Monday, January 5, 2009

Just War?: Virtue and Warfare

I’ll admit this is a pretty good book (When God Says War is Right by Darrell Cole), but that doesn’t mean I always track where he’s going or how he organizes his book. This chapter seems like it’s in an odd place, but it had good stuff. It’s essentially about the importance of spiritual formation in the lives of warriors. And yes, he argues, the church should be in the business of forming warriors.

The believer’s goal (again relying heavily on Aquinas and Calvin) is loving union with God; beatitude in Aquinas’ terms. Virtue helps the believer achieve that union and act properly in a given setting. The morally virtuous is the one who does so regularly. The four cardinal virtues are prudence (wisdom), justice (rendering each their due), courage (controlling passions that make us act unreasonably or fearfully), and temperance (controlling passions contrary to reason). All of these help a person love well, which is the ultimate point as we are in union with Christ. We ought to love like Him and our character is obedient to Him, functioning as He would function.

Given the development of these virtues, war is a positive good, not just a “necessary evil.” It is an act of love toward those who are being attacked and to your fellow soldiers to fight (there are concentric circles – at least as I understand it – of responsibilities of love). It would be unloving for a believer to avoid engaging a just war when it is called for.

Cole closes with the dismissal of Jesus’ meekness as a model for believers, according to Calvin. Simply put, Jesus’ ministry was priestly reconciliation and sacrifice that is not duplicated by believers. We cannot be a Savior, but we can follow the Father’s command to love our neighbors.

I can feel the tension here between loving your enemies meaning turn the other cheek and loving your neighbor meaning killing enemies who are harming them. Paradigms seem to have much to do with where one ends up on this issue.

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