Americans love to fight! We are fighters and we are good at it. This presents us with a special temptation. Good fighters rarely walk away from a fight, even when wisdom would require it. They are prone to take up quarrels not their own. They take a dog by the ears (Proverbs 26:17), because they can whip the dog.
Americans are good fighters and our history proves it. We have won wars against the British, the Mexicans, the Spanish, the Germans, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Iraqis, and more. The only war we really lost was the one we fought against each other. Furthermore, if you include the early conflicts with the Native Americans, we have been at war 181 of our 241 years. Only sixty of the past 241 calendar years have been conflict free. No doubt about it. Americans love a fight.
At the same time Americans do not like bullies. We defend the weak. We rescue the oppressed. We are not conquerors. So we are surprised when people from other countries hate us for our military intervention. “Why don’t these people love us for invading their land and toppling their ruler…he was a tyrant after all!” Why does the dog bite?
When Should We Fight?
What should Christians think about the hawkish history of the United States? Have we ever unjustly drawn the sword? Should we dance when our leaders again begin to beat the drums of war? The following three principles can help us evaluate whether a war is just or unjust.
First, just wars always and only defend the innocent or redress wrongs suffered by unjust attacks. If we fight to defend ourselves from invaders or to make enemies pay restitution for their murder and robbery, then we uphold the sixth and eighth commandments. This is just war. The war of aggression, however, fought to build empire or bend a nation to our will is simply murder and theft on a national scale. Nations can break the sixth and eighth commandments just as much as individuals.
With Justice removed, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers? What are bands of robbers themselves but little kingdoms?” It was a pertinent and true answer which was made to Alexander the Great by a pirate whom he had seized. When the king asked him what he meant by infesting the sea, the pirate defiantly replied ‘The same as you do when you infest the whole world; but because I do it with a little ship I am called a robber, and because you do it with a great fleet, you are an emperor’ (City of God IV.4).
Second, war should only be fought as a last resort. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). All peaceful means of forcing an enemy to pay restitution for his crimes should be exhausted before taking up arms. If, however, they will not pay restitution for their murder and theft, the ruler can take up the sword to do justice upon them.
Finally, the punishment meted out by a civil ruler (Romans 13:4) against an aggressor must fit the offense. The Scriptures teaches that justice requires an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Deuteronomy 19:21). Just nations never wage “total war,” but only strike with the force needed to make the nation pay for its crime.
So when our leaders begin to beat the drums of war, we must not join them in the war dance until we know the cause is just, all peaceful avenues are exhausted and the planned punishment fits the crime.
This article was first published in the February 2017 issue of Every Thought Captive magazine. Subscribe HERE.