Friday, January 2, 2009

Just War?: War Based in God’s Character

Our author now sets out on the case for just war with a chapter called “Why Christians Use Force” and it is grounded in God’s character. God is a warrior in the Old Testament (Jer. 20.11; Zeph. 3.17) and the God of the NT is the same as the God of the OT. There is a progression of revelation, not a replacement of the OT God and the OT message. And if one reads Revelation, we see God as Warrior yet again.

The philosophy of just use of force is grounded in God’s character. God is not just loving, but he is just and righteous as well and His warlike characteristics are an expression of His justice, mercy, and love. Sometimes it is difficult to see how God’s love interacts with His wrath (see Joshua) and yet it comes together perfectly as we understand Jesus as the Suffering Servant (Isa. 52.13-53.12).

While Jesus does encourage the turning of the other cheek, the distinction lies in that we must not take personal vengeance, but we do not sacrifice justice. We will, however, sacrifice personal rights for the sake of love. I thought this was a good distinction. Cole states, “Jesus’ goal is to restrain personal retaliation, not to restrain political force, which is, after all, an agent of His Father’s wrath and love” (p. 43).

Calvin puts Romans 13 at the center of his theology of just war. God puts governments in place to secure God’s justice and righteousness in a fallen worldWar may be a result of sin (the Fall in Gen. 3), but it is not evil in itself. It actually restrains evil so people can enjoy God’s created world. . In a just cause, the soldier is a legitimate agent of God’s wrath for righteousness in the present situation. Calvin even calls it a “holy vocation” where soldiers are operating in a “God-like fashion” (p. 47). War is obviously not ideal; peace should be sought before going to war.

Cole gives a summary of “Why Christians Should Fight?” (pp. 48-49)

1. “Christians fight for justice because God is like that. … He uses force to check evil and to bring justice.”
2. “Because of sin, God uses force to work out His will for us,” which is “a product of His love.”
3. “Human political order is the structure God has given to encourage virtue and restrain vice.”
4. “Just war is something Christians do in this world out of loving obedience to God and in conformity with His ways.”

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