that God allowed because of the hardness of their hearts, He allowed Israel to fight their battles. What Israel didn't seem to realize was that God was involved in the battles anyway, directing their outcome as He willed.

Modern warfare is no exception. Miraculous stories are told of God's intervention in World Wars I and II. How was it that the Allies got perfect, unseasonable weather just when they needed it? Why did a stray bomb accidentally go down the smokestack of a building and destroy Germany's efforts to develop a hydrogen bomb? God can and does intervene in wars—but He has a better way for those who truly seek Him.

War and the Tree of Life

For those of us who have committed our lives to Jesus Christ through baptism and thereby been granted access to the tree of life (eternal life), we are not to be involved in warfare at this time. In John 18:36, Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."

At this time, we are ambassadors of the coming Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:20) and our work is a "ministry of reconciliation" (verse 18) whose purpose is to instruct and teach those whom God calls how to live under the tree of life. Jesus' instructions in Matthew 5 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us have direct application. God certainly has the power to protect us, but if He allows an enemy to kill us, He also has the power to resurrect us again.

When Jesus returns to this earth, the Bible reveals that the nations of this earth will gather to fight against Him (Revelation 17:12-14; 19:14-15, 19). Those who have accepted the call to live under the tree of life will then join Him in the battle. This will truly be a "just war" because the all-powerful, all-knowing Jesus Christ will be directing it. Only after this horrendous battle will wars finally cease and human beings enjoy the abundant peace that will come when all dwell under the tree of life. God speed that day! UN